Pets and Seniors Need Each Other

by francy Dickinson   (web site is updating – honest, I am working on it 🙂

Dear Francy; Mom lost dad two months ago, she is just 80 and still active. Dad did most of the driving and paying bills so she’s a bit lost on her own. She is in a smaller home so I know she can stay there for a while and she is well and dealing with adversities. But she calls me all day long, with the old; ” I don’t know what to do”. I know she should not make any big change decisions, but her coming out of giving full-time care to dad is hard on her. Suggestions?

Yes, I know this time frame is really hard on any spouse, but especially on your mom because your dad did a great deal for her during their time together. She is in withdrawal from all sorts of things. She misses your dad, but she misses his giving and caring for her also. She misses giving to him, he was her daily routine and life structure for a long time. Caregiving is something you do 24/7 and you give up lots of things for yourself to tend to another.  Then the care is over, the spouse passes and you are left alone. Now it’s time for her to slowly become her own self again.

I always suggest a pet. It means that the senior has something to tend to each day. They start their day with a need to clean a kitty box or take a small dog out the door. They know they need to exercise the pet and that keeps them moving. They know they need to feed the pet and that gives them a focus on time to eat for their own needs. They need to give the pet love and this helps to fill the place that their spouse left empty.

You want to be careful with your selection of  a pet…get something small that they can enjoy and make a commitment to them. If they become unwell and unable to care for the pet let them know you will find it a good home. Mean it, the pet deserves a lifelong commitment and that can include more than one family -not a return to the shelter. 

Lots of people will get a cat and if you do so the shelters have wonderful older cats that will be calm and enjoy living inside and having love and hugs. If you or your mom have never had a cat, just talk to the staff and let them help you find one that fits the home, your mom’s personality and the needs of the animal. If your mom already has one think of adding a playful kitty that will add a little snap and pop to the quiet home.

Now days you can hire a high school neighbor to clean out a kitty box and do light chores every other day or buy a cat box that’s self-cleaning. The expense pays off over and over again when a senior does not have to bend over or carry things outside to clean. You want to know what to get the cat…like a large scratching post and little toys and good food. Dry kibble is what a cat will eat and you need to buy the kind that is for indoor cats. A senior can not lift a heavy bag of food or litter. So buy a couple of the big bins with wheels, at the pet store, to store them and let the senior just open the lid and scoop. The bins can be kept safe in the garage, pantry or hall closet.  Then add just a little taste of canned food every few days for the cat to enjoy. This is an easy project for family and the elder senior. The cat in return will snuggle in with the senior and give them hours of enjoyment and a feeling of not being alone.

Going into a senior home that has no animal is always so quiet to me. The TV may be on, but once it is turned off…there is total silence. Add a pet and the silence is absorbed by the love they generate. They fill the place with silly play time and demands that only animals can make. It brings smiles to all seniors.

Even fancy retirement or assisted living places now allow cats and small dogs…so do not be worried about the future. If you make a commitment to give the animal a good life…then it will happen.

I remember talking to a man, years ago, that had lost his wife to Alzheimer’s. He was so lonely and I asked him to get a pet. I told him about a small dog and he thought I was nuts. No small dog, he said. He felt little dogs were barky and wild. NO, I said, they are well-mannered if you make them that way. A big dog takes lots of exercise and with your bad knee and bum hip, you need to keep it small so it can get exercise in the back yard with a ball throw and good romp, each day.

He was not hot on the idea, but as he progressed in his grief and he felt he needed to do something. He was getting very depressed on his own and so he called me again and asked if I would help him find a dog. I brought him into our local shelter and we talked to a lady that worked for Purina, they had a special senior placement program at the time. She reviewed his needs and his home size and talked about other pets he had, had in his past. She came up with a small schnauzer. It took her two months to find one that was older and would make the match. He was so excited when she called and we went in to meet with her and meet the dog. The dog had been with another senior, it was five and it was used to a quieter home.

It was a hassle getting him to understand the needs of a small dog. (He had large dogs that needed little attention and his wife had done more of the pet care than he had.) But with a couple books and getting the right products to help him, it all smoothed out. A month later I returned to visit him. The first thing  I found was the little dog in the window at the front door and the wiggles of delight at meeting a new friend. Then when I entered the house I found a large basket of dog toys that were piled high in the living room. The three (count them three) dog beds were placed throughout the home. The water bowl on the kitchen floor was on a very cute plastic floor guard and the food dish matched the water bowl. The dog had a collar with his name tag and a flashy lead that would stand out on dark nights for short walks. He also had a groomer that had brought his feathers into a very handsome cut.

Then to my amazement, the gentleman picked up the dog and started to talk to it with a high voice and a funny little patter to his words. It made me smile a smile so deep. A man who found a friend, a man who was able to express his inner needs and share it with a dog. A dog that was so filled with love that he had to kiss the guy non stop and a family united in love.

Pets, and seniors not only belong together, its pretty nutty for them to be apart. If allergies exist, there are animals that will work within those challenges, just ask your local shelter to help you find the perfect match. Losing a spouse of many years goes to the top of life’s hardships…but grieving with a small pet by your side, will help healing and keep the senior young in body and heart. 

Blessings on all you do for your mom. I think many forget that giving attention and time to seniors is a gift that keeps on going. Your patience on the phone is helping her find herself again. That is a kind and dear thing to give to a lady that gave so much to you as you grew up. Thank you. francy

I am on Twitter join me @seniorcaretips


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