If you own a pet or grew up with one, you know what an important role they can play in a family and household. But along with the love and companionship they offer, the amount of physical and financial responsibility that pets carry is significant, and can feel especially burdensome to an elderly person with physical or financial limitations. If you have an elderly parent living with a pet and wonder if the responsibility is becoming too much, no doubt you’re torn between recognizing the benefits of Dad having a companion and worrying about his and the pet’s wellbeing. How do you know when it might be time to step in, and what happens next when you do?
First, get familiar with signs of possible pet neglect. These include:
- Excessive weight loss or weight gain: Either of these is problematic; Dad may have forgotten to feed Daisy, or he might not remember feeding her. Both can lead to bigger and more complex health issues like diabetes or thyroid disease.
- Accidents: If a pet is urinating or defecating indoors, it may not only be a sign that they’re not being taken outside properly. Household accidents could also indicate a potentially serious health problem that Dad is not addressing.
- Depression or Personality Changes: Like people, animals can suffer depression or anxiety when not given the proper care and attention. If Daisy stays in her crate instead of giving you her usual cheerful greeting, or acts uncharacteristically edgy or disengaged, that may be another indication that something is amiss.
- Frequent Disappearances: If Dad seems to be dealing with a spate of runaway incidents, or neighbors calling with requests to retrieve his pet, that’s another potential red flag.
If any of these rings a bell, it’s probably time to schedule a full veterinary examination – and bring Dad along. Getting a professional assessment will give you the most thorough picture of the pet’s condition and any specific health issues that need to be addressed. The vet can also serve as a helpful partner in deciding what needs to change going forward, and can be a great resource for organizations that can help in a potential transition process.
The appointment may make it clear that Dad can no longer manage his pet’s care, in which case you’re likely facing a conversation about finding the pet a new home. This topic is never easy; not only will Dad be losing a companion, but he may also feel like he’s failed her in some way. That’s why it’s so important to make Dad a part of the plan to find his pet a better living situation. Being part of the solution will likely help Dad offset any feelings of guilt or shame at no longer being able to serve as caregiver.
The good news is there are organizations out there to help you and your parent find their pet a loving home. The Shelter Pet Project connects people with local shelters and rescue services who will not only help with temporary housing, but will list their pet’s photo and profile on their websites for people looking to adopt. They also provide excellent screening services to help evaluate potential home placements. The Humane Society is another excellent resource that connects people to pet adoption services all over the country.
There’s also a lot you and Dad can do on your own to facilitate the process, including advertising through local veterinary offices; placing flyers at your local church, gym, office building, or school; and leveraging your own social media networks, asking friends to share your posts. No matter what channels you use, make sure you are honest and upfront about the circumstances of the pet’s relocation, and any health issues that need to be disclosed.
Want more information on pet adoption? Head to the PetFinder website.