By Iris Winston
Wherever that home may be
Finally submitting to the pressure from concerned relatives and health professionals, the old couple waited on the porch of their home of 60 years, with their border collie between them, as ready as they would ever be to move into a retirement community. When the social worker helping with the move arrived, her first remark after greeting them was, “The dog can’t come.”
The couple said nothing. They simply looked at each other, stood, reached for each other’s hands and turned back into the house.
I met the family some months later and applauded their automatic reaction to the thought of having to give up their beloved pet. I know that I would be devastated if I were forced to part with any of my animals.
Happily, the couple was able to manage and keep their dog. Working with daily help, both the human beings and the border collie stayed contentedly together in their house for the rest of their lives. The end of the story for them was that the border collie lived for two more years and her owners died soon afterwards, peacefully, and within weeks of each other, at home.
While the events leading up to the couple’s decision not to move without their dog took place several years ago, the painful possibility of being parted from a beloved pet remains for many older people facing health challenges and enforced moves.
Today, most retirement communities recognize the importance of four-legged family members (and other pets) in people’s lives and note that they are pet-friendly. Some communities place a limit on size, usually 25 pounds. I have never understood the need for such a restriction as, in general, larger dogs are quieter than high-energy small dogs. Still, it is undoubtedly essential to know all the rules and the suitability of the environment before committing people and pets to move in.
We all hope that any animal lover adopting a pet intends to provide a forever home for the new member of the family. Yet, there are still too many animals, particularly cats, languishing in animal shelters because their owners changed their minds or living arrangements without considering their animals’ needs.
Some of the weakest reasons for giving up an animal range from “he sheds too much,” “her fur clashes with the carpet,” or “we’re redoing the floors, and she will scratch the hardwood” to “she
needs too many walks.” These are the kinds of comments made by people who should never have become pet owners in the first place. In attempting to weed out whim adopters who are not thinking in terms of an animal being with them for the rest of his life or their ongoing responsibility, animal shelters and rescue societies have become increasingly strict in their pet ownership
Sadly, situations change and rehoming a much-loved pet may become unavoidable even for really committed pet owners. Perhaps a severe health issue leaves the owner unable to care for the animal. Perhaps drastically altered financial circumstances for the person and increased veterinary needs for the animal make the cost of providing appropriate care beyond the individual’s means.
Occasions such as these may lead to rehoming. The happier an animal was in his first home, and the older he is, the more stressful and difficult it is likely to be for him to settle into a new home. Dogs, in particular, may become anxious and depressed because they miss their person and the comfort of their familiar environment.
There are ways to make life easier for animals to adjust. Bringing a favourite bed and toys and placing them in a quiet corner or room help to make them feel safe. Using the same type of food, preferably in a familiar dish and served at the same time of day, and taking walks around the same time all preserve aspects of a known routine.
Keeping life simple for the new resident is also essential while he becomes familiar with the sights, sounds and smells of his new home. Introductions to other pets need to be handled slowly and carefully. Any visitors, human or animal, should be minimized for the first month or so. It’s all a matter of giving the animal time to adjust and feel safe.
And there is nothing that works better than gentle affection and time spent with the animal to help him relax into his new forever home.
Almonte, Ontario writer, Iris Winston, is a former Executive Director of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies. She has been an animal lover all her life. Her pets have always been important members of her family