Happy Aging is a unique series focused on how to help you age well. These stories have been created in cooperation with AARP and Word In Black.

Lassie was one of the first animals to enter the American mainstream, gracing 1950s television sets with the standard charm of a Rough Collie. Flash forward to today and we continue to see the special role that animals play in the world, decreasing depression and improving cognitive functions in humans. For Desalene Jones, dogs have always been special companions. Jones opened Cha Cha’s Dog Daycare in Sacramento, California more than twenty years ago. Today, she works with a wide range of people – from survivors of sexual exploitation to people living with neuroatypical conditions. 

WIB: How did your idea for Cha Cha’s emerge?

Jones: It’s been a long time. I worked in corporate America, which was not for me. What I would do on the side is volunteer at an animal shelter just when I needed to feel good or destress. When I decided to walk from corporate America, I thought I’d open my own business. I had no money and no idea what it meant to open a business. I wouldn’t say I was prepared, but I had the bravado of youth on my side and I knew I wanted to be with animals. 

WIB: What is it about animals? 

Jones: I grew up with animals – dogs and cats, mostly. We had an assortment of different species around. Dogs are what I focus on because that’s what I understand very well. One of the things I like to do is I partner with various organizations. One of them is for neuroatypical individuals to come in and work with us. Neuroatypical people are sensory focused, and so are dogs. That’s why dogs can do things like let you know if you’re going to have a sugar spike if you’re a diabetic or if potentially a seizure is coming or an earthquake or some kind of a storm. We think we have to explain ourselves. But we don’t need to with dogs. Animals, in general.

WIB: What connections have you seen between your clients and their pets?

Jones: During COVID, a couple of my clients were hospitalized and their dogs were dropped off with me. When I did see the client come out of the hospital walking up to get their dog, I could tell they weren’t well, but the moment – the reconnecting moment – when they saw their dog and their dog saw them, it’s like an entirely new person and energy just came into that being. It’s powerful.

WIB: What words of wisdom do you have for someone in their 60s or 70s who is thinking about getting a dog or animal? 

Jones: I would encourage them to remember what it was like if they had children. Even if you don’t walk very far very fast, you still have to clean up after your dog and feed the dog. It’s good for your brain. But there’s also a little bit of a proverbial leash, and that is, if you need to go somewhere, that dog needs to be cared for. There’s costs associated with it – vet bills and food bills and, if you want to travel, Can we travel with the dog? When you’re doing your estate paperwork, there needs to be planning for the animal. Dogs need to be trained. They could get under your feet. You could trip on your dog or your dog’s toys. There’s other considerations.  

WIB: What are your thoughts about breeding dogs? 

Jones: I think a professional breeder is the route to go because they have standards that they have to live up to. There’s a lot that goes into it, and not just having a couple of dogs in the backyard by accident. Dogs are living things. 

If you’re considering getting a dog or other animal, read more pet care and training tips from AARP here.