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Norwich Bulletin - 11/16/2008

Companions For the Elderly

We all know that pets can positively benefit the well being of elderly pet owners. In fact, many elderly people living alone, acknowledge that their pets are their reason for living. Their cats and dogs are their constant companions, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, and they comfort, protect and most importantly, unconditionally love their owners. And they especially protect their owners from loneliness and despair.

Our cats and dogs are intensely loyal. They do not criticize, complain or tell their elderly companion that they are too slow or too forgetful. In fact, they boost morale, help reduce stress by providing emotional security and the force their elderly human to follow a routine in order to care for them. It is very good therapy for an elderly person to have to walk their little dog or know that they are responsible for feeding their cat and providing a warm lap.

Yes, these precious pets bring happiness and laughter into lives that have lost most of their friends, or lives that no longer have their children visiting often – and the fact that they have a little furry person they are in charge of definitely lifts depression and brings smiles to their faces.

But even though this special relationship between owner and pet adds immeasurably to the quality of life for both animal and human, all those pleasures and benefits can be neutralized if there is an anxiety of not knowing what will happen to their devoted animal companion if they die or have to leave their home for an assisted living accommodation that does not allow pets.

And all too often, the children of the parent will be the first ones looking to get rid of the animal after their elderly relative dies. Promises are not always kept – I know that for a fact since I get at least one call a week from someone who wants to turn in a cat or dog that belonged to a relative who recently died. This is something that Helping Paws does not do. Pets of elderly people have a very hard time adjusting to the sounds and life of a stranger’s younger, louder and more demanding household. It is too traumatic and too sad to watch these animals who are grieving for their person, to be abandoned by the family that should be taking care of them.

England has figured out a way to save the animals suffering and their owners anxiety. Mrs. Averil Jarvis is the founder of Cinnamon Trust, the only specialist national charity, founded in 1985, to specifically address these issues. As she was developing this organization, her beloved seventeen year old Corgi, Cinnamon, passed over the rainbow bridge. She felt that it was appropriate to name the Trust in her dog’s memory.

The Cinnamon Trust’s primary objective is to respect and preserve the treasured relationship between owners and their pets. It is, in a sense, a partnership with owners, in order to overcome any difficulties that might arise. There is a national network of over 10,000 community service volunteers that have been established to provide a practical help when any aspect of day to day care poses a problem.

For example, there are dog walkers for the elderly that are no longer mobile enough to walk their pets, but can still take care of them indoors. People that will come to help care for the person’s cats once a day so they can keep their furry pillows. There are foster home services which provides a temporary place for pets to go when their owners are in the hospital. These animals are treated with love and care until their owner can once again care for their pets.

Another important aspect of Cinnamon Trust is that they provide long term care for pets whose owners have died or moved to residentials which do not allow pets. Arrangements are made between owners and the Trust well in advance, if possible, to give the owners peace of mind in the knowledge that their best friend will have a safe and happy home for the rest of their natural life. If the pet comes into care because the owner no longer lives where pets are allowed, the Trust keeps in touch with the owner with visits, if possible, or at least photos and letters.

The trust will also arrange for an elderly person, who has lost their pet, to be able to adopt a bereaved pet from someone who has died. There seems to be an immediate trust and understanding between human and animal as they are both missing the most important person in their lives.

The Trust has developed unique sanctuaries for the animals that live out their lives there – there are no kennels, and no cages, because they realize that would only bewilder and upset a much loved old pet. There are armchairs, large warm rooms to share, rugs on the floor, couches, and the routine mimics that of the average household.

And most importantly, the Trust does not charge for its services. It naturally hopes that pet owners who benefit from its work will make a contribution, or perhaps remember the Trust in a will when a bereaved pet would be coming into their care. But mostly, it depends entirely on voluntary contributions. Like most of our organizations, it receives no country or local city aid.

So what can we do here in the United States to relieve the anxiety, problems and even injustices faced by the elderly and terminally ill people and their pets? The answers are not as clear cut as they are in England, but I will be writing a New Years column addressing this particular resolution.

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