Wednesday, February 11, is National Shut-in Visitation Day, established by Monsignor Losito of Reading, Pennsylvania, to encourage the visiting of those who are homebound. Confined elderly and disabled persons often depend on their dogs for companionship and comfort. However, mobility problems and fixed incomes can make caring for a pet challenging.
“From my experience with the homebound elderly, pets are essential to their health and well-being,” says Marianne Iaquinto, founder of Sam’s Hope and the Meals for the Pets of the Homebound Elderly Program. The program provides home-delivered pet meals on a monthly basis. “I cannot count how many times I have been told that if they didn’t have a pet, they really wouldn’t have a reason to get up in the morning.”
So on National Shut-in Visitation Day, consider ways to help a homebound friend keep his or her dog. Here are some ideas that could mean the difference between a home with companionship and an empty house:
1. Organize a pet food drive
Pet food is a big expense for those on a fixed income. Retired judge Susan Sexton of Tampa created the Elder Justice Center, which provides services and programs to help seniors age in place. She also setup a Christmas program called Elves for Elders, encouraging the public to donate pet food. She enlisted her son’s school in this food drive and had the students deliver the pet food to seniors.
2. Find resources for specific needs
Your local Agency on Aging can refer you to many helpful resources. Pet retention programs, such as Sam’s Hope, provide pet food and veterinary care assistance. Other organizations help with volunteers to walk the dog and to provide grooming and even foster care for pets of people requiring hospitalization.
3. Take responsibility for a pet’s food
Given the choice between paying for pet food or their own food or medicine, the person on a fixed income will usually feed their pets, according to Iaquinto. You can help by contacting your local Meals on Wheels to see if volunteers can deliver pet food to your friend.
Sometimes the wallet is willing, but the body is weak. Even going shopping can be a struggle: getting to the market, carrying heavy pet food bags, and dealing with public transportation. You can help by:
- Picking up dog food and other supplies while shopping for yourself. This is especially important if the dog is on a prescription diet, says vet tech Dorothy Truax of Granbury, Texas. If the person can shop for herself, bring coupons for food and treats. If you live too far away to personally deliver necessities, help with purchasing food online that can be delivered to your friend’s door.
- Visiting regularly to ensure the pet’s food and water bowls are filled.
- Purchasing an automatic feeder and fountain that won’t need tending for several days at a time.
- Simplifying food storage. Handling heavy bags (five pounds may be too heavy) and opening cans may prove very difficult for people with dexterity challenges. Break down bags of food into single-serving food-storage bags, suggests Barbara Lundgren of Meals on Wheel, Inc., of Tarrant County. Pre-open cans and put them in the fridge.
4. Take responsibility for a pet’s vet care
When illnesses crop up, it can be difficult for people with mobility issues to take their dog to the vet. Whenever you visit, take a quick peek to see if the pooch is okay and:
- Offer to take the dog to the vet if you see fleas, feel lumps or too many ribs, or smell foul breath.
- Schedule mobile vets and groomers for routine procedures if your friend has the financial resources.
- Make sure the dog gets monthly heartworm and flea preventative.
5. Take responsibility for a pet’s grooming
People with dexterity challenges may let routine grooming lapse. Help by taking the dog to the groomer for a bath, tooth brushing, and nail trim. If the owner can’t afford a professional groomer, offer to brush the dog and bathe him. Also offer to wash pet beds and blankets as needed.
6. Help out with bathroom breaks
One of the most arduous aspects of dog ownership for the physically challenged is dealing with canine bodily functions. After all, no one can refuse the call of nature. Even people with backyards may have issues. You can help by:
- Supplying pee pads
- Picking up poop in the yard
- Taking the dog out on regular walks for exercise, play, and socialization
7. Plan for the inevitable
At some point, your friend may no longer be able to care for her pet, so friends and family need to help plan for that day. Because of lack of planning, every day the pets of elderly owners die frightened and alone at the local animal shelter.
One important way you can help is to take your friend’s pet if she must be hospitalized or can no longer care for him. If you can’t adopt the dog, assure her you will find a loving home. Ask your friend to add your contact information to important paperwork in case your help is needed. While she is still able, create with her a file containing information about the animal’s medical history, personality, and any issues and preferences to help with the rehoming process, says Suzanne Clothier of the Elemental Animal.
How do you help housebound friends and family with their pets? Please share your experiences and suggestions in the comments.
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