Your career is under control, you're done raising the kids, the house is quiet. What's next? Many in the 50-plus crowd are opening their homes to abandoned or orphaned animals, heading to shelters and adopting dogs and cats.
"I would say about 50 percent of our adopters are baby boomers," said Lynne Schoepfer, executive director of Save-A-Pet Animal Rescue in Port Jefferson Station.
This act of kindness is repaid with unconditional love, companionship and exercise. Some adoptive pet owners realize that retirement can be the right time to replace a beloved family pet, or to have a first-time pet.
In addition to wanting a dog, Jeff Morosoff, 55, hoped to save a dog's life. "When I met my wife seven years ago, we agreed that one of our shared plans was to eventually adopt a dog," said Morosoff. His four children from a previous marriage are grown and on their own, and his work hours as an assistant professor of public relations at Hofstra University have become more flexible. "It seemed like the right time to bring a dog into our home."
His wife, Tema, 54, had volunteered at a Queens animal shelter years ago. "As a couple, we became advocates for adopting rather than purchasing a dog," said Morosoff. They rescued Toby, an 18-month-old beagle, from the Kent Animal Shelter in Calverton, and their Facebook posts and holiday photo cards haven't been the same since.
Morosoff has observed this generational trend in their pet-friendly Great Neck apartment building, as well as their social circles. "A few of our baby boomer-age friends, who are also dog lovers, have either adopted a dog or plan to do so, now that their kids are grown and out of the home," he said.
Caring for a pet requires resources and commitment, just like parenthood, which makes older adopters desirable. Shelter personnel screen for worthy applicants and many note that the older crowd goes the extra mile, often treating pets like children, with an understanding of the responsibilities involved.
Nancy Taylor, president and CEO of Bideawee, an animal welfare organization, noted, "boomers own more pets than any other age group." She finds the 50-plus demographic to be excellent pet adoptees. "Mature adults are likely to have a stable home environment and sufficient insight to understand what type of pet is best suited to their lifestyle," she explained. "And empty nesters sincerely appreciate the love and companionship that a pet can provide -- not to mention the health benefits of lowering blood pressure, decreasing stress and feelings of isolation."
When their youngest daughter left for college in 2013, Carol O'Brien and her husband, Larry, found their Hauppauge home to be too quiet. Carol and Larry, who are in their 50s, spoke of adopting a dog, but thought about the work and time involved with their previous dog that had died. Larry, a police officer, was approaching retirement "and we were already planning some travel," Carol O'Brien said. But then she heard about a 5-month-old German shepherd destined for the pound.
Apollo will be 2 years old soon and is enjoying his new home and family. She speculates that Apollo wasn't treated well by his previous owner. "He had a skin infection" and got aggressive if others came near his food, she explained. "Our first two nights together, I slept on the couch next to his crate to let him know that we wouldn't let him down."
She estimates that routine veterinarian visits and preventive medicines for Apollo cost about $500 per year; $50 a month for food. Good-naturedly, she points out that his $80 grooming bill each month is more than she spends on her own hair.
But, she said, "We have time for him, and he is a great motivator to get outside and exercise. Larry has his 3-mile trek that they do together. Apollo is good for improving our waistlines."
While pets are widely available through retail shops and breeders, there is an overall awareness of the many shelter animals in need of permanent homes. "People are much more knowledgeable that 4 million-plus unwanted animals are still euthanized each year, and supporting the work of a no-kill shelter is a way for one person to make a difference," said Taylor of Bideawee.
Online access has revolutionized shelter pet adoption. "It's so simple now to look for a specific pet's size, sex, breed, color, temperament and age," Taylor said, "that it has become almost like a pet shop experience without the worry of perpetuating puppy mills."
That idea appealed to Deb Smith of Manorville when she and her husband were getting ready to take in a pet. "We always knew the next dog we got, we wanted to get from a shelter," she said. "I don't have anything against breeders; my mother and sister are breeders. But we knew there were other dogs that needed a home."
Smith, 53, and her husband Bob, 58, searched the website of Kent Animal Shelter in Calverton. "We were looking specifically for a pit bull and saw Rosie on the website. She was in a fuchsia boa," Smith said. The 2-year-old pup, originally named Violet, was known at the shelter as "the belly-rub dog," shattering any preconceived notions of the breed that has an unfortunate -- and owners say inaccurate -- reputation for being dangerous.
Smith advises to be aware of an animal's history, because the pet might need extra help and the owner extra patience. "Rosie cannot be with other cats or dogs, so we knew our home was good for her," Smith said. "She spent a year in a shelter, so she appreciates being in a big house. We feel that in her past she might have been hit. We just go gently."
Cats are as much in need of permanent homes as dogs. Gregory Jones, 54, lives in a golf-course community in Middle Island where he's discovered many abandoned cats. "In the past few years the problem has been getting out of hand, so we decided to do something about it for the good of the community and to try and prevent the cats from starving and freezing to death," Jones said. He and his partner, Cheryl Caruso, 55, started rescuing cats in 2012 and have found homes for them or have employed the trap-neuter-return system for about 40 cats. "Cheryl and I have a 'No Kitty Left Behind' policy," said Jones, who has indoor and outdoor cats. "We adopted three from Last Hope in Wantagh. All the others are rescue cats."
Pam Green, executive director of the Kent Animal Shelter in Calverton, said that most of the adoptions there are made by people 50 and older. "It's got to be at least 60 percent," she estimated. "It's not just the 50- and 60-age range, but seniors too, and they're adopting senior pets." It's mutually beneficial: Older owners don't have to deal with the puppyhood phase, and an older dog that has been passed up by younger families gets a home.
The personality traits of older dogs is what drew Carol Klappersack, of Glen Head, to a mature terrier named Bentley. "I got my first dog when I was 5," Klappersack said. "I'm 74 now and I'm not having a puppy. You reach a stage in your life where you really don't want your furniture destroyed." Over the years, she and her husband, Bernard, 76, have adopted dogs and cats from Animal Lovers League in Glen Cove. Klappersack raved about the folks at the shelter, who provide information about the animals' temperament and history if available.
Klappersack advised seniors looking for a dog to seek one that's mild mannered. "It should not be out of control when on a leash; you don't want to be pulled or jumped on. And it should like people."
If you're thinking of adopting a pet, ask yourself:
Do you have time to care for a pet; family and friends to help?
Can you afford the expense?
How much exercise will a dog need and can you provide it?
Are you better off with an older dog or a cat?
LOCAL PET SHELTERS
Here are some shelters that specialize in rescued pets:
ANIMAL LOVERS LEAGUE, Glen Cove: nwsdy.li/allglencove
ANIMAL RESCUE FUND OF THE HAMPTONS, East Hampton: nwsdy.li/arfhamptons
BIDEAWEE-- Westhampton: nwsdy.li/bideawee
KENT ANIMAL SHELTER, Calverton: nwsdy.li/kent
LITTLE SHELTER ANIMAL & RESCUE, -- Huntington: nwsdy.li/littleshelter
SAVE-A-PET, Port Jefferson Station: nwsdy.li/saveapet