We all love our pets, and our attachment to them varies from one individual to another. In cases of the infirm or elderly, the attachment to a pet may be much more intense. Individuals with memory loss may not understand why they have to move to assisted living, or in with a relative, let alone any problems that might come with bringing Fido along.
Caregivers may swing from one extreme to another in their own emotions. The part-time caregiver who can tolerate animals during short-term visits may balk at full-time pet and person caregiving. Although it is essential to acknowledge how you feel about animal caretaking, it may be best to keep it to yourself until you explore options. "Preparing" a family member to give up a pet may take many weeks (or longer). There is emotional strain on the loved one and caregiver during this process, as well as on the animal.
People and Things Change
The once hard-nosed parent who made the decision to give up a child's beloved pet may now be the one who is attached. It may stun a caregiver to find that the parent now exhibits the same sense of loss when approached with having their pet taken away. Caregivers in this type of situation would benefit by counseling to find closure in making a decision that does not access any hidden feelings from the past. Keeping or giving up a pet with such an event coloring the situation will add to stress for everyone in the long haul.
As we age and/or our health changes, our sense of connection to people, places, and furry creatures may enhance our connections.
Where There's a Wag, There's A Way
In the case of dogs and cats, an option for individuals who may be forced to surrender the pet is to have it qualified as a therapy animal. This is different than a "work dog," which can help perform tasks.
Local humane societies offer classes in pet therapy. The animal must pass certain tests for social behavior. If Rover is able to complete the program successfully, it becomes a gold star on his "doggie resume." This may make facilities more agreeable to allowing Mom to bring him in as a roommate.
Find out from the individual running the program if any precedents have been set that parallel your circumstances. Any reputable behavioral training will reassure family that the pet can be a member of the household (if that is the only objection). Assisted living centers, nursing homes, or hospice may have slightly different rules. Hospice can be the most accommodating when it comes to end of life needs being met. Long-term care facilities generally have one or two pets (often cats) wandering around as unofficial therapists. Bringing in a custom made, homegrown, duly deputized four legged therapist may be a surprise that is welcomed.
Even if it is not, a serious talk with the administrator and healthcare provider of your loved one may change the decision. This is especially true if you contribute to pet upkeep by hiring someone who can be relied upon to manage the pet at the facility.
Things to Consider
When the health of the loved one is at stake by keeping a pet, a serious discussion with the physician is in order. Make sure the doctor understands the level of emotional attachment involved. Studies have shown that individuals who own pets lead markedly better lives. The unconditional love and companionship from any pet boosts self-esteem and the outlook on life. These in turn help the immune system, decrease stressors, and ultimately improve the quality of life and health. A relaxed, happy "patient" is much easier to care for than one that is down in the dumps.
The sense of appreciation expands at an unconscious level when we accept the pet as an extension of the person we are caring for.
Opt for Options
Depending on funds, those of us who are still learning to revel in caring for a pet can consider hiring a service to assist us. The professional pet caretaker may be agreeable to taking Grandma along for the walk with the dog. As long as we have researched the company, our trust and stress levels are being addressed.
Family members may be willing to rotate schedules in helping to take care of the pet, for walks, litter box changes, and other needs. This takes away primary caregiver stress, and brings family closer together.
Creativity in entertaining options should be at the top of the list. Again, long-term consequences of keeping or giving up a pet should be evaluated regularly. Any success is cause for celebration, and makes challenges that much easier to handle.
When all is said and done, your loved one's creature will be a reminder of a shared joy. Animals are often underrated in terms of memory and intellect. Pets do remember. A pet that is not only "allowed" to stay with its owner, but also welcomed into the new environment bears a special feeling toward those who have included it. Caregivers, too, have long memories, and must strive to make those memories happy ones.
If you must surrender a pet to a shelter, you will often be asked if you have tried every option. Consider interviewing the individuals administering the shelter (versus simply talking to volunteers who do intake processing). There may be options you have not considered, and it is important that you have all information available. Surrendering a pet is a final decision, and you release any hold you have on the animal permanently. You will not be told if the animal was adopted out, and checking online status is no guarantee of adoption.
NEVER give the pet to anyone outside of any shelter, even if they promise they will take care of it. This is generally posted outside of any animal shelter, but if it isn't, you must remember that not everyone has the animal's best interest at heart.
Investigate more than one service before you surrender any pet. Specialty breed rescues should be able to tell you enough information to help you decide how reputable they are.
Remember that not all shelters are "no kill." Even shelters that advertise that they are may have to euthanize animals that have health conditions, are severely depressed by being surrendered, or who are returned for behavioral reasons. While not all shelters will sell animals for medical testing, some can and do. Don't give yourself something to second guess.
Information adapted from article by Cheryl Ellis, Staff Writer in Caregiver.com Weekly June 23, 2011.
If you would like more information on "Family Pets" feel free to contact Gail Gilman-Waldner, Family Life Consultant, M.Ed., C.F.C.S. and Professor Emeritus University of Minnesota at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to watch for more Family Living Focus information in next week's paper.