What Happens When Elders Can No Longer Care For Their Pets?

Pets are so very important for the well-being of the elderly. According to Dr. Duffy Jones, a veterinarian in Atlanta, GA, “The value that animals bring to people is amazing. I’ve seen older people struggle financially and not feed themselves so they can feed their animal. Their pet is the reason they get up in the morning.”

The health benefits of regular contact with an animal are significant.  Studies have shown that contact with a dog or cat can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, reduce boredom and reduce depression. Pets can add years of happiness and good health to a senior just by being around to be talked to and cared for.

What happens when this relationship comes to an end because the senior is going into an assisted living facility? Most of these pet parents know that surrendering these animals is the best action to take. Some have mentioned euthanasia – that should never be considered! The best thing for an elderly pet owner to do is to have a succession plan already for the possibility of needing to move to a nursing home or an assisted living facility.

The separation from a pet is a traumatic one for the pet parent as well as the pet. The pet parent may no longer be able to properly exercise the pet with regular walks.  The basic needs of feeding, cleaning up or going to the vet for regular visits may slacken. “When fading health becomes an issue, the pet/owner bond suffers.” That’s the bad news.  The good news is that in many cases the senior may not need to surrender his/her pet. “As per federal housing laws, publicly-run facilities cannot prohibit pet ownership by residents, provided they are able to care for the pet. This would allow the pet/owner relationship to continue as long as the pet is adequately trained and socialized, and does not pose a threat to other patients.”

In cases where the senior within an assisted living facility cannot care for the pet, but needs to have the contact with an animal, there are volunteer organizations such as the Delta Society, Pets on Wheels, Therapy Dogs International, and several others that volunteer at facilities by bringing friendly dogs or cats for the residents and staff to enjoy and interact with.

But, in the cases where the senior cannot bring their pet to their assisted living facility, or is unable to continue caring for the animal, their first choice should be adoption. If you know of no one who can adopt your pet, talk to your vet.  Vets often have connections with rescue organizations that can re-home your pet. When the new pet parent has been selected, it is best to help the pet with the transition by having the new owner come and visit and take the dog for walks, feed him and bond with him. Once the re-homing has taken place, the previous owner should come and visit the dog in his new surroundings for a while.

Once the senior is settled in his assisted living facility, it would be ideal if the new owner would bring the pet for visits at the assisted living facility as often as possible.

For more help with senior-related issues, call Kabb Law at 216-991-5222.