Seniors can find mutually beneficial relationships with shelter pets


It is well-known that pets are therapeutic, especially for elderly people, and animal shelters across the Mississippi Gulf Coast work hard to match a person with the perfect dog or cat.

Author, writer and producer Laura Coffey recently published a book titled "My Old Dog: Rescued Pets with Remarkable Second Acts."

In the book, she encourages people to adopt dogs 7 years and older, who frequently languish in animal shelters and are sometimes euthanized.

"These dogs should be treated with kindness at the end of their lives," she writes. "When you adopt one, it's a relief for everyone. It's a relief for the dog to be in a home. And, it's a relief for the person because you know you're doing something good."

She cites Cullen, a 10-year-old black Labrador retriever who had served as a service dog for a Florida woman who was a polio survivor. When he could no longer pull her wheelchair, he found a new home and career working as a therapy dog at a children's hospital.

"It was this awesome scenario," Coffey writes. "He loves his new job."

With that in mind, many seniors might find a mutually beneficial relationship in adopting a pet from an animal shelter.

Humane Society of South Mississippi

Maren Slay, marketing specialist with the Humane Society of South Mississippi in Gulfport,

said the shelter has an "open adoption" policy.

"We don't discriminate against anyone," she said.

HSSM, she said, has a brief application potential adopters must fill out and a basic survey. A photo ID also is required.

"We want to know if there is another pet in the household, and we want to know what your home environment is like," Slay said, "and if you have physical limitations, but that's about it."

Slay said staffers would not recommend a high-energy or big dog for the elderly people, and sometimes, cats are a better choice for the elderly because they are not high-maintenance.

Adoption fees vary, and include spay/neutering services, if necessary. Pets also are given up-to-date vaccinations, a free microchip, an engraved ID tag, a free vet exam within seven days of adoption and 30 days of free sheltercare pet insurance. They also offer a 10 percent discount to seniors adopting and 10 percent off merchandise in the retail store on the day of adoption.

Before they're put up for adoption, HSSM employees get to know each pet and separate them into categories. Those in the Young at Heart category consist of dogs age 5 and older. Often, those pets are spayed or neutered, may be fully house-trained and have lived with a family before. A pet becomes a Lonely Heart when he or she has been in the shelter looking for a home for more than 30 days. They may already be house trained and know a few tricks, and Slay said staffers work hard to place them with a loving family.

HSSM is located at 2615 25th Avenue in Gulfport, and the phone number is 863-3354. You also visit them on the Web at and click on adoptions to look at the up-to-date listing of pets that are available. Staffers also frequently take some animals to local PetSmart stores, offering discounts on adoptions.

Jackson County Animal Shelter

Joe Barlow, director of the Jackson County Animal Shelter, located on 3 acres of land next to the Jackson County Soccer Complex in Gautier, siad the shelter has the capacity to hold 154 medium-sized dogs and cats and four larger animals, such as goats and horses.

The Jackson County shelter, he said, averages more than 100 adoptions a month.

"We encourage anyone who wants a dog or cat to adopt," Barlow said.

There is an application process, and a picture ID is required. He said the county maintains a database on people who have been charged with any form of animal cruelty, and anyone on that list wouldn't be allowed to adopt.

There is a $50 adoption fee, which includes a free health exam, an ID tag, spay/neutering services, initial vaccination and preventive worming, Barlow said. Microchip protection is available for another $15 fee.

The Jackson County Animal Shelter is located at 4400 Audubon Drive in Gautier. The telephone number is 497-6350.The Shelter is included in Jackson County's website at

Hancock County Animal Shelter

Toni Accardo is Director of the Hancock County Animal Shelter, which opened a new facility in the Kiln in 2012 after the original shelter in Waveland was destroyed in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina.

"Right now, we're overrun with cats and dogs," Accardo said, adding they do not discriminate when seniors come in to adopt. "Not at all, but we do try to take into account the person's mobility, lifestyle and personal health."

The shelter has the capacity to house about 50 dogs and 25 cats. Accardo said the adoption fee for dogs is $75 and for cats, $50. There is also an application process, and a photo ID is required. The adoption fee includes spaying or neutering, initial vaccinations, a free exam, preventive worming and an ID tag.

Accardo said the shelter also sponsors adoptions and special discounts at PetSmart and has the capability to transport animals to other shelters across the region seeking dogs or cats for adoption.

The Hancock County Animal Shelter is located at 7175 Texas Flat Road in the Kiln. The phone number is 466-4516. The shelter is included on the Hancock County Website at www.hancockcounty and click on animal shelter. The shelter also has a Facebook page.