Elderly Pets, Elderly People Can Find Mutual Benefits, Animal Advocates Hope

When Lucky, a small mutt, reaches the St. Louis French Hospital in Jerusalem, he wags his tail and quickly heads for the hospice room of cancer patient Tirza Rodriguez, 63. She holds him, kisses him and refuses to let him off her bed. She has been hospitalized for 10 months, and she says her happiest moments are when her dog arrives, his tail wagging.

Rodriguez has forged an equally powerful friendship with Nediva Rothenberg, also 63. Rothenberg adopted Lucky from Rodriguez after she was hospitalized, and visits her twice a week.

"I consider her part of the family," Rodriguez says of Rothenberg. "She is not just Lucky's mother, but part of my family. I found two blessings."

Lucky was fortunate, because it is not easy to find people to adopt full-grown dogs once their owners cannot take care of them. At first, Rodriguez placed him in a kennel. Then she found a volunteer from the non-profit Eshel, which assists the elderly, who agreed to take care of him for a while. Finally, she found Rothenberg, who has taken in other old or handicapped animals, and responded to an advertisement published by Eshel.

"Thanks to her my mind is quiet," says Rodriguez.

Many pets are abandoned as they age, and there are not enough people willing to take them in. Officials at Eshel believe that connecting elderly people with elderly animals, under the slogan "Do not cast me off in time of old age," could benefit both.

Starting at 11 A.M. this Friday, in collaboration with SOS Pets Association and other animal non-profit organizations, as well as the Environmental Protection Ministry, and on the occasion of the International Day for the Elderly, old dogs and cats will be offered for adoption at several centers for six days. The main goal is to place them with the elderly, but everyone is welcome to adopt.

Liza Amouyal coordinates the pet animal program Seniors' Best Friends Project at Eshel. Pets can improve elderly people's physical and mental well-being, she says.

"Elderly cats and dogs are especially good for the elderly because they are calm and have few needs," she says. Furthermore, they're trained, thankful to their new owners, and have only a few years left to live. They can relieve a person's loneliness, give them a sense of security and don't make too much noise.

Eshel also organizes get-togethers between dogs and old-age home residents. Volunteers help care for the dogs.

Riki Batsri, chairman of the SOS Pets Association, says most older abandoned animals were let go because of their age, and because they can no longer meet the needs for which they were originally taken. "People come and say they have a very lovely dog but that he is old. It's absurd," he says.

Yosef Levy, 84, of the Nahlaot neighborhood in Jerusalem, adopted Jimmy, a large, sweet dog, from a neighbor 10 years ago after his wife died. Jimmy was his first dog. Jimmy takes his morning walk tied to Levy's electric scooter, and in the evening accompanies him to the neighborhood synagogue, where he waits outside. Yosef considered giving Jimmy away because he was too aggressive, but reconsidered and took him back. Now an Eshel volunteer helps him walk Jimmy.

Levi recommends such an adoption to anyone who can do so.

"When someone comes upstairs he barks. It's better than being alone. I love him," he says.