Growing old with your pet
Dogs can be expensive, Bell said, and seniors may have a hard time keeping up with rambunctious pets and visits to the vet.
It can cost more than $530 a year to care for a pet, according to petfinder.com, a website that promotes adopting pets from animal shelters. It often costs more than that the first year, when new owners must purchase new supplies.
Toys and leashes may pose a tripping hazard, she added. Some assisted living facilities do not allow pets, so animal owners must plan ahead before moving into one.
“It has to be in a safe environment,” she said. “I’m not saying a dog can stay in place forever — it has to be safe.”
She often gets calls from seniors who have moved into a nursing home or from family members of a parent or sibling who has died. The callers do not know what to do with the animal left behind, she said.
She has taken many of those animals, and has been able to find new homes for many of them. She and her business partner, Sindie Crease, keep the rest, she said.
She is hoping to use property near her home on Hartwell Lake to build a “lost dog” sanctuary, she said.
Bell recommends seniors plan ahead to find a family member who will be willing to take care of the pet, either temporarily or permanently. Almost all nursing homes allow pets to visit, if they do not allow residents to keep a pet, so seniors should choose a family member who lives near and can bring the pet to visit, Bell said.
While Bell recommends seniors own an older pet — which is likely less rambunctious — she also says they should take into account that older dogs are harder to adopt into new homes.
In that situation, someone moving into a nursing home is best advised to find a sanctuary to keep their pet, rather than an animal shelter that may try to re-home the dog, Bell said.
Bell also said seniors should consider designating someone to have power of attorney over their pet, in case they are no longer able to take care of it.
Robert Tope, a veterinarian at the Electric City Animal Clinic who often works with Hospice of the Upstate, said seniors who own pets should ask their vet to make house calls, so the animal’s treatment is not neglected.
He worked with a couple in their mid-70s who had two kittens, he said. The couple put aside a fund for their cats.
He recommends putting between $300 and $400 a year in such a fund, he said.
“That would take care of if they (the pet) needed any type of dental care, or if they needed exams and vaccines,” Tope said.
Caring for a pet can be one of the first things overlooked if a senior moves into a nursing home or becomes ill, said Kathy Little, a spokeswoman for Hospice of the Upstate. That is why the hospice applied for a grant to help families care for pets, Little said.
“Those pets are so important to those patients at the end of life, and may be their only source of comfort and companionship,” Little said.
Bell is hoping to begin a pet foster program for seniors. Oconee Animal Rescue will place a pet with an elderly resident, helping cover the costs and taking care of the pet if the seniors want to travel.
“It gives them that opportunity to be able to keep and have an animal,” Bell said.
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