Part 34: Planning is Key to Senior-Pet Ownership

Welcome Joan’s Journeyers. More often than I care to watch, I see television infomercials showing abused and neglected domestic pets. These commercials bring near-tears to my eyes and pain in my heart. Fortunately, however, I have never personally witnessed animal abuse. However, since moving to a senior living community, I am aware of unintentional pet neglect despite the best intentions of everyone involved.

Renee, my floor neighbor and first friend at Holiday Villa EAST in Santa Monica,  admired Heather, a kitten I rescued from a cattery. A few months later, Renee rescued a kitten of her own. Renee and Tova bonded and became best buddies. Shortly thereafter, Renee became ill, was hospitalized and died suddenly and unexpectedly. Renee’s son lives overseas and her grandchild lives in another U.S. city.

Her Mommy sadly gone, Tova was alone in Renee’s unit, with no one prearranged to care for her. Kind residents and a caring aide quickly responded to ensure that Tova had the basics of food, water, kitty litter, and brief human companionship. Sill, it took weeks to find a new home for the cat. One rehoming failed and Tova was returned to Renee’s room. Finally, in what seemed like forever to the pet-loving residents of our senior living community, our lonely feline found a home. Because she was still a kitten, she was more adoptable than a senior cat.

Other pet-owner residents have become ill, been hospitalized and/or passed away. In situations where the family immediately jumps in and literally rescues the unintentionally abandoned animal, our pet saga ends well. On the other hand, if no family is available or does not allow staff or approved residents to enter the unit, the pet may live alone for an extended period of time. Leaving only food, water and kitty litter for weeks on end, with barely any human contact, in my opinion is animal neglect.

From my experiences, neglect may result when a resident:

1)    remains at the community but becomes too fragile physically or cognitively unstable to routinely care for the pet.

2)    is hospitalized, goes to rehabilitation, or passes away and no prearrangements are in place to care for the animal.

3)    experiences financial limitations/hardships and cannot afford veterinary exams and treatments for the pet.

4)    is no longer able to safely walk a dog or transport a pet to a vet clinic or groomer.

5)    is not longer alert enough to plan or keep pet supplies on hand, such as pet food and litter, or to provide quality playtime time and companionship.

Involve Trusted Others in Senior Pet Ownership 

As a pet lover and cat owner, I am not advocating pet-less lives in senior communities. Instead, let’s look at solutions.

1)    Prearrange pet emergency medical care contact information and keep updated information with senior community administration.

2)    Arrange for immediate assistance by staff to enter a unit and care for a pet if resident is absence.

3)    Maintain reliable backup contacts, such as family and friends, for daily and quality of life pet needs, such as providing food, litter, treats, and toys.

4)    Identify and become acquainted with local veterinary and boarding services.

5)    Contact pet assistance organizations and volunteer groups that provide food, medical/dental/grooming assistance and dog walking.

As I conclude this blog, my mind returns to a conversation I had recently with a devoted pet owner, who I’ll call Sylvia, about her aging dog, Sassy, who was showing signs of illness. Sylvia asked me the name and location of Heather’s vet. To assist Sylvia, I called the veterinary office and learned a new patient visit is $70, minus a 10 percent senior discount. Lab work, diagnostic tests, procedures/treatments and medications are separate fees.

With a pained look on her face, Sylvia said these costs were far beyond her limited budget. In fact, she could not remember the last time Sassy was examined or vaccinated, though she knew it was more than five years. I suggested that Sylvia ask other residents for advice and investigate domestic animal assistance organizations.

There’s more to my senior living and pets story to share. How am I doing in a senior residence with my young, active cat? What dynamics exist now that I live near family members who are allergic to pets? And prior to my move to Santa Monica from Baltimore, why did I opt to re-home my precious Russian Blue rescue cat, Mia?

Join me in the next Joan’s Journey as we explore more about seniors and pet issues. and I invite your comments on Facebook, Twitter, and in the Comments section of Joan’s Journey. Until the next post, enjoy the journey day by day.

Joan London is a freelance medical and social service writer who specializes in topics on aging. London moved from Maryland to California to enjoy life in a senior living community and enhance her quality of life by living closer to her children and grandchildren.

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