When Ruth, a senior woman with a disability, saw Zack, a young stray black cat who lost a leg after being hit by a car, she knew what her next move would be. It was love at first sight. While some may say Ruth rescued Zack, the opposite may be true. He did a fair amount of rescuing himself by giving Ruth a new lease on life.

Science has proven what Ruth already figured out: Seniors and pets are a great combination. Much research has been conducted and the results show that having pets increases seniors’ quality of life and emotional health. In fact, just petting an animal can reduce loneliness, while the unconditional love and commitment companion animals give to their owners can be like therapy.

Pets can bring new meaning and purpose to the life of an older person, foster a sense of well being, and encourage an active lifestyle.

There are some things to think about before bringing a pet into your home. Older cats need homes and make great pets. While they may be past the “cute kitten” stage, they are also past the curtain-climbing stage.

If you’re considering a dog, think about breed and age. Talk to shelter staff about your needs and lifestyle. If you are unsteady on your feet, you might not want a large dog that has lots of energy or a puppy that could trip you. The weather should play a part in the decision too. Snowstorm or not, Fido still needs to go out.

Be sure you have someone willing to take the pet should you become incapacitated and no longer be able to care for it. Talk to family members and make your wishes known.

Never give a pet as a gift unless you are absolutely sure the senior really wants one. While a surprise party may be fun, a surprise pet is not.

Let’s face it — a house without a pet is just a house. Adopt an animal in need and make your house a home.

Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging. Contact EAAA at (800)432-7812 or visit www.eaaa.org.