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Published: Sunday, July 10, 2011, 12:01 a.m.

Program can help you find the right furry friend

You are getting older and maybe looking to fit a little more exercise into your day.
Or perhaps you're living alone and would like a bit more security. Or maybe you want that special someone to greet you with lots of love when you come home.
And no, you don't want a spouse. You want a dog.
Question is: What breed?
A program out there can help take the guessing game out of dog ownership.
"Meet Your Match" is a national program started by the American Society for the Protection and Care of Animals. Many shelters use Meet Your Match, including the Lynnwood PAWS.
A program such as Meet Your Match might work particularly well for those 50 years and older because a dog can be matched to an owner with physical limitations, special housing situations or other needs that younger pet owners might not face.
"People come in looking for dogs, and we want to make sure people have realistic expectations about what they are getting into," said Eric Ofsthus, the PAWS senior adoption adviser, who has been matching dogs with humans for 22 years.
It works like this:
PAWS provides you with an adoption survey for a dog or a cat and you provide information ranging from the last time you had a dog, to what level of playfulness you would like in your dog.
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That survey is matched against the evaluations that PAWS has done on the dogs in its shelter.
PAWS bases its evaluations in part on the ASPCA's Meet Your Match guidelines, which puts dogs in a color code depending on their maintenance level.
Dogs can go into three main categories: internally driven, externally driven and socially driven.
So while a given Lab will have his motivation or drive be the same throughout his life, his color code or maintenance level will change, usually based on age.
For instance, a "couch potato dog" who doesn't need a lot of exercise is internally motivated. That breed of dog, such as an akita or chow chow, gets a color purple rating.
"If you are 50 and can still go to work, then you might want a dog that is OK for hanging out," Ofsthus said.
A go-getter dog or an externally driven dog is a working dog, one that likes to chase balls or feels a need to guard the house. They fall into the green color code.
A socially driven dog is happy-go-lucky, just wants to please, a dog such as a Labrador retriever. That dog gets an orange rating.
The biggest mistake to avoid in selecting a breed is basing your choice on looks, Ofsthus said.
"We've bred huskies to run a hundred miles in a straight line; we didn't breed them to take advantage of a relationship with a person, Ofsthus said.
The age of the dog is important.
If a person is in an adult care facility, a 5- or 6- or 7-year-old lab is OK. But you probably shouldn't bring a 10-month-old lab into that situation, Ofsthus said.
Toy dog breeds also can make good companions if you don't want to bring a lab or larger dog into a condo or an apartment. Chihuahuas and miniature poodles are fine toy breeds, as are pugs and Boston terriers, Osfthus said.
On the other hand, a sporting dog needs aerobic workouts.
"They are that type that will go for eight hours, drink some water and do it again," Ofsthus said.
"Recommending a retriever for an older person would depend on whether that person is running a farm and needs an extremely enthusiastic dog."
Live with a pet
Research has shown that having companions likes dogs or cats can help improve our physical and mental health by lowering our stress levels and blood pressure and reducing depression.
Adopting senior animals comes with additional advantages: They are often gentler, calmer and already trained.
PAWS has a Seniors for Seniors adoption program for older people in the market to increase their household by four feet.
The program places senior cats and dogs -- typically more than 7 years of age -- with senior citizens who are 60 years of age or older.
The program comes with a reduced adoption rate of $35, according to the PAWS website. PAWS also provides post adoption support, including a follow-up survey and a free behavior help line.
For more information or to arrange a visit to the animal shelter, call 425-787-2500, ext. 850, or go to www.paws.org.
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