Be a pet parent in retirement

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When I was a young girl we had a pet dog that became a most beloved member of our family. We called her “Tramp” because she followed my brother home one day in a snowstorm. A mutt by pedigree – a mix of beagle and hound – Tramp most certainly provided us with many years of wonderful companionship and unconditional love and we loved her in return.

In a previous blog post I talk about being childless in retirement and how to extend your family in untraditional ways. It occurred to me that another way to extend family in your golden years is to adopt a pet and become a pet parent.

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My husband and I have been thinking about adopting a dog when we retire, giving an animal a much needed home and enjoying the companionship of “man’s best friend” in return. But where to begin? Where do you find your pet if it doesn’t follow you home one day like Tramp did years ago?

Perhaps the best place to start is the Toronto Humane Society or a similar organization in your local area that is dedicated to promoting the humane care and protection of all animals and to preventing animal cruelty and suffering. The Toronto Humane Society has a four-step adoption process that prospective pet parents must go through to ensure that the pet you adopt is a good match for you.  

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One question you might have is what kind of animal would best suit you in retirement. This can be affected by a whole range of factors, including any physical limitations you might have in walking and caring for an animal. I like the article “Dog breeds for older people”, which discusses different categories of dogs for different needs, including:

  • pets that are less vigorous, have gentle temperaments and are easy to train;
  • smaller breeds for those who are weak or physically disabled; and
  • one-person dogs that form a strong bond with one owner.

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Research has been done on the effects of having a pet and some evidence points to the positive effects of pet ownership on an elderly person’s physical and mental well-being. The Pets for the Elderly Foundation cites the benefits of pet ownership for the elderly including:

  • lowering a person’s blood pressure and pulse rate;
  • decreasing the number of visits to the doctor;
  • lessening depression;
  • enhancing social opportunities; and
  • combatting loneliness.

In fact, there are at least 30 pet-friendly assisted living and retirement homes in Toronto, cites SeniorAdvisor.com. So, if you are worried about adopting a pet and then having to give it up should your living arrangements change, that is not necessarily the case.

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If you concerned about balancing your desire to travel in retirement with the obligations of caring for a pet, there are solutions to your pet predicament. “Pawshake”, an online service that was launched in Canada in June 2015, connects pet owners with “vetted and insured pet sitters, walkers and home boarding.” Yelp also provides a list of the “Best 10 pet boarding/pet sitting” services in Toronto.

Still not convinced that becoming a full-time pet parent is for you in retirement? Consider becoming a volunteer foster parent to an animal. The Toronto Humane Society is looking for foster parents to provide a temporary home to animals in need. You have to attend an orientation session and complete an application to be accepted for this worthwhile calling.

 

 

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DINKS & a childless retirement

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Call us selfish, self-absorbed or whatever you wish, my husband and I are “DINKS” – dual income with no kids. We happen to love children, but our paths in life just didn’t take us in that direction.

So now what do we do? Headed for the golden years of retirement being childfree is not the way it was meant to be, I suppose. Consider the benefits of having children as you get older. They can take care of you in your old age. They continue the family lineage and could make you a grandparent one day. They can be a source of joy and companionship (on the good days) and provide parents with a reason to live, make plans and care for somebody other than themselves.

That is a very simplistic view of having children. Most every parent I know has spent a lifetime loving, caring for and providing for their children without the thought of building children into their plans for retirement and old age.

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There’s no denying that retiring and dying alone, unloved and unwanted with no one to care for you is a frightening thought. However, it is possible to build another untraditional type of extended family, without actually having your own children.

Some people advise that many seniors – particularly those who are single – should consider a shared living arrangement.

An article by CARP – Canadian Association of Retired Persons—talks about the virtues of alternate accommodation in “Retiring with roommates: The merits of shared living as you age”.

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Shared living arrangements help cut down on expenses in retirement when most people are on fixed incomes. They also help to address the social isolation that many people feel in old age with no one around.

Another way of “extending family” and social contacts in retirement that I have been thinking about lately is volunteering my time. The Globe and Mail article “How do I volunteer my retirement years so I truly make a difference?” outlines that while seniors contribute the most average volunteer hours of any age group (more than 200 a year), only 36 per cent of seniors (based on 2007 data) volunteer, compared to almost 50 per cent of other Canadians. Not knowing how and where to contribute skills and experience may certainly be a factor. The article provides prospective volunteers with an idea of organizations that would like to hear from them.

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Volunteering to help a younger person in need in particular is my focus. This can certainly be a mutually beneficial arrangement with the younger person benefitting from spending time with and gaining experience from an older person, while the senior fills his or her time with a purposeful, meaningful contact by making a difference in a child’s life. There are many opportunities to do this. You may want to consider:

Foster Parenting: The Children’s Aid Society of Toronto (CAS), for example, states that “There are children in the community who need you! You can be the difference for a child in need by opening your home as a foster family.” While the CAS strives to keep children with their own families, sometimes this is not possible because the parents are not able to provide adequate care for their children. Foster care is an alternative for these children. Information about the child is provided to the prospective foster care givers, as well as training before a child is ever brought into the home.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada: This organization offers volunteer based mentoring programs. The volunteer mentors serve as role models and teach by example the importance of staying in school and showing respect for family, peers and the community. What ensues is “a life-changing relationship built on friendship, trust and empowerment.”

Volunteer Grandparents: The organization based on the west coast “is dedicated to the fulfillment and well-being of individual lives with the facilitation of intergenerational connections.”

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With National Volunteer Week 2016 running from April 10 to 16, it’s timely to begin thinking about how to contribute your skills, talents and enthusiasm in a volunteer effort that will benefit the community and, in turn, make your retirement years meaningful, enjoyable and less lonely.

 

 

 

 

Fraud prevention in retirement

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Years ago my mother had an elderly cousin who continued to live in her own home well into her eighties. Over a period of time my mother noticed that her cousin had become fearful and upset for no apparent reason. After delving into the source of her cousin’s distress, my mom found her cousin complained of men coming to her door demanding money for roof repairs when no repairs were needed. My mom set up a “sting” and waited one day for the men to show up. When they did, she told them never to return and that the police had been informed of their shenanigans. They vanished.

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I am sure all of us have stories or have heard of stories about schemes to defraud seniors. Very commonplace is the Grandparent scam– when a fraudster tricks a senior into believing that their grandchild is in trouble and in immediate need of money.

It certainly is worth being aware of the kinds of scams that target seniors. When you think of the possibility of it happening to you or someone you love, it becomes even more poignant and you need to know how to take action. We can all work to protect ourselves heading into our retirement years.

March 2016 marks the 12th anniversary of Fraud Prevention Month in Canada — the annual education and awareness campaign that began in 2004 by encouraging Canadians to recognize, reject and report fraud. There are many resources available to seniors and people planning to retire, for those interested in protecting themselves from fraud and scams.

  • The Competition Bureau provides information on the commons scams targeting seniors, such as identity theft, credit card/debit card fraud, online scams, as well as phone and door-to-door scams like the one I described at the beginning of this blog post. They also provide tips to help you protect yourself from fraud.
  • The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre provides a toolkit to support seniors regarding fraud prevention and awareness.
  • The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada provides information on identity theft and tips on how you can prevent it.
  • The Royale Canadian Mounted Police provides a “Seniors Guidebook to Safety and Security”, which covers a variety of topics including scams, as well as elder abuse, safety in the street and in a vehicle, programs and services, as well as links to useful and authoritative contacts and resources.

Wondering why seniors are the targets of scam artists? “The sad truth why seniors are prime targets for fraud” is an article outlining some of the reasons. While the article is written from an American perspective, the same rationale  applies in Canada too.

Education and awareness are key to protecting our financial and physical safety and security heading into our golden years.

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Mixed-retirement couple

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After running a small kitchenware store for more than 25 years, my husband Didier is being forced into retirement. His store and other shops along an entire block have been sold to a developer who plans to tear them down to build one of those retail/condo monoliths that are sprouting up everywhere.

Could my husband move his business to another location? I suppose, but he’s 62, so the prospect of closing shop and re-opening elsewhere at this stage of his life isn’t appealing to him.

That means that my husband and I will soon be a mixed-retirement couple. While I will continue working for many more years to come, in a few months Didier will be facing sudden retirement. This is causing us some stress, as we are beginning to realize that there are pitfalls to our situation. Why?

Ideally, like many other couples, we would like to synchronize our retirement. You know, enjoy spending more time together, travelling together, taking those ballroom dance classes together that we have always talked about. However, we are really not being given a choice in our situation, so there are many questions that we are asking, such as:

  • How will Didier fill his days while I am not around?
  • What will he do for social supports/networks?
  • Can we rely on one income?
  • Will he grow to resent me for not spending more time with him or for being the “breadwinner”? Will I resent him for being able to enjoy a leisurely coffee in the morning when I have to race out the door to work?
  • Will his feeling of self-worth be affected if he has a difficult time creating a new identity for himself beyond that of work?

Apparently, according to Statistics Canada, today only about half of the couples approaching retirement intend to retire at the same time. A growing disjointedness of spousal retirement is attributable to the declining proportions of husbands and wives retiring two to four years after their spouse and the increasing proportions retiring five or more years after each other. Furthermore, Statistics Canada found that most women retire after their husbands.

With so many women in the workforce, the decisions around retirement – both his and her retirement – are now becoming more complex. And, of course, there are many factors influencing spousal retirement, says Statistics Canada, such as the age of the spouses and the age difference between the spouses, health considerations, status of financial affairs/pensions and so on…

So Didier and I have set about working out our planning to overcome some anticipated problems. Here are some of the ways in which we are navigating the mixed-retirement waters:

  •  Talking is important: We frequently talk about the vision each of us has for how life will unfold once one of us is retired.
  • Money: It’s clear that I will be the remaining wage earner and I generally look after our future financial/retirement affairs. However, my husband is the expert in making every dollar stretch further – so each of us has an important role to play in ensuring that we can live off the one salary.
  • Household duties: This is not really an issue, since Didier already does the majority of cooking, considers me his “apprentice” in the kitchen and really takes pleasure in maintaining the home. A traditional role reversal? Well, I guess so, but it works for us.
  • Travel: We’ve decided on taking one to two trips a year until I take the retirement plunge and then we may be spending time as Snowbirds in Florida for about half the year.
  • Filling time: He will have so many options in retirement, but rather than dictate what I think my husband should do, I would prefer that he discover on his own what will make him most happy. Does he want to:
    • spend more time taking care of his elderly mother?
    • become more physically fit by starting up his exercise routine again?
    • get a part-time job that doesn’t eat into his evenings and weekends like his store did?

The world is his oyster.

Many people say that couples who retire together find that constant togetherness can be overwhelming. At least by staggering our retirement starts, we hope to transition into retirement life and learn from each other.

 

What I’ll miss about work

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Leaving your job behind to retire?  Rather than wallowing in retirement regret when and if you do make the decision to leave the workplace, it’s better to be up front about the things you know you will miss most about your work.

Here’s what I’ll miss about work:

  1. My morning coffee
  2. Recognition for a job well done
  3. Taking a walk at lunch
  4. Pleasant clients
  5. Access to information that I wouldn’t have otherwise
  6. Friendly, supportive co-workers
  7. Contributing to something bigger and more important than the sum of the individual parts
  8. Constantly learning
  9. Having a purpose everyday
  10. Feeling like I belong somewhere

Would you miss something about your work if you retired? What would it be?