My senior mom and I went out for Chinese food last night for Valentine's Day. It was a delightful outing and tasty food. While we were chatting, we started to reminisce about a couple of sweet elderly relatives who are now snugly in heaven. One in particular came to mind. A widow, she had lived alone for many years with her little doggy who she loved. Then she got engaged to, and married, a very sweet gentleman from her church.
After the wedding, she moved into his retirement home happily, albeit with a bittersweet heart, as she had to find a good home for her little pup, since his home did not allow pets. She did, and the sweet doggy loved his new family – and they loved him. But sadly, her new husband died a few months later. She was blessed to continue living in the home, which was a much safer environment for her than before. But oh, she missed both her new husband and her sweet dog. By the time she moved, a few years later, her health had degenerated too much for her to handle another dog and I know that hurt her.
Why am I sharing this? Because I've come to learn, in the last couple of decades, how doubly important pets can be to our elderly parents. Especially if they lose a spouse. Not only do they provide sweet comfort and companionship, they can often help them stay a bit safer. A thief who might try to break in will usually avoid a house with a barking dog. If, heaven forbid, a fire were to break out, there are numerous stories of dogs and cats who alerted their owners to that fact. And, of course, there are many specially trained companion dogs who can be of extra assistance to those who need help, including elderly parents with sight or hearing or other aging-related problems.
All this to say, if the time comes for our senior parents to move – whether into our home, a smaller residence of their own, or a retirement community – it is vital for us to take their pets and pet needs into consideration. Then again, particularly if they move in with us, our own family's health needs – such as allergy issues – are also an important consideration.
If you and your senior parents haven't reached that point of time, this is the perfect time to think and plan ahead. If there are allergy considerations, and they are looking for a new dog, you can encourage them to look at one of the breeds that are considered to be hypoallergenic, like my little Yorkipoo granddogs (important caveat – not all people may be able to tolerate even hypoallergenic dogs – so test well if it's a major allergy. Mine is minor and I do use Claritan every day :)). If you or they are house-hunting where there are special CCRs or apartment rules about dogs or dog sizes, make sure they will allow your senior parents pets down the road.
And if your elderly parents decide to look into a retirement community, put "PETS ALLOWED" at the top of the list. Even if they say, "Oh well, we will just find a good home for Brownie," I would encourage them to think otherwise. They can easily underestimate how much they will miss their beloved pet. Plus, if they move and then one passes away, that sweet granddog might be just the one who can help keep them from falling into total depression. Fortunately, there are many senior residences that are also realizing how important this pet issue is so that can be a big help.
When we are caring for the elderly parents and relatives in our family and their real estate needs, there are definitely more issues to think about than the norm – including beloved dogs and cats.