How do I help my elderly mother deal with the loss of her pets?

A fellow caregiver asked...

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?

Expert Answer

Nancy Peterson is an issues specialist for the Humane Society of the United States in Washington, D.C.

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.