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Dealing with Aging Parents’ Pets

What to think about photo of man and dog by Jimmy Lopes

© Photographer Jimmy Lopes | Agency: Dreamstime.com

You know your aging parents can no longer live alone, and now you have two problems–their needs and their pet, or pets, which may also be aging and have special needs. Almost everyone is aware of the value of pets in our lives. Their mere presence lowers blood pressure. They save lives, lift depression, and provide unconditional love. However, those benefits pale when your parents refuse to make changes for their own welfare because it means giving up Fluffy or Fido. So what are your options?

Unfortunately, your parents’ fears about the fate of their pets are valid. Shelters seldom find homes for older animals or animals with special medical needs. Over fifty percent of most shelter’s animals face euthanasia. The few no-kill shelters in most communities are usually full. If you find a no-kill shelter with an opening, the aging pet is likely to spend the rest of their life in that facility. Even in the best facilities, that’s not a good ending.

The simplest option for Mom and Dad to accept may be for you or another family member to assume guardianship of their pet, if possible. It may not be easy, especially if Mom and/or Dad are moving in with you. However, the sacrifice may be worth it for their peace of mind and to reduce the trauma of the changes they must endure at this time. Just as senior day care and home health aides can help them and you, there are poop scooping services, pet sitters, and doggy day care resources to ease the burden.

If finances aren’t an issue, your parents may even agree to help pay for these services to be able to keep their animal companion with them. If finances are tight, other family members that live nearby might share the extra duties of pet care, especially if one family member is assuming primary care of the parents. After all, it’s not that hard for your brother to take Fido for a walk or poop scoop the yard when he stops by to visit Dad.

If your parents must move to an assisted living facility, look first at those places that accept pets. Many places now recognize the value of maintaining this family relationship. Some facilities have dog walkers and on-site dog parks. Plus, local resources, such as pet sitters and dog walkers, are usually available. There are also litter pans for dogs. So, if walking the dog is no longer possible, it’s quite easy to retrain dogs to use an indoor facility. Even if you have to help maintain the pet (vet visits, pet food shopping, etc.), this relationship is very important to your parents’ mental and physical well being.

When a parent’s needs force a separation from family and pets, the need to find solutions that minimize the trauma is critical. People grieve deeply for the loss of pets, no matter the reason, and that grief affects physical and mental health. Although your nerves are already strained, don’t make the mistake of putting the pets at the bottom of the priority list. That pet may be as high on your parents’ priority list as you were as a child.

Many extended care facilities also allow pets to visit, even if it’s outside on the patio. Therefore, if you can find a way to keep the pets with you, perhaps Mom and Dad can continue to spend quality time with their animal companion. Perhaps, your parents are still well enough to visit your home on weekends and holidays and can enjoy their pets at the same time. Alternately, you may be able to take a pet to visit them.

If you live a distance away, take Fluffy or Fido to live with you anyway, if you can. It’s reassuring to your parents to know their friend does not face an uncertain fate. You can send photos and updates to comfort them. It will even give you something to write about, or talk about, when you run out of other news. Later, when you need an appropriate nursing home gift, purchase one of those automated photo display frames and load photos of their pet’s activities on the disc. (Yes, sleeping is an activity.)

Of course, another problem will arise when their beloved pet dies, even if they haven’t lived together for years. Your parents will grieve and miss the companionship and unconditional love. That’s a perfect time to try to arrange pet therapy visits. A happy furry face can do wonders, and most geriatric care doctors and facility directors understand and know how to obtain these services. These services should be considered for any animal lover who is suddenly relegated to institutional living.

Remember that the aging pets also suffer from losing their human companion and need patience and time to adjust. An elderly animal may not be with you very long, but the peace of mind your parents get by knowing their pet is safe and loved is priceless. If the animal is young, they will adjust to the changes faster than your parents will and may be adoptable. Nevertheless, it’s important to think of your parents’ welfare first.

Even if they’ve only had their friend a few months, they deeply love their animal companion. Re-homing a pet at such a time should be a last resort. If the new home does not work out or your parents find out their pet died after going to a shelter, they’ll blame themselves or the family and feel guilty for the rest of their life.

Healthcare providers are also better versed about these things than in past years. Your parents’ veterinarian, large veterinary care facilities, pet sitters, pet therapy organizations, rescue groups, and social workers may help you find local resources too.

Author Bio: Penny Leisch has twenty years of experience in social services, pet rescue, and the care of special needs pets. She also supports the TNR program in Austin, Texas and cares for two feral colonies.

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