What will happen to my pet if I go into care?
This is a question that is often asked by elderly people and is often quoted as a reason not to take on another pet when their current one passes on.
A lot of older people living independently recognise the positive benefits of pet ownership, especially if they have owned pets throughout their life but decide in later life not to have another pet.
Their reasons range from being concerned that they may not be able to take care of it if their physical capacities diminish, or not having the financial wherewithal to pay for the pet’s upkeep and veterinary fees on a lower income, to worrying what would happen to it if it outlives them.
This is such a shame, as people are often unaware that there is help out there for those having difficulties coping with their pets on a day to day basis, there are people who will take in pets if their owner goes into care and, for those who have lost their pet, the Pet Bereavement Support Service, which is a free nationwide service, is there to support them.
Pets are such wonderful company and contribute to their owner’s well-being by providing constant companionship, protection and in many cases, a reason for living for a great many elderly owners who live on their own.
There are so many benefits from owning a pet and people who have opted not to own a pet again because they are concerned about future illness or going into Long Term Care and the effect this would have on the pet’s future should really look at their decision again as pets encourage their owners to keep moving and this exercise maintains mobility which promotes good health and reduces the need for expensive paid help.
Getting out and about and socializing
The benefits pets bring to people’s lives are well known and owning one can also significantly improve physical and mental health and encourage the maintenance of independence. For example, when feeding their pets it reminds owners that they also need to prepare a meal for themselves whereas, if they were on their own, they may not bother to prepare anything. Likewise, owners will need to shop for provisions for their pet and this gives a reason to get their own food too. As for keeping warm in winter, some people put the heating on or turn it up to keep their pets warm thus keeping themselves warm and safe too.
Pets need care and attention and the daily routine of walks helps to keep their owners mobile and gives structure to their day. Pets create opportunities for social contact when out and about as they are a natural talking point. This is particularly important for people who live alone when making conversation with neighbours and passers by about their animals helps to prevent isolation and loneliness and start friendships.
The elderly especially benefit from the companionship of their pet as frequently for many, it is all they have left in the world and may also be the last remaining link with their deceased spouse. The special bond between the owner and their pet is deepened by daily grooming and is a pleasurable tactile experience enjoyed by the person doing the grooming as much as the animal being groomed.
Recorded health benefits of pet ownership include:
- Higher levels of immunity to disease and better recovery rates from major illness or surgery than non-pet owners
- Pet owners, especially elderly ones, experience less hypertension and lower cholesterol levels on average than people without a pet – both major factors with heart disease
- Improved general health – fewer GP visits, reduction in prescriptions, increased alertness.
- Depression in the elderly is reported to be reduced in those who have a pet. Grooming and interaction between pet and owner raises the level of serotonin and dopamine in the brain, which can increase feelings of well-being and better mental health
- People who own pets are generally fitter because animals need to be walked, played with and looked after, this means that these people generally have higher scores relating to activities of daily living(ADLs)
- People who don’t have a pet tend to have significantly higher levels of stress that people who do own a pet. Pets offer unconditional love and affection and people who have been bereaved tend to come through it better when they have a pet.
Elderly Animal Rehoming Scheme(EARS)
Older animals who have been made homeless through no fault of their own can be difficult to re-home but the staff at the Halifax branch of the RSPCA had a brainchild and created the Elderly Animal Rehoming Scheme (EARS). Under this scheme older animals are paired with appropriate new owners. Older people usually do not want young animals but will re-home an older one as it will usually be quiet and well-behaved, used to living indoors and well suited as a companion for an older person.
The EARS scheme aims to alleviate some of the worries that people have if taking on an older animal by offering the following range of assurances:
- Discounted vet visits and food
- Help with transport
- A vital 24 hour phone number to call in case of emergency
- ID card which qualifies the pet for a range of benefits including annual booster vaccinations, health checks, routine worming tablets and flea treatment
The cost for all of this is £5 per month and has received the backing of Age UK.
The scheme is available in Halifax, Exeter, Cambridge and Southhall. There is also a similar scheme running at the RSPCA Animal Hospital in Putney which aims to find loving new homes for elderly and disabled cats but at the same time, giving the new owners the peace of mind in knowing that all the medical costs will be covered by the hospital.
The Cinnamon Trust is a national charity for elderly and terminally ill people and their companion animals. It aims to relieve the anxieties and problems faced by elderly and terminally ill people and their pets.
Through their network of 15,000 volunteers they ‘hold hands’ with owners to provide the care that their pets need. The volunteers keep owner and pet together by providing the vital support the owner needs for example they will walk the dog every day for a housebound owner, foster pets when the owner needs hospital care, fetch cat food, even clean out the bird cage.
When the owner cannot manage in their own home any longer, the Cinnamon Trust has a register of Pet Friendly Care Homes which list residential/nursing homes happy to accept residents with pets. Finally, when a pet is bereaved, they take it in and give it full time care for the rest of its life.
The Cinnamon Trust helps 14,000 owners and 16,000 animals a year, run two home from home sanctuaries, provide peace of mind for owners and love, care and safety for their beloved pets.
The headquarters of the Cinnamon Trust are at 10 Market Square, Hayle, Cornwall, TR27 4HE
Telephone 01736 757 900 or visit their website http://www.cinnamon.org.uk/
If you have to go into care, why not find a care home that allows pets?
Quite a few care homes will allow pets as long as there are not too many of them as staff are well aware of the benefits people get from the love and care their pet gives, not only to their owners but to the other residents too. This policy is in fact, probably the most common way that homes acquire pets as they usually stay on to care for the other residents after their owner has passed on.
The animal charity, Blue Cross, has a checklist that can help care homes to draw up a pet policy. This can be downloaded at https://www.bluecross.org.uk/sites/default/files/downloads/BlueCross_Pets_Care_Policy.pdf
For a list of pet-friendly care homes go to www.carehome.co.uk/care_search_results.cfm/searchcountry/UK/searchchtype/pet-friendly