(Your privacy is protected)
     
   
 

 

 
 
ANIMALS & ELDERS: TOGETHER FOREVER
   
  Introduction
  Part 1
  Part 2
  Part 3
  Part 4
  Resources
   
   
 
Part 4 of a 4-part series
   
 
In this final part of our campaign, we look at animals in residential care. First we meet a remarkable cat who tracked down her guardian to a Home - even though she'd never been there before. Then we find out how companion animals transform life for residents and staff in care facilities.
   
   
 
'HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS!'
   
   
 
   
   
  When Nancy Cowen went into residential care last autumn, her beloved cat, Cleo, was re-homed with neighbours. Cats are notoriously territorial and perhaps it seemed like the best option. Not to Cleo, though: as far as she was concerned, home was wherever Nancy was - so she used her feline 'super powers' to find her.
   
  Ironically, Nancy wasn't far away. But when you don't know where to start, the world can seem a very big place - especially to a small cat with no forwarding address. So how did Cleo find Nancy? It's a question that's fascinated people around the world, ever since her story went viral on the internet last year.
   
 

As an animal communicator, I connected with Cleo through a photograph, first asking her some basic questions about herself and the Home for verification purposes. Once staff at Bramley House in Westcott, Surrey confirmed that the information was correct, I invited Cleo to tell me her story...starting with how she tracked Nancy to a place she had never been before.

   
  'I followed my nose' she communicated, implying that she used her intuitive guidance to lock on to Nancy's location. 'I travelled at night. I was not scared...just wary.' She sent me a mental image of walking along streets, and crossing an open, grassy area like a common or field - details which resonated with the Home.
   
  Two weeks later, Cleo found her way to Bramley House. She knew Nancy was inside - she could sense it - so she hung around the garden, sleeping on benches and befriending staff, who assumed she was just a sweet, albeit strangely persistent stray. Persistence - and faith - finally paid off another fortnight later.
   
  Cleo suddenly heard the familiar sound of Nancy's voice; she was humming and clapping in her room which opens into the garden. So the cat went and sat outside her window until somebody noticed her. Bramley's manager, Kelly Lovelock picks up the story: 'When we opened Nancy's side door, Cleo just ran to her!'
   
  Nobody could quite believe it when they realised she was Nancy's cat, and that she had actually managed to find her in a semi-rural village of nearly a thousand homes.
   
   
 
Being reunited is 'Bliss'
   
   
  Being reunited is 'Bliss' says Cleo. I could sense her literally purring with pleasure. And Nancy is happy, too. Especially since Bramley House has agreed Cleo can stay permanently, formally incorporating her daily care and welfare into Nancy's care package.
   
  According to staff member Lesley Thomas, Cleo spends much of her time with her beloved guardian. Cleo sent me a mental image of the number '8' which Lesley said is Nancy's room number. Cleo also indicated that she prefers to sleep off the floor, and has a special 'perch' which Lesley confirmed was Nancy's footstool.
   
  Cleo's personality came across loud and clear during our communication. She is sweet and affectionate and loves being stroked, although she isn't keen on being picked up. She enjoys being around people - I received an impression of an area where staff regularly gather and she gets lots of attention. Lesley later verified this, saying it was the kitchen!
   
   
 
   
   
  Cleo is proud of her four white paws but sad about her tail. Apparently, it used to be glorious - long and bushy - but it's now partially amputated. This, too, was later confirmed by the Home; it would seem it was the result of a traffic accident.
   
  Cleo has adjusted well to life at Bramley House. 'It is calm, peaceful - there is a lot of love. It is perfect for Nancy.' Dementia has, in some ways, changed their relationship: 'Nancy is there and not there,' says Cleo. 'She is distressed by her illness but I make her life calm. We have our own way of connecting. She is still my Love.'
   
   
 
Love is Love...It doesn't have to be complicated.
   
   
  The remarkable feline has free access throughout the Home and says, 'I walk the corridors: visiting, healing, purring, washing...I am content.' Staff say that her presence helps to create a wonderful home-from-home atmosphere.
   
  Certainly, Cleo enjoys being with the people of Bramley House, helping them in her own special way. 'My purpose is to Love: I am very content. I spread healing all around. My sheer presence cheers them: they feel my Love.'
   
  She is aware her story has touched the hearts of people around the world. I sense that makes her feel proud, humble and accepting, all at once: 'It is what it is' she says simply. What Cleo finds harder to understand is why anyone would find her actions strange - after all, she is Nancy's cat and they belong together.
   
  'Love is Love' she says. 'It doesn't have to be complicated.'
   
   
   
   
 
WE BRING 'HOME' BACK TO RESIDENTIAL CARE
 
How animals create happier, more caring and vital communities
   
 
 
Julie
   
  Romeo may not have recognised her. After all, this big-eyed 'Julie' has a tousled mop of bed-head and a glorious ginger 'tash'. But she's a cutie who's captured the hearts of residents at an East Sussex Rest Home - especially her 'Dad's', Bob Dawson.
   
  The miniature schnauzer lives at Elizabeth Court in Bexhill with Bob and his other 'lovely', a terrier called Dinky. 'They come to get cuddles off me every day, they make me happy and give lots of love to me and my friends here, too."
   
  Bob chose the Home because they accept animals: 'I have had my dogs since they were puppies and I didn't want to leave them behind' he says firmly.
   
   
 
AVOIDING CARE
 
According to research, older people avoid medical attention because they fear admission to hospital or residential care, which would mean giving up their pet - or putting it down.
   
   
  Being 'pet-friendly' is a huge factor influencing people's choice of residential care accommodation. The more enlightened facilities are beginning to wake up to this fact - but most places still say 'no' to pets. Local authorities, social workers and others associated with 'care' are often just as negative.
   
  The result is devastating heartbreak for older people - who have already given up so much - as well as a massive animal welfare issue: at least 140,000 cherished animal companions are 'relinquished' annually in the UK alone by guardians who feel they have no other choice - over 38,000 are euthanised, including healthy ones.
   
  But, it doesn't have to be like this. Pet-friendly care facilities are a huge success story! Provided they are properly set up - and there's plenty of advice available - managers note a huge improvement in environment and quality of life for both residents and staff.
   
 
PET POWER
 

Studies show that companion animals:

  • Permanently lift the atmosphere of hospices and nursing homes.
  • Delay ageing - by caring for and talking to pets, residents increase their mobility, socialisation and mental functioning.
  • Increase quality of life - less tension, confusion and fatigue, more enthusiasm, interest and inspiration.
   
  That's certainly been the case at Elizabeth Court, now home to Julie, Dinky and Bob. A finalist in the Cinnamon Trust's Pet-Friendly Home of the Year Awards (2013), its ethos is that animals bring everyone together: 'Pets provide motivation, warmth, love, an excuse for exercise, a raison d'etre' says its deputy manager, Reece Welch.
   
  The proprietors, Carol Robinson and Mandy Dade, are both animal lovers. 'They are hyper-aware of the benefits of keeping pets and see the importance of ensuring life-long partners stay together for as long as possible' Reece adds.
   
  Staying together is certainly something Bob's dog, Julie, supports: 'He is my best friend - fun and caring' she communicates. As long as she's with Bob and Dinky, and can get out for regular walks, she's happy: 'I love walks...walks together.'
   
  Julie comes across as a sunny, uncomplicated soul: when she's not going for walks she says she really loves sleeping...but she seems equally keen on eating...playing tug...and meeting people! Basically, she says, 'I am friends with everyone but I am here with Dad - he's my purpose'. It's that human-animal bond again.
   
 
 
Dinky
   
  As well as Bob's beloved dogs, Dinky and Julie, there are a variety of other animals at the Home including six indoor cats which belong to residents, six rescue cats that have their own 'house' in a secure garden, and a chicken which shares a coop with three guinea pigs and four rabbits.
   
  Everyone takes an active role in day-to-day animal care while valued volunteer, Nessa, provides back up. She comes in several times a week to clean out, monitor food supplies, do health checks, exercise animals if necessary and bring them inside to spend time with residents.
   
 
IT'S ALL ABOUT THE POLICY
 

Homes with a well-crafted pet policy have found that:

  • 99% of pet-related problems are minor and easily resolved.
  • There's minimal extra work for staff.
  • Other residents/staff often choose to be involved informally with residents' pet care when needed - a win-win for all concerned.
   
  'The animals make a difference to staff morale in the Home, as well as having a positive impact on residents' mental well-being' says Reece. 'It only takes a few moments to fuss over a cat or a dog to feel better about the day.'
   
 

The benefits of interacting with companion animals in residential care are significant:

  • Improved health/fewer prescriptions
  • Better relationships/improved communication
  • 'Institutionalised' environment becomes 'home-like'/more visitors
  • Less stress/reduced staff turnover
   
 

Now weigh up those benefits against the effects of enforced pet loss on people entering residential care:

  • Existing health problems
  • New health problems can be provoked
  • Disturbed sleep and appetite loss
  • Takes much longer to adjust/harder to integrate with other residents
   
  It's not rocket science, is it?
   
  Finding pro-pet care facilities is not easy - but there are choices. Expert guidance is also available if you want it to get a prospective care facility to consider taking animals.
   
  But this process could be so much easier and more humane... Other developed countries including France have had pro-pet housing legislation for decades. Isn't it time we did, too?
   
  Back in 2009, a Care Home and Sheltered Accommodation (Domestic Pets) Bill was proposed by Nigel Waterson, then Conservative spokesman on older people.
   
  Had it been passed, many more people would have been allowed to keep animals in residential care; the Bill received a second reading in 2010 and enthusiastic cross-parliamentary support. It was then quietly shelved!
   
  As a result, it's been left to housing providers, local authorities (including environmental health officers) and others involved in social care to make thier own policy. Sadly, though, most remain negative; all too often, there's a disturbing lack of interest, knowldege or empathy.
   
   
 
   
 
CARING ATTITUDE?
 

Some care facility managers felt that older people shouldn't be bothering with pets at their time of life, and that they 'probably got over it quickly' if they had given up a pet because 'it's a time of life when there are lots of losses'! (SCAS study, 2007)

   
  'We need to explode the myths that it is difficult, dangerous or time-consuming to have pets in care,' says psychologist June McNicolas, who made a study of the subject for the Society of Companion Animal Studies (SCAS) in 2007. 'A lot of fears from managers and staff are unfounded'.
   
  These usually revolve around 'Health & Safety' and are often driven by inaccurate media scare stories about animals as a source of infectious disease; being sued for an animal-related fall or injury is another common concern.
   
  Yet these fears are not based on sound evidence and those who have gone pet-friendly remain overwhelmingly positive. Infections are far more likely to come from human visitors, and statistics show that animal-caused falls or injuries are extremely rare.
   
  Given the scientifically-recognised benefits companion animals bring to the health and wellbeing of older people, Age UK has said, 'We think responsible social landlords should consider this before their own convenience.'
   
   
 
LEGAL CHALLENGE?
 
A blanket ban on pets may be deemed an unfair contract condition by the Office of Fair Trading and could be challenged legally.
   
   
  At pro-pet Elizabeth Court, deputy manager Reece Welch says, 'Unfortunately, we live in a day and age where paperwork, risk assessments and potential problems are often easier managed if avoided. But this impacts on residents' quality of life - especially those who have enjoyed a lifetime of living with animals.'
   
  As an animal lover, I can't imagine living without mine! And - with our rapidly ageing population and rocketing healthcare costs - I can't understand why we're still saying 'No' to companion animals in care rather than 'Yes, Yes, Yes!'
   
  It's even stranger when government policy guidance is supposed to be all about 'improving the quality of care for older people' - and 'promoting choice, independence and engagement'.
   
  Growing old doesn't have to be grim. And we shouldn't have to be parted from the animals we love because of ignorance or inconvenience. So, let's call for change - Together Forever, let's make a lasting difference!
   
  Resources:
  Guidance on Going Pet-Friendly
  Finding Pet-Friendly Residential Care
  How To Persuade a Housing Provider to Accept Companion Animals
   
   
   
 
Part 3 of a 4-part series
   
 
'EVEN WHEN THE MIND GOES, LOVE REMAINS: WE'RE STILL HERE FOR YOU!'
   
 
An Irish rescue cat called Jamie reveals how companion animals bring joy and calm to the lives of dementia sufferers
   
 
   
  His name is Jamie. Some people call him Doctor Jamie. He's a black and white cat with a healing touch and a Zen-like vibe. And he's happy to spread the Love - especially on visits to Jordanstown Care Home in County Antrim. But only one woman there holds his heart. She's one of the newer residents, his guardian Joceline. And Joceline has dementia.
   
  Most of us know someone with dementia. It's one of the biggest health and social care issues of our time. It affects one in three of us over the age of 65. It's terminal and, as yet, there's no cure. Symptoms include memory loss, mood swings and difficulties with reasoning and communicating; typically this leads to anxiety and social isolation.
   
  Thankfully, though, our animals can still reach us through that insidious grey fog, connecting deep within on a heart level. They recognise and respond to the devastating mental changes by simply pumping up the volume, or as Jamie puts it: 'We love more'.
   
 
WHAT IS DEMENTIA?
 
  • Dementia is an umbrella term for a group of symptoms linked to a decline in brain function.
  • Alzheimer's is the most common form - caused by plaques and tangles developing in the brain that leads to the death of brain cells.
  • Vascular dementia is the second most common form - typically caused by a series of mini-strokes that affect the supply of blood to the brain.
   
  Although Jamie and Joceline now live apart, their bond remains as powerful as ever. In fact, the bond between many animals and their guardians is so powerful that dementia sufferers often respond to their animal companions long after they've stopped connecting with close family members.
   
  This is something that resonates with Joceline's daughter, Christine: 'Mum can barely communicate with me but she can with her cat, Jamie. The difference in her when he's around is incredible - she lights up. He is the most important "person" in her life.'
   
  Jamie feels just as deeply about Joceline, saying: 'She is my Light'. He adores her loving 'intent' and the fact that she's 'soft and gentle and kind'. He notices - as all animals do - that dementia makes people 'less aware of us by their feet - more erratic' and that Joceline is now 'clumsy, sometimes, with her hands'. But Love remains and Jamie continues to watch over her; he is her guardian.
   
 
DEMENTIA FACTS
 
  • One in three people over the age of 65 will develop dementia; it also affects a minority of younger people.
  • Two-thirds of dementia sufferers are women.
  • The annual cost of dementia in the UK is £23 billion; that will double in just over 20 years.
  • For a global overview, check out this fascinating dementia infographic.
   
  Although Jamie now lives with Christine, she makes sure that he and Joceline see each other every few days, either at her house or in the Home. 'I think it is best for us all,' says Jamie.
   
  'Joceline is less aware of me when I'm absent - but fully present when I'm present. She loves me. And she needs me.'
   
  Christine confirms that during visits, 'Jamie sits on Mum's knee and makes a fuss of her. He also visits every other lady in her lounge at the Home and once walked up the corridor to see a couple in their room - they are still talking about the joy of that visit.
   
  'He is also very comforting to a 100-year old, who giggled when she saw him. I have promoted him from Nurse Jamie to Doctor Jamie; his visits do so much good.'
   
 
NEW RESEARCH
 
  • Evidence suggests that controlling diabetes, becoming a non-smoker, and increasing physical and cognitive activity may reduce the risk of dementia, even in later life.
  • A US study suggests that a new diet could halve the risk of Alzheimer's.
   
  In fact, the love - and peace - his visits manifest is what it's all about for Jamie: 'I care for all those who need my love. I am "present" with them. They feel accepted...whole.'
   
  He enjoys going to the Home - except on very hot days. 'Sometimes, he takes a nap on one of the vacant lounge seats and he usually stays about half an hour on each visit,' says Christine. 'When he wants to go home, he just walks into his carrier and indicates that he wants the front closed.'
   
 
   
  According to studies, companion animals like Jamie play a vital role in helping to lessen the impact of some of the most devastating effects of dementia. Benefits include:
   
 
  • A positive, non-verbal way to connect
  • Playful interaction and gentle touch which significantly reduces agitation and aggression
  • Better social behaviour (outbursts are often a reaction to the stressed responses of the primary care-giver, which animals ease)
  • Less depression
  • More social contact among institutionalised elderly
  • More engagement in what's going on around them
  • Better appetite, leading to increased nutritional intake and healthy weight gain
  • Healthcare savings: less is spent on nutritional supplements - and a less stressful working environment typically decreases staff turnover
   
 
"I am "present" with them. They feel accepted...whole."
   
  Christine is strongly in favour of companion animals remaining with their guardians where ever posible. 'Most of the people at Mum's Home have left pets behind - either with relatives or they waited till their pets had died before going into residential care. They all wake up, sit up, and respond when Jamie is there - and their faces often fall when I visit without him.
   
  'Mum does not yet realise that she may never get home. She thinks she is in for respite care but, because of her rapid decline, she's never made "that" decision. She always said she'd never go into care because she would never leave Jamie. She still insists she will get home to him.'
   
 
NATIONAL PRIORITY
 

The UK Government has now identified dementia as a national priority and its objectives for supporting people with dementia are outlined in its strategy, Living Well with Dementia (2009). The good news is that medication and other interventions - including specially-trained dementia dogs - can ease symptoms and sufferers can live well and independently for some years after the onset of the disease.

   
  Joceline's passion is animals and their welfare and over the years she has volunteered as a fundraiser for the Mid-Antrim Animal Sanctuary. Even now, at 90, she still monitors her collection boxes dotted around the area', smiles Christine.
   
  No surprise then, that Jamie was a rescue from a local animal shelter. 'Mum adopted him about seven years ago when he was a year old. His previous owners had taken him to the vet to be put to sleep because he was no longer wanted, but the vet sent him to Assisi where Mum saw him and bonded instantly.
   
 
"He is my life"
   
  'Mum had recently moved to a new house after my father's death and Jamie became her best friend very fast, easing her loneliness. He's gentle, intuitive and sensitive and they really understand each other - Mum says he's psychic.'
   
  Jamie adds: 'It's true - I can communicate with her.'
   
 
   
  'He is very much a one-woman cat and has made such a difference to her life', continues Christine. 'Jamie "looked after" Mum for some time before she went to the Home. He stayed with her, lay on her bed and gave her great comfort. He rarely worried her by staying out late. I believe he simply adapted to her lifestyle.
   
  'Even Mum's neighbours adored him and they are not particular cat people. He's a good cat. And now he's adapted to my house and the other cats, too.'
   
  Jamie's no ordinary feline - if ever one existed - but his bond with Joceline transcends everything - even dementia. 'He is my Life' she says - and that's crystal-clear.
   
   
  Next week in our final part of this campaign: We Bring 'Home' Back into Residential Care: meet Bob and his dogs, Dinky and Julie, who live with him in a pet-friendly facility where animals enrich the lives of residents and staff.
   
 
   
 
Part 2 of a 4-part series
 
 
WE LOOK AFTER EACH OTHER: OUR RELATIONSHIP MATTERS!
 
 

Meet Christina and Jessie and find out why the human-animal bond is great for their health and happiness - and also benefits the wider community.

   
 
   
  Jessie is an eight-month-old Yorkshire Terrier who lives in Dorset. A miniature diva with Attitude, she knows her number and it's Numero Uno. She's also hugely loving and crazy about her guardian, Christina, saying: 'We are everything to each other.'
   
  Christina (76) is a lifelong animal lover, and welcomed Jessie into her life last autumn. Since she lives alone, Christina has enjoyed building a strong relationship with her new puppy and training her. 'She thinks she is a big dog - fearless - and can be very demanding. I keep telling her that I'm the Boss, but I don't think she always agrees with me.'
   
  Feisty she may be, but Jessie is also sensitive and intelligent, quickly learning right from wrong - but most of all, says Christina, 'she unconditionally love me.' Jessie has changed my life for the better.
   
   
 
YOUR PARTNER OR YOUR DOG?
 
Experiments reveal that a dog companion reduces stress and the physiological responses associated with stress...but a human partner typically makes a stressful situation worse!
   
   
  Although Christina has many interests and enjoys time with her family, companionship is central to her relationship with Jessie. 'We have a close bond which is important to me - I'm sure to her, as well. She fills my heart. I have a lot of love and affection to give and she laps it up and gives it back tenfold.'
   
  Jessie, in turn, clearly adores Christina - 'She is very kind and gentle' she told me. Jessie also appreciates the fact that Christina feeds her nice food!
   
  Companion animals have played an important part in our lives ever since the first permanent human settlements were established over 14,000 years ago. Today, that bond is stronger than ever and - like Christina and Jessie - most of us see our animals as an integral part of the family. As we get older, they are often our sole (and soul) companion at home, enhancing our lives immeasurably. But, did you know they are also good for our health?
   
 
  • Sharing your life with a pet typically gives you an important health advantage over people who don't have animals
  • It also helps you connect with neighbours and your community
   
  This is especially relevant to older people, as a recent review of over 30 years of research shows. According to the International Federation of Ageing, companion animals offer 'extensive and therapeutic benefits to elderly people' which has a positive impact socially and economically. Their report highlights some interesting findings.
   
 
   
  Your Companion Animals Keep You Healthy
   
 
  • Less chance of developing heart disease
  • Lower cholesterol and blood pressure
  • Improved ability to cope with chronic disease
  • Faster recovery from illness and surgery
  • Fewer visits to the doctor, less medication
  • Increased self-esteem, life satisfaction, positive moods, less loneliness
  • A more active later life
  • Better able to cope with stressful life events such as bereavement
   
  ...And Happy!
   
  Studies have also shown that the human-animal bond provides many of the emotional and psychological benefits associated with close human relationships:
   
 
  • Companionship
  • Feeling needed and loved
  • Tactile contact - important for maintaining health
  • Provides purpose and focus to daily routines
  • Encourages social connections
   
  Caring Brings Its Own Reward
   
  More of us now live alone, so our relationship with our companion animals takes on a special significance. And the care we lavish on them also has a beneficial effect on ourselves, say the Society for Companion Animal Studies (SCAS).
   
 
  • Older people often keep their homes warmer for their animals, reducing their own risk of hypothermia.
  • Caring for an animal also reminds them to eat and exercise themselves
   
 
   
  All these are certainly benefits that Christina and Jessie recognise from their own relationship. Christina says Jessie 'has given me a new purpose for getting up in the morning. Caring for her gives me a reason to care for myself.'
   
  Jessie notes that she helps keep Christina active: 'She has to make an effort to move - even when her legs are tired and her knees hurt, she will stand up and come out with me'.
   
   
 
BILLIONS SAVED ON HEALTHCARE
 
  • In Germany and Australia, companion animals were estimated to have saved the health care system €5.59 billion and €3.86 billion respectively in the year 2000.
  • A study comparing pet owners with non-pet owners in Germany, Australia and China have found that in all three countries, those with pets had significantly better health
   
   
  Christina adds: 'I go almost every day for a walk with her and therefore I'm physically more challenged and healthier. And Jessie is truly an ice-breaker when we go for walks - everybody wants to touch her or know something about her'.
   
  Jessie's a big character: She's feisty, strong and well aware that she contributes to her guardian's wellbeing: 'I make her think about me all the time. It keeps her fresh, alert'.
   
  Their close bond also plays a vital role, Jessie continues: 'I keep her strong. I am her reason for living. Without me she'd feel empty and sad'. I sense that Jessie loves physical contact and being on Christina's lap. She also adores being the centre of attention, noting that Christina talks to her a lot.
   
   
 
ANIMALS RULE DOWN UNDER
 
  • New Zealand has the highest rate of pet ownership in the world (68% of households).
  • This is attributed to the social and cultural importance of animal there, and the importance placed on a harmonious relationship between animals, people and the environment.
   
 

Keeping a companion animal is an important lifestyle choice for many people like Christina. And it's one that can easily be maintained as we age - with a little support from family, local authorities, housing providers and volunteers.

   
  Volunteers can offer help with pet walking, grooming, vet transport and even foster care. There are various programmes worldwide making a difference in this area - but many more are needed.
   
  It's a brilliant win-win for everyone - connecting local people with animal-lovers, supporting those who might otherwsie struggle in isolation and giving helpers that feel-good buzz. There are also more far-reaching bonuses - friendlier, more supportive communities along with healthcare savings because people can live independently for longer.
   
   
 
HELPING HAND
 

Here are some organisations and community initiatives helping older people and their animals stay together. Perhaps you could encourage something similar in your area!

 
 
 
   
   
  While Christina hopes to remain independent for as long as possible, she admits that ageing worries her. It's a worry her beloved Jessie has picked up on. 'She thinks about it all the time - too much. She worries about losing her independence.'
   
  Christina also worries about her dog because 'the bond is in both directions'. And, because she feels it's the right thing to do when taking on an animal later in life, she's arranged for her 'lovely Jessie' to be cared for by family, should she die first.
   
  Jessie, though, has no such fears: 'I know she'll be there for me,' she says, simply. 'She loves me - I don't need to know anything else.'
   
   
  Next week: 'Even When the Mind Goes, Loves Remains: We're Still Here for You!' Meet Jamie the cat and his guardian, Joceline, and see how animals bring calm and joy back into the lives of dementia sufferers.
   
 

Our call to action - please share this campaign with your friends and help raise awareness

   
 
   
 
Part 1 of a 4-part series
 
 
WE'RE NOT DISPOSABLE: HEAR OUR CRY!
 
 
Every year, thousands of cherished companion animals are forcibly relinquished - and often euthanased - when elderly guardians go into residential care. Yet all the evidence points to the benefits of staying together.
   
 
   
  We've read about Mr Cat and Granny Reid's ongoing battle to stay 'Together Forever'. And we've heard this impassioned plea: 'Why can't people see how much we feel about each other?'
   
  Scenarios like this one are played out daily all around the world and tragically, people still don't understand why it matters so much: animals continue to be treated as disposable commodities instead of sentient beings, and the bond with their human is rarely considered.
   
  'People don't understand that love is love', says Jessie, a young Yorkshire Terrier I communicated with on this subject. When I asked how she'd feel if she and her guardian, Christina, were ever forced to separate, I sensed astonishment followed by a deep feeling of emptiness: 'We mean everything to each other'. Christina adds, 'A part of me would be missing and I would lose purpose. I have seen this happen to older people and it is soul-destroying'.
   
 

The finality of the move into care is traumatic enough for an older person, and usually comes after a chilly cascade of other age-related losses including independence, income, health, mobility and bereavement.

To then be separated from their animal, often their only remaining 'significant other', who loves them unconditionally and offers comfort, companionship and joy in a seemingly bleak-world - that is the bitter end.

   
 

THE PAIN OF PARTING

Respected vet and expert on the human-animal bond, Elizabeth Ormerod, says: 'Some of the most distressed people I have ever seen have been clients who have been ordered to get rid of their animals before moving into care'. Their reactions can be so intense that they include chest pains, vomiting, and even breathing problems.

   
  Chain Reaction
   
  Sadly, it's a loss that society often trivialises, so grief is swept under the proverbial carpet. Yet, it provokes reactions virtually identical to those associated with the bereavement of a human relationship (especially if an animal has been euthanased or sent to a shelter) such as:
 
  • Guilt
  • Depression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Health worries
   
  Suddenly, an older person's reason for getting up in the morning has vanished. And all too often, they go into decline.
   
  In the UK alone, at least 140,000 companion animals are forcibly reliquished every year when our elderly go into care; more than 38,000 of these animals are euthanased, including healthy ones.
   
  Often, well-intentioned family, friends or social workers will offer to handle this sorry task to save an elderly guardian from having to do so. In certain circumstances, such as when a guardian is suffering the early stages of dementia, some apparently even go ahead without asking - taking the view, perhaps, that it's one less thing for them to worry about. Either way, the result for the guardian is almost always one of devastation.
   
 
'In the UK alone, at least 140,000 companion animals are forcibly reliquished every year; more than 38,000 of these animals are euthanased.'
   
  And what about the animals? People forget they they, too, are sentient beings whose welfare needs derserve our respect and consideration - a fact now recognised by scientists and proclaimed in the UK's Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness, signed in 2012 in the presence of Stephen Hawking.
   
  Local authorities, care professionals and housing providers - as well as society in general - need to start understanding and valuing the importance of the human-animal bond, especially to the elderly.
   
  We must take on board - and capitalise on - the enormous therapeutic benefits of companion animals, which in turn has a positive social and economic knock-on effect for local communities and society. To continue to ignore this is irrational - not to mention negligent!
   
  A wealth of research
   
  There's a wealth of international scientific research available about these benefits, highlighted by organisations such as the International Federation of Ageing and the Society for Companion Animal Studies (SCAS) (see link)
   
 
  • For example, companion animals are known to significantly clam dementia sufferers, improving communication and normalising the institutional feel of residential care, which also lowers stress and care staff turnover.
  • According to global population projections, the number of people aged 65+ is expected to double to more than two billion within 30 years. Using UK stats as a guideline, around 25% wil have companion animals!
  • So when you factor in the frightening number of animals entering shelters or being euthanased - even though they're sentient beings that offer us so much - we're facing a hugh welfare issue.
   
  Add to that spiralling healthcare costs and it's a significant financial issue, too - in the UK, dementia costs alone were calculated at £23 billion (Alzheimer Society, 2012 figures).
   
  Little has changed
   
  In the UK - despite sigificant parlismentary cross-party support and various attempts to introduce Private Member's Bills giving older people the right to keep companion animals - little has changed since the issues were first highlighted by a Joseph Rowntree survey in 1993.
   
  The majority of housing providers and local authorities continue to operate no-pet policies. Yet according to research by SCAS (whose members are drawn from the health and social care professions).
   
 
  • Care facilities with a pro-pet policy report that 99% of pet-related problems are minor and easily resolved.
  • There is minimal extra work for staff.
  • Pets contribute to the happiness of residents and are an important part of daily life for all.
   
 

Who's Animal Friendly?

The UK - supposedly an animal-loving nation - is lagging behind other developed countires such as France, where keeping a pet has been enshrined as a human right for 40 years! Other countries including Spain, Greece, Norway, Monaco, Switzerland, parts of the USA and Japan have either passed pro-pet housing legislation or introduced it voluntarily.

   
 

Through there Pets for Life Campaign, SCAS has worked hard to get the message out that older people need to be able to take their animals with them into residential care.

It's worth checking out their website as they offer helpful information on everything from finding a pet-friendly care home to guidance for care professionals (see link).

Ageing can be grim. But our animals make life liveable. As sentient beings, they are not disposable - and neither are our elderly. So let's do all we can to support stayng 'Together Forever'. Mr Cat and Sylvia deserve nothing less. And neither do all the others out there.

   
  'A part of me would be missing and I would lose purpose. I have seen this happen to older people and it is soul-destroying.'
   
 
   
 
Our Campaign Introduction
   
 
Mr Cat's Story
   
 
How an old feline sparked an international petition and highlighted a heart-breaking issue concerning animals and their older guardians - what happens when residential care says 'no pets'?
     
 
     
  I first heard about Mr Cat's plight earlier this year. A 15-year-old boy with a huge heart, he faces enforced removal from his beloved 88-year-old-guardian, Sylvia, in South Africa. Euthanasia is a likely outcome, even though he is healthy.
     
  Together with Sylvia's widowed, carer daughter, Penny, this inseparable pair has spent the past six years living in a retirement village called Amber Valley, although Mr Cat has been part of the family since birth.
     
  In February, Mr Cat was served notice following two allegedly unproven complaints of being a 'nuisance pet'. Yet he is loved by fellow residents and spends most of his days purring on Sylvia's lap.
     
  Invaluable beyond measure  
     
  'Pets are the one calming and meaningful part of one's life, especially as we grow older - and this is invaluable beyond measure,' Sylvia told me. The thought of living out her remaining years 'without such a loving and caring companion' has left her - and her feline - distraught.
     
  I connected with Mr Cat, distantly, through a photo. I could sense his fury at the stress Sylvia had been placed under. 'This didn't need to happen. Where is the love? Why can't people see how much we feel about each other? We have a love-bond. She is mine and I am hers. We are joined: Family.'
     
 
'Pets are the one calming and meaningful part of one's life, especially as we grow older'
     
  Cats have played an important part in Sylvia's life. It was Horace, a Persian, who saw Sylvia through the dark days following her husband's death, some years ago.
     
  Horace later passed and then Sylvia's daughter, Penny, lost her own partner so - together with Mr Cat who had originally lived with Penny - they combined their households.
     
  Sylvia became 'Granny' to 'this gorgeous white cat with black ears and a bushy tail' and, since Penny is often away for long periods working as a carer, the pair is inseperable.
     
  'He always knows if I'm having an "off" day and cuddles up next to me. I feel the warmth of his little body and his silky fur, while a paw stretches up to my neck as reassurance. We often enjoy a cat nap together after lunch.'
     
 
     
  People Power  
     
  It's a wonderful and deeply meaningful relationship that animal lovers everywhere will recognise. So when Sylvia's relatives, who are clients of mine, asked me to support their online petition calling for the retirement village to let Mr Cat stay, I was happy to help.
     
  My loyal online community followed suit and within days the petition had jumped from 250 signatures to over 24,000, with local media picking up the story.
     
  Mr Cat is aware of people's reaction and relieved at the support. He doesn't want to die. As far as he's concerned, the reason why he and Sylvia should stay together is simple: 'Because we love each other'. And his advice to others who are in a similar situation is equally simple: 'Hang on. Have faith. Do not let it happen'.
     
 
'Why can't people see how much we feel about each other? We have a love-bond.'
     
  We still don't know what the future holds for Mr Cat. So far, the Trustees at the retirement village are refusing to budge. The Reids have complied with a request to cat-proof their unit but the Trustees insist Mr Cat can only be spared if the Reids agree to their demands. These range from not talking to the media to meeting all legal costs.
     
  At the time of writing, a court order is being sought for Mr Cat's removal. Sylvia has little money and her health is now suffering from intense stress.
     
  'The effects are devastating for Penny and me. All our waking thoughts revolve round the situation and we have sleepless nights. Our appetites have been adversely affected and we are becoming quite paranoid if we cannot account for Mr Cat's every movement.'
     
  Apparently, the Trustess are smarting from negative - and even hostile - online reaction. And this is understandable. But is such a heavy-handed reaction necessary - or appropriate?
     
  Do they really want to be seen as heartless villains, hauling out the big guns against an elderly, defenceless woman, demanding that she apologise, keep quiet and pay up - or the cat dies?
     
  Let's hope that sanity - and humanity - prevails. It would be greatly to Amber Valley's credit if it did.
     
  Meanwhile, this sorry situation has opened my eyes to the wider issue of older guardians and their animals, and the appalling heartbreak that results when care facilities operate a 'no pets' policy - which is the majority in the UK, and in many other developed countries around the world.
     
  Join our Campaign
     
  Throughout April - National Pet Month - Animal Thoughts is going to spotlight this subject:
     
 
  • We will direct you towards information such as finding a pet-friendly Home here in the UK, and the facts you need to know to persuade a housing provider to consider a pet-friendly policy.
 
  • We will explore the importance of the companion animal bond for elderly people, its many significant health, welfare and even economic benefits for society, and look at the massive difference companion animals make to the lives of dementia sufferers and those in residential care.
 
  • We will also be asking why local authorities, housing providers, and professionals in the health, caring and veterinary fields are not doing more to promote a positive pet policy in elderly care facilities. And even more pertinently, why legislation has still not been enacted!
     
  After all, when you factor in a rapidly ageing population and spiralling healthcare costs, it's what most of us would call a 'no brainer'! It's also a huge welfare issue for both older people, whose companion animals are fundamental to their continued wellbeing, and for the horrific number of animals despatched to shelters or euthanased annually, whose needs as sentient beings are ignored.
     
  Please join our 'Together Forever' campaign to raise awareness for animals and their older guardians, and fight for the essential legislation we need - both in the UK and around the world. Together, we can make a difference!
     
  Read our first feature, 'We're Not Disposable - Hear Our Cry!' here in April
     
     
   
     
     
     
     
     
   
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
 
     
 
Copyright © 2017 Animal Thoughts. All Rights Reserved.