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Written by: Mary Ann Winters
Date: September 22, 2015

Dog-Faced-by-David-SmithEvery single day, 10,000 people celebrate their 65th birthday in the USA.  With this aging population, there is a new appreciation of the role animals play in keeping us physically and emotionally healthy.  Senior Housing and Assisted Living Communities are more likely to allow pets these days.

I can’t write about pets without a memory of my Mom popping up and making me smile.  She loved dogs and owned a total of seven, one at a time.  Each one is a story; here’s one of my favorites:

My Mom’s dear miniature dachshund, Tootsie, became seriously ill.  My Mom, a retired RN, had been caring for her at home.  Mom loved animals, especially that little one.  I received a brief tearful call from her the day Tootsie died, explaining that the dog was “lying in state” with her favorite blanket on the sofa and they were taking her to a friend’s farm for burial that afternoon. 

Allowing several days for grieving, I decided to call and check on my Mom.  Her cheerful voice surprised me as she answered my call, so I commented that she seemed to be doing well.   She shared her story of burying Tootsie on the farm in a nice box and not being able to sleep because she was so far away.   “So,” she explained, “I just went back down there and dug her up.”  I’m so glad Tootsie was buried in a box, because my 80 year old Mother put it in her car trunk, came home and buried her dear Tootsie again; this time, in the back yard.  I was relieved my Mom  found peace with her loss; but I must confess I’ve never been able to tell the story without a giggle.  Friends hearing it often suggested I make my own burial place an undisclosed location!

Your pet may be a large turtle, a talking parakeet, an exceptional kitty or perhaps fish.  I know several people who enjoy Salt Water Aquariums.  Expensive and requiring expertise, they delight everyone with exotic fish, coral and other sea life; beautiful to behold.  One friend added an unusual exotic anemone to his superb tank, and all was well……. for the time being.  One day, several months later, the tank was filled with bits of some unknown material and it took a while to notice the new anemone was missing. After several phone calls and extensive research, it was determined that the creature had totally exploded, filling the tank with bits of itself – some sort of reproductive event which proved highly stressful for the owner and required endless hours of clean up.

I won’t even tell you the details about the dog that ate the bag of chocolate or my Bassett Hound, Dexter, who opened a rotating kitchen cupboard and devoured a bottle of syrup and a box of corn meal. A short time after that emergency trip to the vet, he greeted me at the door with the upholstered arm from a favorite chair; nails protruding through the fabric.   Pet stories are endless and, in retrospect, usually funny.  Of course, they must be shared with true pet lovers to be appreciated.  Others cannot imagine why anyone would put up with such an array of problems.

If you’re still reading, I know we likely share a heartfelt appreciation of creatures great and small.  So, let’s examine a more difficult aspect of pet ownership.  When you give serious thought to your own precious pet and when I consider my Sophie (10 lb, 11 year old Shih Tzu), we love them and worry about their care and well being.

I started to think:  “What happens if I move to a Senior-living facility?  What if Sophie outlives me?”

Maybe you’ve spoken to a relative or friend about taking your pet into their home if such situations arise in your life, and maybe not.  If there’s no one you can count on, other solutions are available such as Pet Sanctuaries, Pet Trusts and Pet Retirement Homes.  As I understand it, a Pet Trust may be used to pay for Pet Retirement Home or caregiver expenses.  Some pet facilities are beyond any luxury we could imagine for ourselves, no less our pets.  One even offers radiant floor heating to keep paws warm.  You will likely be required to pay an enrollment fee to retain a reservation for your pet – around $10,000. Fortunately, my family loves pets; and I’ve been assured Sophie will always have a home.

While reading my local newspaper recently, a picture of a dog with the sweetest face caught my eye.  The dog was part of an unusual advertisement for a funeral home.  It offered the services of this gentle pet to comfort people at regular funerals and pet funerals. The advertisement is lovely. The dog’s training, certification information and name are listed along with suggested appropriate times for her to be present (during calling hours, etc.).   This new approach to comfort the grieving is worth considering.   My Mom would have loved it.

Maybe I could train Sophie to be a comfort dog. She could earn the money to cover her retirement expenses.