When I make late evening visits to animals while their owners are away, they tend to be perfunctory. But one evening I found myself sitting on a dog bed long beyond my departure time playing catch with Jack, a goofy black lab. Jack is the first dog I have ever met that actually picks up a ball and tosses it. I even found he’d fake in one direction, and toss it in the other when I prematurely leaned. I suspect I enjoyed that visit more than he did.
The best thing about having become a pet sitter is that I have learned to play again. This is something my AARP magazine doesn’t talk about. It has articles about the importance of staying physically and mentally active. They write of walking, bicycling, and ballroom dancing; they encourage we do mental calisthenics with daily puzzles and crosswords. But no one writes about the importance of play—in an unrestrained, unsophisticated way—at a mature age.
Research shows that for a developing child, unstructured play is imperative for social, emotional, and cognitive development. I would argue that it is equally important in our later years. Since I now spend much of my time actively playing, I find I am more creative than I have ever been in my adult life. I have more energy. And I perceive more of the humor in everyday living.
As I agedly regress, listening to Lady Gaga, playing keep-away with dogs, bouncing to country music with parrots, rolling on the floor with furry critters—I encourage my fellow AARP members to relearn how to play. And for an always willing playmate, I suggest you adopt a shelter animal.
[This first appeared as the “Editor’s Notes” in the April/May 2010 issue of Pet Tails.]