The Fountain of Youth may have paws

Lucille “Lou” Jischke relies on pet shih tzu Joey for company, security and daily exercise.

Darrell Woehler

For generations, the search has been on for the Fountain of Youth. There are those who have tried to find it in fitness fads and face creams, but missed one of the secrets to staying young that has been looking them right in the eye: their pets.

Furry friends such as dogs and cats, can play a vital role in helping boomers and seniors age gracefully. Pets help keep emotional balance, develop fitness routines and maintain social connections.

Lucille “Lou” Jischke of West Melbourne and her shih tzu Joey are a great example of the lasting bond that can be formed. Jischke is a life-long dog owner, and a prime example of the health benefits that owning a pet provides. At age 91, Jischke is in good physical health, still drives and has a healthy mind.

She admits that having dogs throughout her life, and owning Joey more recently, has helped keep her active.

“I take him for a walk every day, and play with him. Joey likes that, he likes to go for a walk,” Jischke said.

Taking a dog for a walk can be a fun activity for seniors and has proven an effective way to maintain physical activity. Studies show that pet owners are much more likely to meet their exercise quota, and that regular exercise can help relieve stress. The health benefits don’t stop there. Owning a dog can also been proven to lower blood pressure, prevent depression, curb anxiety and help post-traumatic stress disorder. Pet owners also have 21 percent fewer doctor visits, and pet owning seniors take better care
of themselves.

According to Jischke, she formed an instant connection when adopting Joey from the Humane Society with her late husband Kenneth Jischke. At that time, Joey was about a year old.

“We went there, and he was in a cage all curled up, and Ken said let’s take this one out. Nobody seemed to want him, but we took to him right away,” Jischke said. “We took him home, and he’s been a good dog ever since.”

“They have always had dogs,” said daughter Sharon Scoufis.

Studies show that later in life as people lose loved ones or a spouse, a pet gives owners someone to talk to and helps to prevent loneliness. This has definitely proven true in Jischke’s case. She recently suffered the loss of Ken, her husband of 70 years. The death of the love of her life, has been a major emotional blow for Lucille. She says that the companionship of Joey has helped her during this difficult time. “It seems like he knows when I need some help. He knows when I’m lonely. I would never get rid of him, he’s a lot of company,” she said.

Caring for Joey has also helped Jischke feel that she has a purpose. Even on the days when it’s difficult to get out of bed, she knows that Joey needs her. Beyond emotional support, pets can also provide the added benefit of security. “He lets me know when someone is at the door,” she said. “It also feels like I have someone in the house.”

Owning a pet can also be a great way to meet people, whether it be at the dog park, an area pet store or training classes. Seniors can bond with other owners in these locales and even setup “doggy dates.”

In addition to Joey, Jischke also shares her home with a 25-year old blue-fronted Amazon parrot named Blue who serves as Joey’s nemesis. “He doesn’t like the bird though, he goes and barks at her, and she squawks,” she said.

Despite her love of animals, don’t expect Jischke to add a feline friend to the mix anytime soon.

“I don’t like cats, but have always loved having the dogs. It’s a lot of company and it makes it so that I’m not alone, as long as Joey is here.”