We know that the title of this blog may inspire more than a few eye-rolls. “Pets? Really? Mom has dementia and dad can’t take care of her any more, and you want to talk about cats and dogs?”
We absolutely get it. Your aging (human) loved one is almost certainly your top priority, and we’re not suggesting that should change. But your human loved one may have a beloved four-legged companion, and as you navigate the process of planning for care transitions, what happens to that pet should be part of the conversation. Caring for the pet may be one component of caring for your human loved one – but, like so many other aspects of caregiving, it can be a burden, especially if provisions aren’t made ahead of time.
Consider Jana’s situation. As a paralegal at ELET, Jana has been nudging her own mother to think about future care needs. Luckily Jana’s mom is in great health, but after working with many clients in sticky situations, Jana knows that could change further down the road. Jana’s mom recently decided that “when the time comes” she wants to move in with Jana. But if that happens, what will become of her cat? Jana’s two siblings already have pets of their own that are incompatible with mom’s cat, and Jana’s household includes a dog and some humans with cat allergies. Bringing the cat into their home would cause stress for all the people and the animals. The family hasn’t reached any conclusions yet, but Jana has started to think about how they might address this problem if and when the time comes.
Sheri, another ELET paralegal, faced her own pet inheritance quandary a few years ago. After her mother passed away, Sheri ended up with her two cats – in addition to the three already in her household. For various reasons the newcomers had to be isolated in a separate room that Sheri didn’t think provided enough space or comfort for them. Because of the cramped quarters, the process of re-homing these cats was expedited, and to this day Sheri has doubts and concerns about how it was all resolved. She and her sister, who was abroad at the time, had to make fast decisions while under physical and emotional stress, and the experience left an impact on her.
Pets of aging humans are themselves more likely to be aging, which brings on a host of special care needs. This can make re-homing a pet more difficult if their owner passes away or moves into a residential facility that doesn’t allow pets. This should also be a factor in any discussions about getting a new pet for an elder: yes, pets can be wonderful companions and can restore purpose and meaning to life – but pets are also living, breathing beings, and before introducing a new pet to the home, there should be a reliable “plan B” in case the elder becomes unable to provide care.
If your family is in a care crisis and pet placement questions are just the tip of the iceberg, please give us a call. Thinking about pet placement or finding care facilities that allow pets is just one of the many details our care coordinators help families work out. Knowing that their companion can stay with them, or that their pet has been well-placed in a loving home, can alleviate a family’s stress and provide comfort to the elder in otherwise uncertain times. Helping the whole family find that peace of mind is what we’re all about.