A recent experience reminded me how vital pets are; especially to those of us who are aging. When we get up there in years, our children are long gone and we may no longer have the relationships we gained from our jobs.

A pet (or two) can make fantastic company for seniors who live alone.

On a recent morning, I had an aging neighbor, Paul, knock on my door. He was looking for his cat, Billie, and wondered if I had seen her. Billie had been outside for a couple hours (much longer than usual) and he couldn’t find her.

I could tell my neighbor was distressed and was thinking the worst. Was she hit by a car? Eaten by a coyote? Billie had previously been injured by a feral neighborhood cat, resulting in expensive veterinary bills.

I know how much Billie means to Paul; she affords him companionship within his home.

Luckily, a short time after his visit, I got a phone call. Billie had come out from wherever she’d been hiding. She was skittish, but safe and in one piece

Pets and seniors

It’s hard to measure the importance of pets.

Aging communities have discovered that pets contribute to well-being by reducing stress levels and incidents of depression. Some assisted living homes have resident cats and welcome regular visits from dogs who provide friendly, but not rambunctious, companionship.

The animal organization PAWS has a reduced-rate pet adoption program that places senior animals with senior humans. You can get information by calling 425-787-2500, extension 850.

As wonderful as pet companionship is, the cost of keeping a pet can be prohibitive; especially for someone on a limited income. Food and veterinary bills add up.

To help with this, Seattle Humane has a Pet Food Bank that collects and distributes pet food donations to low-income seniors, families in crisis, and other community members in need. Pet food is delivered by volunteers to low-income senior housing complexes, senior centers and food banks.

Part-time employment

Part-time employment can provide stimulation and social interactions that stave off the feelings of isolation that can accompany retirement.

But what if I told you it’s possible to combine the human interaction of a job with the joys of pets?

For a retiree who loves dogs but thinks the responsibilities of dog ownership are too demanding or expensive — consider starting a dog-walking service or a service that feeds pets when their owners are on holiday. You can have a little extra income and enjoy the company of other people’s pets.

It’s kind of like grandkids: You spoil them and then give them back to their parents.

Or, you can volunteer at a pet rescue and adoption center.

Of course, part-time work need not involve animals just because I say so. If you’re good with numbers, why not consider work as a part-time job as a tax preparer? If you have a newer car and you’re a good driver, how about occasional work as an Uber or Lyft driver? If you’re fluent in more than one language, you can qualify as an on-call interpreter.

Cooking

Pets and work can help us remain engaged with our lives, socially.

But if all you’re looking for is a fulfilling hobby, you might consider discovering — or rediscovering — an enthusiasm for cooking.

After we retire and aging begins to strain our faculties, we can uncouple from living fully. We need to maintain our “edge” and our enthusiasm. We need to sustain a high level of energy we can invest in our everyday activities.

I find cooking to be one of the best remedies for a funk. And I’m not talking about everyday, mundane, regimental cooking.

I’m talking about cooking with fervor; cooking that challenges. Seek out culinary practices that revitalize not only your body but also your mind. If you need a jump start, take some cooking classes.

Begin by looking for recipes that combine ingredients in ways you’ve never tried. A fantastic resource for rousing recipes is the website Pinterest.

I suggest veering toward Mediterranean cooking and finding recipes that incorporate healthy ingredients like vegetables and fish, while adding flavors that are provocative and pleasing.

To chase away the blues and doldrums, there’s nothing like investing two hours in a tantalizing dinner.

As we age, it’s important to stay connected with other living beings, whether they have two legs or four. Stay wholly engaged in daily living by enjoying a tasty dinner with a friend and a furry companion.

MARLA BECK is the founder and president of Andelcare Inc., which provides in-home eldercare. Submit questions by calling 206-838-1844 or via e-mail to marla@andelcare.com.