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A passion for pets

“They're my family.”

Ann, a member of the Age UK Telephone Friendship Service, discusses her lifelong devotion to animals and the many benefits of owning pets.



“You could have a diamond ring, and it wouldn't be worth as much as having your pet,” says Ann, 76, who lives alone with Papillon Hope and Jack Russell Scampy (both aged 14) for company. 

Ann, who lives in West Suffolk, has been working with dog rescue charities for more than 30 years and has rescued 10 herself. “They are my family,” says Ann. “Without them I’d be totally alone in the world.”

Boosting wellbeing

Studies have shown that pets can help lift depression, reduce cholesterol and help us relax. Ann, however, believes the benefits are far wider.

“If you care for an animal, you're going to get up and look after it and ensure that its wellbeing is preserved, so it gives you a routine,” explains Ann. “And with dogs you have to take them for a walk, which helps with mobility, and opens up an avenue for friendship as you meet other dog walkers and invariably end up chatting to them.”

For the 1.4 million older people who experience loneliness, this is especially important. People aged 50 and over are more likely to be lonely for a variety of reasons. They may live alone, or not have someone they can open up to about their feelings. They may be widowed, in poor health, and unable to do the things they want. 

Whatever pet you have, it's that interaction with another living creature that protects against loneliness.


Though she advises everyone to think carefully if they’re able to afford and look after a pet before getting one – in line with Age UK’s advice.

Old memories, new friends

Animals have a special place in Ann’s heart not least because they are associated with the major turning point of her life. At 17, she’d fled an unhappy home life in England for Africa. There, she began a successful career as a personal assistant, and a lifelong devotion to wildlife.

An older lady smiles at the camera, holding a small dog under each arm
Ann at home with dogs Hope and Scampy
An older lady smiles at the camera, holding a small dog under each arm
Ann at home with dogs Hope and Scampy

“Virtually every weekend us youngsters went out camping in the bush. And you’d see giraffes wandering about, and lions, rhinos and so many elephants. It was their land, so they’d be relatively close. You’d be woken up in the night by the sound of hyenas!”

Memories of that time remain close – her flat is dotted with elephant designs – while reminiscing with her telephone friend Oscar, and on calls to The Silver Line, help keep them closer. “If you’re sitting on your own all day every day with nobody to talk to, to share any of your views with, you’re not stimulating your brain and that’s important as you get older,” she says.

The regular calls supported by Age UK help. “On a Friday, around 5pm, I know Oscar is going to phone. If you’ve spent the whole week on your own, it’s nice to know you’re going to get a call. There are things I don’t want to burden my nephew with that I can talk to Oscar about. Having a friendly person phoning just helps; it lightens things and he’s just acquired a little dog that they call Ivy.”

While Oscar updates Ann on Ivy’s training progress, Hope and Scampy always manage to work their way into her weekly catch-ups. “Scampy lives up to his name – if you’re silly enough to leave the shopping in the hall, he’ll be in to investigate. He can smell bread a mile away...”

Combining causes

Ann is determined to devote her retirement to good causes, including animal welfare charities and Age UK.

Age UK is an avenue that older people can turn to and we’re going to need it more and more.


Ann aims to combine the two by urging older people she knows, who are able to do so, to adopt older dogs – many of whom languish in kennels for months or even years. “A nurse friend emphasised how good older dogs are for older people as they don’t move so much so can be less of a trip hazard.

“They come with all the checks done, they tend to not need so much exercise, and they are hugely grateful for wherever they are. If you take them in, and give them the love and affection that they need, they will repay you 1000 percent.”

Owning a pet

If you're thinking about getting a pet, it's important to plan for the future by first considering the costs, time and care involved.

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Last updated: Apr 06 2023

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