To Parents of Elderly Pets: You are Not Alone

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The Elderly Pet Organization is a Rhode Island based nonprofit organization and today in our local news, we read with sadness about a senior pet who was abandoned, not once, but twice by his owner because the owner was not prepared to care for a senior pet. 

This heartbreaking story gave us pause to reflect on the mission of the Elderly Pet Organization which is to not only provide information and education about senior pets, but to also to remind pet owners that they are not alone! 

With veterinary medical advances today, more pets are living longer with illnesses or injuries than ever before. As pet owners, it is our responsibility to care for our senior pets in spite of their old age. Simply abandoning a senior pet on the side of the road is not just irresponsible, it is illegal in our area, and certainly no excuse. There are thousands of people around the country who would happily welcome an unwell senior pet into their home to care for them for the rest of their life. 

The Elderly Pet Organization welcomes stories from pet owners to share with our readers in an effort to help pet owners understand that they are not alone. Anyone who has cared for a senior pet knows first hand how difficult, challenging, and scary it can be. At the same time, it is one of the most rewarding and fulfilling things we can do – to care for an animal that would otherwise not survive without our love and attention. 

Here is a story from one of our pet parents, who wanted to share their experience with their senior pets. 

A message of hope from an Elderly Pet owner.

I have loved dogs since I was a child. In fact, I prayed for a dog (unsuccessfully) for almost all of my childhood. By the time I reached adulthood, I answered my own prayers and became a dog parent.

My current dogs, two female Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, are my favorite dogs yet. In my mind, when it comes to temperament and appearance, they can’t be beat. And as I grow older, my dogs, Lily and Daisy, 10 and 11 respectively, are growing older too.

Like my husband Pat and I, they are dealing with bodies that don’t do what they did in their youth. Daisy has a heart murmur (not uncommon in Cavaliers) that slows her down and challenges her breathing, arthritis in her legs so bad you can hear them creak which means she needs to be carried up and down stairs, and sebaceous cysts on her skin that continuously bleed and scab, causing itching and irritation.

Lily, an enthusiastic jumper in her youth (she starting jumping on her hind legs at 8 weeks old!), has a debilitating, inoperable spinal condition that has damaged the nerves to her back legs and has made   her lame. The vet has said that the condition will eventually lead to incontinence but for now she just needs more frequent trips outside. In addition to her lameness, Lily has had to have had most of her teeth extracted in her later years due to decay, despite years of teeth cleaning. Because of this, I started making homemade dog food that I can grind in a food processor. 

An incredibly athletic and active dog in her youth, Lily cannot move unless someone is there to move her – day and night. She gets carried up and down stairs like her sister Daisy. And like a baby who cries when it is hungry, tired or wet, Lily barks when she wants something from me. A bark usually means she wants to move to another place, she needs to go outside to relieve herself, or she is hungry or thirsty. But a bark, like a human complaint, can also mean she is tired of her dependency on others to move and just wants let off some steam about it.

Indoors, we use the Ginger Lead to help her get from room to room. Outdoors, we us a Walkin’ Wheels chair. While she is only 25 pounds (relatively small) the act of carrying her up and down the stairs and room to room with the lead, puts me at my limit as a small woman with bursitis and arthritis myself. I’ve made a mental note that while I will own a dog until the day I die, the next dog will need to weigh less than 15 pounds!

While it sounds like I am complaining an awful lot about this, it is a joy that we have had the girls this long, that I am now retired and can provide them with the care they need and that we have the financial resources to be sure they get the best medical care possible.

They still spend nights snuggling on my lap in front of the TV, they still perk up when it is dinner time or time for a treat, they still are excited when my daughter lavishes them with hugs and kisses or my husband comes home from work.   

As I said earlier, dogs have been a big part of my life since my 20s. And now, at 60 years old, looking back on my life, although I have spent thousands of dollars and hours on their care over the years, I can say that dogs have brought me more joy and comfort than I have given them. Lily and Daisy are still, even in their old age with all their medical issues, an answer to my prayers.  

Footnote from the Elderly Pet Organization: If you or someone you know has an elderly pet they are unwilling to care for, please visit our resources page to learn about a variety of options available. 

If the burden is financial in nature, there are a number of resources available. 

Please do not simply abandon your pet on the side of the road or deliberately harm your pet; there are options. You are not alone. 

With your help, we can keep senior pets out of shelters and place them in loving, caring homes. Your gift can help save senior pets from an uncertain future.

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