Getting older and having more complex care needs can bring about a tough decision if you have a pet at home.
If you’re thinking about residential care, you’ll want to carefully research the organisation’s policy on animal companions. Unfortunately, not all care homes will be willing to accept a resident who wants to bring their beloved dog, cat or budgie with them.
This potential scenario can add extra heartbreak to a situation that is likely already fraught with emotion. And older people may miss out on some of the clear health and wellbeing benefits that pet ownership can bring.
It’s estimated that around 70% of residential homes and sheltered housing schemes don’t allow residents to have pets. According to a survey by the Live-in Care Hub over two million people in the UK say they know an elderly person who had to have their cat or dog put to sleep because they were moving into a nursing home.
The survey also revealed that in order to avoid going into a care home, 17% of people would hide their health concerns and pretend they were well. More shocking still, 4% of respondents said they would consider taking their own lives if they were to lose their animal companions.
Animal charity the Blue Cross is campaigning hard to ensure all elderly care homes have a clear pet policy place. The organisation found that while 40% of UK care homes claim to be ‘pet-friendly’, this does not reflect reality in the majority of nursing homes.
‘Pet-friendly’ could mean anything from allowing a resident to have to a pet, to permitting pets to visit residents, to simply having a fish tank in a communal area. Such policies need to be much more transparent so individuals and their carers can make better-informed decisions.
Diane James from the Blue Cross Pet Bereavement Support Service said: “Calls from older people forced to give up their pet because they are going into a care home are heartbreaking. Not only are pets an important companion in older people’s lives, they may also be the last link to a deceased spouse or happy memory. At an already difficult time for many older people, losing their pet can be seriously traumatic for them.”
Do you really need to give up your pet?
It’s true that pet ownership can be a major commitment, but some people may be giving up their companions before they need to. Firstly, is the situation as grave as you think? Perhaps all you need is a little extra help to keep your pet at home.
You could ask friends or family if they’d be willing to help look after your furry friend. If there’s no one close to you that can lend a hand, you may be able to pay someone to regularly visit your home and help out.
There are even charities, such as the Cinnamon Trust, which organises volunteers to help walk people’s dogs and feed pets while the individual is bed-bound or in hospital.
Ensuring your pet is safely rehomed
If you’re moving somewhere that doesn’t allow pets, or your health makes it no longer possible for you to care for them, you should take some time to come to terms with the decision. This is an understandably painful time and you need to give yourself a chance to process your feelings.
Then, when you feel ready, give your pet the best chance of adoption by ensuring it is up to date on routine vaccinations and has been spayed and neutered.
After this, start spreading the word about your desires to find a friendly, peaceful new home for your pet. Ask friends and family to help you. You might find someone you already know is willing and able to rehome your animal, which could give you peace of mind. You may even still be able to have regular contact with the pet.
If no one you know is able to help, or you don’t feel comfortable casting a wider net, there are loads of organisations that can find the perfect new home for your pet. Your local rescue centre is worth a call. And you can also get advice for charities such as RSPCA, Blue Cross, The Cats Protection League, and the National Animal Welfare Trust.
Consider live-in care
Nursing homes aren’t your only option though. Although it’s less well-known, live-in care is becoming a more popular choice for many older people with chronic conditions. It allows someone to stay in their own home and maximise their quality of life, often for a similar cost to residential care.
There are several pros of live-in care, but one of the big benefits is the ability to keep pets. 83-year-old Margaret was able to stay with Henry, her friendly golden retriever. Following a fall, Maragaret had been diagnosed with dementia and needed care and support that her family were not able to provide on their own. She was matched with two live-in carers, Anne and Olga.
Anne says: “Henry has been such a comfort to Margaret over the years that I firmly believe he has been a fundamental influence to her wellbeing and recovery.”