National Senior Citizens Day?
Elders Repeating Ourselves

Pets and Elders

Those two kinds of living creatures go together well. Many studies show that sharing life with a dog or cat or other kind of pet increases health and well-being of elders, even lowers blood pressure.

Our pets are our boon companions who help relieve isolation for old people who live alone, and dogs in particular get you out of the house at least a couple of times a day – always a good thing. Most of all, they are precious, loyal, loving, furry friends.

On Monday, when we were discussing the tough decisions elders are faced with, there was this short exchange in the middle of many other comments.

Jim wondered, “what to do after our current dog dies. Would it be irresponsible for us to get another pet, knowing it might outlive us? I don't know what is the right decision.”

Amba followed up right away saying that she faced the problem of what to do about her cats if she dies before them:

”I think it's important,” she wrote, “to find someone who will promise to take them if they outlive you.”

Lauren chimed in then with some good advice:

Get the pet, but leave instructions on which rescue to contact if you become unable to care for it. Find one close...and post the name and phone number right on your fridge, or in your freezer with your directive.

“If you don't make that simple effort, your pet will go to a shelter because that's all emergency personnel know to do unless they have guidelines.”

Important stuff Lauren is saying. I know for certain that without an alert on the refrigerator, emergency workers would never know Ollie the cat is here. He races for the back closet when he hears footfalls on the pavement, even before people knock on the door.

There are a handful of possible choices we can make ahead of time about the care of pets after our death:

• Arrange with a trusted friend or family member to take them in
• Set up a trust including leaving money specifically for their care
• Find a no-kill shelter that will take them
• Have them humanely euthanized and buried with you

That last item seems a bit gruesome but it was mentioned somewhere I found online and some people might choose it.

If no family member or friend is willing to adopt your pet, the Nolo law website has a good guide to options for including pets in your will, a trust and other estate plans. And the ASPCA has an easy-to-understand page on pet trusts.

In U.K., the RSPCA has a Home for Life service:

” can rest assured that the RSPCA will be there for your beloved pets after you pass on. All it takes to set up the service is a simple clause in your will instructing that care of your pets is handed over to the RSPCA after your death.”

You can read more about that here.

It's not quite so easy in the United States but there are a variety of possibilities for care. The Nolo website has a page of legacy options that is worth reading.

Lauren mentioned the Petfinder website where you'll find a search page that will list all the animal welfare organizations near you by Zip Code or city and state.

And one more good suggestion (with apologies to the whatever website where I found this. Somehow I lost the URL):

”For your pet's sake, make sure your knowledge survives even if you die. Write a Private Letter to keep with your...will or trust documents, with the name and location of your pet, any pet registration papers and special care instructions.

“Consider including information on any favorite foods, toys or friends and veterinary history, medical conditions, dietary requirements, sleeping and exercise needs.”

And I would never have guessed that there is an entire book on this subject, When Your Pet Outlives You, available at the usual online book outlets.

But let's get back to Jim's original question: Would it be irresponsible for us to get another pet, knowing it might outlive us?

I vote a resounding NO, not irresponsible at all particularly if you prepare for the pet's care when you are no longer here to do it yourself.

My Ollie cat just had his ninth birthday and if my previous cat is any indication, he may have another 11 years to go which means he could easily outlive me.

But if not, I will get another cat and I've decided he or she will definitely be an elder cat. Almost everyone wants a puppy or kitten when they adopt so it is not only a good deed to take in an aging pet, but we old folks – human AND feline or canine – are always a nice fit.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marcy Belson: Hippy Dip


Good Point Ronni - Jim - it wouldn't be irresponsible at all definitely get an elder dog - you will be giving it a good home for as long as you can and it will repay you a thousandfold.

I agree, There are always older pets at our shelters here. They are for the most part well trained and sweet critters and for those of us who are a little slower these days they aren't so frisky on a walk either. One factor might be your budget though, an elder pet can need more vet care sometimes than a younger one.

Just to repeat: it would not be irresponsible to get another dog,but don't get a puppy. Aside from planning for the possibilty that you may outlive your pet, everyone forgets what it is like to have a puppy - the chewing, the lack of housebreaking, the trips outside every few hours. And consider whether it is fair to bring an active puppy into what may be a laid-back senior home.

Adopt an adult or senior dog...the one that no one wants, the one that gets overlooked because he is "too old and would die soon", the mama-dog that is left behind when all her puppies have been adopted, the wonderful loyal broken-hearted confused dog that no family member will take in when mom has to go to a nursing home or dies.

Additionally,consider being a foster home for a local rescue. Seniors are often the best foster-parents as they can arrange to be home more if necessary and often have valuable pet-care experience. If you want to travel or are having some short-term medical problems you can just be unavailable to foster for short periods of time. And one of your fosters may just turn out to be the perfect pet for you; that is referred to as a "failed foster" - LOL.

Elder idea of all. There's a lady down the street that does just that for dogs. It doesn't matter how old they are, she takes them in and loves them until it is time for them to go.

Here, both of us are miserably allergic to animals...darn it.

This is all great advice. I belong to a cat rescue group and we've recently added a "Seniors for Seniors" program where we will pay for the medical treatment (if necessary) for the senior animal to alleviate the worry of heavy expenses. We also guarantee to look after the cat if circumstances change for the senior. Check around - there may be a similar program in your area.

A friend and I take care of each others animals during holidays, medical or other periods away from home - for both expense and familiarity reasons.

Pets give us so much joy. And senior pets are the best - in my humble opinion. :)

My dear little Timmy lived to be 20 which is a great old age for a cat. A female because when she was a kitten a vet pronounced her a male. I guess it's hard to tell when they're babies. I like two kitties together to be company for each other.

My husband and I have a 90 year old friend in an assisted living facility. She has no surviving relatives only friends who care about her. Around her 90th birthday we mentioned to her that if anything happened and her dog needed a home, we would love to take him. She knows we are avid dog lovers and tears came to her eyes. She said that was the best birthday gift she ever received. That is a gift worth considering if you can and one less worry for a dear friend or family member.

Pets have always been an integral part of my family and my son's family. My pets will have a loving home when I'm gone, or one will be found for them. Additionally, my dog was adopted from a local rescue group whose adoption agreement requires she be returned to them if I or my family can no longer care for her. I think that's a wonderful arrangement for all concerned.

We faced the same dilemma when our 13 y-o Maine Coon died in Feb 2012. With our health problems we didn't feel it was fair to get another cat which might well outlive us.

But after 48 hours I simply couldn't live without a cat. Being unable to get out and socialize and having little family I hadn't realized how much we depended on the daily interaction and affection our cat provided.

So we adopted a cat we were told was three or four years old but who turned out to be 14-16 months old. He grew by another third in the 1st year we had him.

I walked him two or three times daily in our long long hallway but then someone who owned a large aggressive dog bought a unit just down the hallway. That ended the walks and he grew depressed and despondent.

We realized he needed a playmate, and since we didn't want dominance issues we bought an 8 week old kitten. (Okay we were worried about outliving an older cat remember, so now we buy a BABY cat!)

But it was the *best* decision ever. They have a wonderful time together, they enrich our lives immensely and our son has said he will care for them if we die before them.

I have, until recently, always had at least one cat. But when I got the youngest one I was fifty years old and decided then that he and the two others I already had would be the last. I had no one I could trust with their care. Although all three have gone to whatever paradise surely exists for our companions over the last three years (at ages of 19, 19 and 17) and I miss them sorely, I don't regret my decision. I don't think anyone else should follow my example. Everyone has to decide for them selves what is best for themselves and their companions.

Heartless as it may seem, I decided not to ever have another pet - for two reasons: 1) It is so much easier to keep a clean house without pets around and 2) animals are part of the mechanism of degradation to the environment that we humans are causing.

Just as the animals that we humans raise for food contribute heavily to the contamination of our fresh water supplies, so do the feces from our pets. This is true no matter how we police up after our pets.

There is an overabundance of senior pets available at shelters. I have felt guilty about adopting at kitten (at the age of 59) when our beloved Siamese boy died at at 17 a few years ago. My cats have tended to live close to 20 years, and chances are the new kitten will outlive me. Animals of all breeds have always been a huge part of my life, both as a farm child and as an adult. I do feel adopting a kitten was somewhat irresponsible on my part, but I just couldn't resist this little Siamese cross girl who was at the local shelter. To assuage my guilt, I donate money or needed supplies to the shelters whenever I can.

This is agony. When my last adored cat died in 2004, I decided it would be irresponsible to adopt another because I was in my 50s at the time. We've moved around a lot, so I don't have a good care plan--and all my cats have lived double-digit lifespans, so I didn't like the math. Still a heartbreak, though.

Senior pets is the greatest idea. And posting detailed instructions about the presence, needs, and disposition of pets is huge. Thank you for these ideas.

I have three cats now. The oldest, Buzzy, is 12, the Siamese is 6 1/2, and the youngest is only 2. I'm 67, so if she lives to be 16 or older, as seems likely, I'll be into my 80s. The Siamese is very shy, and there's only one other person in the world whose lap he will get in -- his sitter in Chapel Hill -- and I made her promise to take him if anything happens to me! (She did not need any arm-twisting, and she's still in her 20s.) The oldest and youngest cats are easy, so they would adapt well to any decent home, but I think other friends in Chapel Hill (who have the little one's sister) would take them. Meanwhile, I went out on a limb and told a friend in her 80s, whose husband died last year and whose 22-year-old cat has been hanging on for dear life to console her, that if she gets another cat, I will be her backup person as long as I'm capable.

I faced this dilemma for a while. Having a cat in my life again was the next-to-last item on my bucket list. I knew having a kitten was far too dangerous to be underfoot in a tiny apartment with a wobbly senior (me)on a walker. I also knew that I couldn't deal with visits to vets frequently and the cost of same, if an elder cat was my choice. So I went on the SPCA's web site, chose several 3-4-year-olds to meet, and also determined that one of my children would be willing to take over when I died, since my ancestors are not known for living much past my age (80). Meanwhile, this sweet little fur-girl, who had never been out of a shelter in 3 1/2 years, now has a big, soft bed (mine), her own food dishes, her own litter-pan kept immaculately clean, toys and a willing playmate (me), and more love than she ever dreamed of, I'm sure. It was a brilliant decision, following multiple deaths of best friends and an only sister,and presaged an unexpected health problem that has possibly ended my driving years, at least for some time. I don't know how I could have lived without her, nd if she could, I think she'd say the same.

Speaking of senior pets -- I just received an urgent request for HELP. A healthy 14-year-old female cat currently in Jersey City is losing her home -- her owner relocated to Italy and left her with friends (or should I say "friends") who can no longer care for her, and she either needs a home quickly or could end up in a shelter. (Talk about not making good arrangements.)

Here is the owner's description: "Lefty is soon turning 14, so she is not young but a spry and cute little old lady. I somehow think she will be around for more years than we all may think as she is in very good health and not had any major problems, ever.

"Most vets have thought her to be a very young cat because of her good health, outlook and general small size - this even though she has become deaf over the past three years. She lived with her boyfriend, my feline son, Miles the Cat, until the day he died in 2012 so she is used to sharing space with other animals.

She is not declawed and specifically indoor only."

Anybody need a companion??

I have had one or or more cats most of my life. They have been a godsend in a life that has more than its share of challenges. I currently have several and the promise of my youngest daughter (she takes in strays and loves them until they cross over) that she will take care of them, or find new homes, or send them to a shelter here (that I support with donations) and pay for lifetime care for any that outlive me.
On another note - I see that Petfinder has been bought by Purina. I wonder what the purpose is. Guess we will have to wait to find out.

The whole question of what happens to pets after an owner's death is an interesting one. So, too, is how older folks deal with the death of their pets and are left alone. And, the way therapy dogs help old people in homes and nursing facilities is also an interesting topic.

My wife and I have been very involved in therapy dog work with the elderly. I just put up a post on my blog today about these subjects. You're welcome to visit and find out about some of the things these dogs do for ill and lonely older people.

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