June 5, 2023
Johanna Carrington has said goodbye to numerous pets over the years, but the loss of her dog Rocky last year—when she was 100 years old—was particularly painful, reports The Washington Post.
“I missed him so much, especially because he liked to sit on my lap,” Carrington, now 101; who resides in Moss Beach on the San Francisco Peninsula, where she has a live-in caregiver, recently told the Post.
.“The house seemed really empty after Rocky was gone, and I was quite sad,” she said.
When Carrington’s daughter, Debbie Carrington, noticed that her mom seemed depressed in the weeks after Rocky’s death, she decided to look into adopting a new dog for her.
“My mom was 100 at the time, and we weren’t sure whether it would even be possible for her to have a dog at her age,” said Debbie Carrington, 65, who lives nearby in Half Moon Bay, California.
“I honestly wondered if anyone would allow it,” she said.
Then Debbie’s friend, Christine Falletti, told her about Muttville Senior Dog Rescue, a San Francisco nonprofit that rescues senior shelter dogs and matches them with new owners, regardless of age.
“As long as my mom had a strong support team—and she does—we learned that she could adopt another dog,” she said. “My mom had rescued dogs her whole life, and we knew it would make a huge difference for her to have another one, even at 100.”
Eight months on, her mother is proof that dogs enhance the lives of seniors, Debbie Carrington said.
Since Gucci, an 11-year-old Chihuahua mixed breed, was rescued from an animal hoarding situation and sent to live with Carrington in September 2022, her daughter said she has noticed a marked difference in her mother’s demeanor.
“She’s a lot happier, and she and Gucci have become best friends,” she said. “Gucci is very gentle with her and follows her everywhere. He waits for her in the bathroom when she gets ready for bed at night, then follows her to bed and snuggles in.”
“Everyone can see there’s an incredible bond there,” Debbie Carrington said.
Johanna Carrington said Gucci is the perfect companion and that he learned his way around the house as soon as he moved in. “When they first brought him over, he ran straight up the stairs and found me like he’d been here before,” she said. “When I asked him his name, he licked my face to tell me, ‘I love you already.’”
“Having him here with me is like a dream,” she added.
Johanna grew up in Germany and said she was sent to live in an orphanage during World War II in her late teens while her parents went away to work during the war. “I wanted a dog, but it wasn’t possible to have one,” she said. “As a girl, I never had that chance.”
It wasn’t until 1950, when she married Herbert Carrington, an American soldier who was stationed in Germany, that Johanna was able to adopt pets. After the couple moved to the United States, Johanna said she took in as many dogs as she could while raising two children.
“My favorite dogs were Pekingese — I once had eight at one time,” she said. “Dogs have always brought such joy that I never wanted to be without one.”
She was elated when she learned that Muttville Senior Dog Rescue had found a match for her last fall, she said, noting that her caregiver, Eddie Martinez, immediately agreed to take Gucci out for walks every day and assist with his care.
Carrington uses a walker to get around and needs supplemental oxygen, but she said she otherwise feels healthy, noting that she has never smoked cigarettes or consumed alcohol.
“I believe that’s my secret to longevity,” she said. “That and having dogs.”
A study published in 2021 by Frontiers in Public Health found that seniors with pets weren’t as lonely during the COVID-19 pandemic and felt more socially connected.
Seniors like Carrington who can’t walk dogs on their own still benefit from pet ownership, provided that they have someone who can assist with caring for their pets, said Sherri Franklin, the founder of Muttville Senior Dog Rescue.
“There is nothing like having the consistent and nonjudgmental love of a dog,” said Franklin, 66. “Pets give our senior population a reason to want to stick around, stay healthy and get up in the morning.”
The same applies to senior dogs who are adopted into loving homes, she said, adding that her rescue group focuses on finding homes for dogs age 7 and up, with many of them adopted by elderly people through the nonprofit’s Senior for Seniors program.
If the dog owner dies or is found incapable of caring for the pet, Franklin said that Muttville will find a new home for the animal, often with another family member.
The Muttville rescue also offers a cuddle club for seniors who aren’t able to have dogs but would still love to spend time playing with them, she said.
“An older dog can change the life of someone who suffers from isolation and feels lonely,” Franklin added. “I know that it’s definitely changed Johanna’s.”
Research contact: @washingtonpost