Karen Rottmann holds two of her pups, Noel and Gizmo. Photo: Emily Rasmussen

By Emily Rasmussen

Whether you’re a dog person who can’t get enough of your pup’s adorably-dopey smile, or a cat person who enjoys a relaxing cuddle on the couch, many people find having a pet to be a rewarding and loving experience.

Sandra Ackerman, one of the founders of San Clemente-Dana Point Animal Shelter, has been volunteering with the shelter for 35 years. Ackerman, a clear animal lover, said that she’s personally seen the benefits of owning a pet, in addition to seeing others adopt.

Ackerman said that she is extremely healthy at 77, slender with low cholesterol, and although she doesn’t wholly credit her animals to her health, they do give her a sense of purpose.

“I have had many, many dogs over the years. For a while I was taking in the older dogs that were not going to get adopted, so rather than having them sit in their cage for the rest of their life, which is depressing to the volunteers including me, I took them into my home and they gave me purpose,” Ackerman said. “I’m a widow, I lost my husband 13 years ago, and dogs being in my house gave me a sense of purpose.”

In a study on the use of animals in patients with dementia, demented subjects in the presence of a pet or animal had more social behaviors such as smiling or speaking, had reduction in the amount of behavioral disturbance and agitation, and held longer conversations, according to “The Benefit of Pets and Animal-Assisted Therapy to the Health of Older Individuals,” a 2014 study by E. Paul Cherniack and Ariella R. Cherniack.

San Juan Capistrano resident Karen Rottmann, 66, said that her three dogs make life better in every way.

“Dogs aren’t just for kids, they’re for us too,” she said.

Rottmann, who retired two years ago, said that although she has had her three dogs for years, she’s come to realize the importance of having their companionship now that she is at home more. She said the canines reduce stress, give companionship, help her stay in the moment, encourage exercise and provide unconditional love, Rottmann said.

Since retirement, the first time that (Rottmann) realized the importance of their company was when the first rainy season came around, when she couldn’t leave the house. So, she got hooked on Hallmark movies, popcorn and snuggling with her three dogs.

“They aren’t just pets, they’re a part of the family,” she said. “They’re like extra kids but they don’t talk back.”

Ackerman said she encourages all ages to adopt a pet, but notes that she encourages seniors to adopt an older, calmer pet for companionship; not only because they are easier to handle and are often already trained, but also because if a senior adopts a young pet, they could live past the owner.

The feedback that Ackerman sees from people who adopt pets from the shelter brings her to tears.

“To see a child walk out with their first animal, or a young couple, or a senior citizen coming in and coming out with a dog that’s going to keep them company, is just so heartwarming,” Ackerman said. “People who adopt animals will see me there, so I’ll see them on the street or the store, and I’ll have people come up and kiss my hand because they’re so overjoyed at having an animal.”

If you’re interested in adopting a pet, call the San Clemente-Dana Point Animal Shelter at 949.492.1617 or go to 221 Avenida Fabricante, San Clemente.

Read more of our 2018 Spring Aging Well special section HERE:

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