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A very attractive 50-something year old woman took her seat beside me on the plane. Within a few minutes, she looked at the carry-on bag under my seat and said, “What's in the bag?” I thought it was an odd question, but I replied. “A sandwich and some books.” She began to laugh. “I'm so sorry,” she said. “I thought you had a little dog in the bag. I love dogs.”

This began an interesting conversation. I learned that Susan was a physically active person. She took yoga, worked out at the gym, and worked in her yard. From what I could gather, she was financially comfortable. Susan's adult children had moved out, gone to college and accepted jobs in another state. “During the day, I stay busy,” she said, “but at night I really miss having the kids around. I feel lonely; it's depressing.”

Susan is an empty nester. She stays in contact with her children, but she was having a hard time adjusting to being home alone.

“I'd love to have a big old shaggy dog to keep me company,” Susan told me, “but if I wanted to travel to visit the kids, I don't know what I'd do with the dog. And, I'm no spring chicken. I wonder what would happen to a dog if something happened to me.”

Susan brought up some very valid concerns. Here are some tips for Empty Nesters who are considering getting a dog.

Consider an adult dog

Depending on your age, you may not want a puppy. There are many wonderful adult and older dogs who need homes. If you've always wanted a purebred dog, a responsible breeder can help you, or you can find a purebred dog in the AKC Rescue Network. You can also find a dog at your local shelter.

Pet Friendly Housing

If you live in an apartment or condo, check before you get a dog to make sure that dogs are allowed. If you're considering moving to a senior community in the near future, check in advance as to whether or not they allow pets. If you have your own home, when choosing a dog, think about fencing and the exercise needs of the dog you choose.

Boarding or Pet Sitters

One of Susan's main concerns was that a dog would tie her down if she wanted to travel to visit her children. Depending on your travel plans, if you chose a smaller dog, would it be easier to take along with you? If taking the dog is not possible, go and visit boarding kennels near you (before getting a dog) to put your mind at ease. Friends who have dogs can give you advice. Or, you can interview local pet sitters before adding a dog to your home.

Lifetime Care Plan for Your Dog

It's hard to think about death, but every dog owner should have a plan for what should happen with the dog if he or she dies before the dog. Would your adult children take your dog? How about a friend or neighbor? If the dog came from a responsible breeder, breeders will and often prefer that the dog returns to them in the event that something happens to you. Finally, your dog can be considered in your Estate Planning (e.g., specify who will get the dog and if that person will receive funds for veterinary care, etc.).  Having an advance plan in place will give you peace of mind knowing that the dog you love will be cared for.

Taking the time to do research before you add a dog to your life will help alleviate many of your concerns.

Citizen Canine readers, do you have any tips for empty nesters who are considering getting a dog?

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