How to Remove Pets from an Aging Parent’s Home
A reader wrote this comment to a prior post here. Because her question is a challenge many families face while caring for their “Golden Oldies” (aka aging parents or relatives), I’ve gotten permission to publish it along with my answer below:
. . . I need some advice. I fully believe that pets are beneficial and theraputical for our ‘Golden Oldies’, but what do you do when they can no longer care for their beloved pets due to dimentia and the like? I’m asking this because my grandmother lives for her two dogs. However, she is entering the beginning stages of dimentia and can no longer care for them properly. Family is there daily to help her out, but her house is a mess because she doesn’t feel safe taking them outside. What if you can’t afford pet sitter services, but are tired of cleaning the mess yourself? I’ve thought of trying an easier pet such as fish, but how do you explain why you are taking her dogs away? Help! ~ Cilla
There are both practical and emotional aspects of your question, Cilla.
Options for the Dogs
An in-depth post with options for rescuing your grandmother’s dogs can be found by clicking this link, but a brief summary of the suggestions are:
- The absolute best option for everyone involved is for a family member, friend or neighbor to adopt her dogs. By doing so, your grandmother can still visit her pets and/or have them visit her. It will also give her peace of mind knowing her pets are in good homes with people that love them.
- If the dogs are a specific breed, I would search online (Google.com is your friend) for local animal rescue groups for that breed. Or ask your veterinarian for a referral. Another alternative is to find a “no kill” animal shelter to take them to. Ask the Humane Society in your area for referrals to rescue groups and appropriate shelters. Some veterinarians may know of other families who want to adopt pets.
“How do you explain why you are taking her dogs away?”
This is tricky. And I must preface this advice with the fact that I don’t know exactly how much memory loss your grandmother has, so my advice will have to be my best guess from the brief description you wrote.
I would try taking away one dog at a time. You can tell her initially the dog’s at the vet for a checkup, and see if she even notices the one dog missing. Depending on her degree of memory loss, she may not even miss the dog. (A family member should be with her that day or check in frequently by phone to assess her awareness.) But depending how much she notices the dog’s absence and/or asks about the dog repeatedly later in the day, you can (a) either bring the dog back that evening, or (b) you can delay the return of the dog and tell her the dog will be back from the vet as soon as the checkup is done, because the vet took longer than expected or some such thing. We call this “ethical fibbing.” While we aren’t telling the truth to grandma, we’re telling a small white lie so as not to hurt her. If this first transition goes well, a week later, I would take the second dog away, repeating the vet “ethical fib” story over again.
Although she is attached to her dogs, her dementia may have advanced to the point where they will be “out of sight, out of mind.” It may not be necessary to tell her at all that you’ve taken her dogs away, since her memory is already to the point that she’s forgetting to care for them adequately. If you can’t take them away now, as a family I’d come up with a care schedule for the dogs — who will feed, walk, and bathe them on a rotating basis, until such time as they can be removed from her home. Create a calendar to send to all family members involved so there are no missed days by accident. Some dementia can be progressive, and unfortunately your grandmother may reach the stage when she won’t be aware of the dog(s) absence. Sad but a definite possibility.
Don’t make a “big deal” of the reasons for the transition to another home. You don’t want your grandmother to feel ashamed or guilty that she can’t care for them by herself any longer. It is the disease that is causing her lack of pet care, and it is not something she has any control over. Please do not make her feel guilty, even as you continue to clean up the mess for the zillionth time. Bee matter-of-fact about what needs to be done for the dogs, rather than emotional. Use the words, “Grandma, I’m giving the dogs their food and water,” rather than, “Grandma, you forgot to feed the dogs again!!!!” She will pick up her cues on how to feel about the situation based on how you (or your family) respond to it. Stay calm and pleasant with Grandma, as hard as that might be at times.
Don’t introduce a new pet to her home, unless you personally are willing to care for it 100%. I like your idea of providing a substitute pet for her dogs, but what I recommend is buying her a gift of two stuffed animals that resemble her dogs (in either color or size) even before you begin the whole removal process. I’ve seen women with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia happily cuddling stuffed animals and even baby dolls as if they were real. It’s instinctual bonding, and can quite possibly fulfill your grandmother’s desire to nurture.
“. . . she doesn’t feel safe taking them outside”
This statement raises some red flags for me.
It makes me think, “Is she paranoid?” If she hasn’t been to her regular doctor for a complete checkup recently, I would do that immediately. Be sure you let the doctor’s office know when you make the appointment about your grandmother’s memory loss and ask for a comprehensive examination. He or she may also refer you to a neurologist after their initial examination and diagnosis.
Please be sure to have a family member accompany your grandmother to all of her doctor’s appointments from now on, so you can tell them about her real physical and mental condition, as well as hear what he or she tells your grandmother, because she will likely forget what was said by both parties by the time she gets home.
If your grandmother is having trouble caring for her pets, can she still care for herself? Is she safe living alone? Is she still driving? Start a discussion with your family about these questions and come up with an action plan now (even before it is needed) as to where she will live when she can’t live alone any longer. Thinking ahead, learning about local resources and being prepared for the next step is an essential part of caregiving.
Cilla, she is so very lucky to have a granddaughter who cares so much about her welfare! I hope these ideas help your grandmother, her dogs and your whole family. Thank you for giving me permission to publish your question here for all to learn from.
Have any of you gone through this challenge with your loved ones and their pets? How did you make the necessary transition with the least amount of resistance by your Golden Oldies? All comments are welcome below.
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