How do I help my elderly mother deal with the loss of her pets?
My 73-year-old mother's health has deteriorated and she needs to move into an assisted-living facility. However, she owns two cats that are like family to her. What should I do with them, and how do I prepare her for the loss of her companions?
First, find out if your mother's new home allows pets. It may come as a surprise, but some homes do, so looking for a pet-friendly facility is a smart first step.
If not, find out what you can about her cats. Are they a bonded pair that should be kept together? Do they have any health or behavior issues? How old are they? Are they indoor cats? Make copies of their vet records and jot down whatever you can find out about their behavior and dietary preferences. Knowing the answers to these questions will help you find them an appropriate home.
If you know of a family member or friend who happens to like the cats, he might be a good candidate. Getting the word out to your mother's circle with e-mails or phone calls is a good strategy. If the cats go to someone who knows you or your mom, he might be willing to update you on how the cats are doing or even send occasional photos to your mom. Knowing this may help your mother with the separation.
If that doesn't pan out, ask the cats' veterinarian if she would be willing to post a flyer in her office. The flyer should have a brief description and a photo. Finding a candidate through this channel has several advantages: you're likely to attract cat lovers, and if a client does adopt the cats, the veterinary staff already knows them, which might ease your mom's mind.
Another thing to consider is setting up a trust to help pay for the cats' care. Your mother can work with an attorney to draw up a special will, trust, or other document, or she can simply leave a lump sum for that purpose to whoever adopts the cats. If you help your mom set up a trust for the cats, check to see that it will be valid and enforceable in your state. And keep in mind that tying up a substantial amount of money for an animal's benefit often proves to be controversial among other relatives or heirs.
Can you keep them?
It may be helpful to her to know where they are.
You might try an animal rescue group. I would recommend working with one which has you keep the animals until a home is found (they are not euthanized for space or illness). Interview several so that you get a better feel for who might be a better fit for trying to find a new home.
The sad truth is most shelters and rescue groups are busting at the seams with unwanted pets. What a gift to your elderly parent for a family member to step up and take care of the pet. It would give the elderly parent peace of mind and you would be able to update your mom/dad on the lastest stories/pictures of the pet. My personal will and trust will include instructions and a bulk of the estate tied to a family member who takes on such a responsibilty. If none of my family wants to take on my pets they need not get the money.
There are assisted living facilities that allow pets and there are some that do not. But if worse comes to worst and you can't find an ALF that allows pet, you may seek the services of pet therapy, so your mother won't feel the loss of companions, pet therapy animals are highly trained and are now being used to help seniors and long term care dependents increase their self esteem, motivate social interactions and improve motor skills. Also, you will not find problems because pet therapy animals are allowed and have the legal rights to go even if the facility has "no pets allowed" policy. As for the cats, you can bring them to friends and relatives who might like them or look for shelter group that would be willing to take care of them :)
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