2011-07-13 / Columnists
Pets, Pets, Pets
Is an 88 year old widow too old to adopt a cat? Before you answer, doesn’t it depend on the 88 year old? After all, age is only a number, whereas ageism can be a road block to the happiness of both a lonely senior citizen and a needy pet.
Sometimes an adopter is turned down or ignored because of a rescue agency’s fear that the pet will outlive the person. That can be viewed as age discrimination. No research is put into how supportive the senior’s family may be. Besides, life doesn’t come with a guarantee. A youthful owner could be run over by a truck leaving the shelter parking lot. Fortunately, this mishap hasn’t happened, but plenty of pets wind up at Town shelters because of the sudden death of their guardians, young and old.
Nowadays shelters and rescue groups screen applicants before placing animals. The goal is to put the pet in a safe, loving and permanent home. This is far better than the days when a dog or cat could be handed off to Charles Manson. But when screening rules are so rigid or subjective that we lose sight of the big picture, we do a disservice to homeless pets and to the public. Countless cats continue to languish in cages, while elderly folks living alone lack loving companions. Both miss out on a mutual admiration society.
Small pets adjust well to life in assisted living facilities, easing the transition for residents. In addition, lots of seniors are able to care for pets in their own homes or have family back-up. I once had dinner with May, a spunky 105 year old woman who had adopted a cat from Babylon Shelter when she was 103. When she passed away at 106, her cat went home with my friend, her caretaker.
About 30 years ago, another friend’s mother moved to a condo in Nyack that had a regulation that you could bring one pet which could not be replaced once it died. Her cat “Pamela” was reincarnated twice with “Pamela” replicas from Babylon Shelter. Each survived to a ripe old age. The lady now in her nineties still lives independently. When “Pamela 3” passed away she adopted a cat off death row at a NJ shelter. He died soon after of an undiagnosed ailment, and has since been replaced by another loved cat. There are no warranties on lifespan for pets or people.
I am not suggesting the elderly be given animals too big or rambunctious for their physical capabilities. However, senior for senior campaigns do match pets and people. When temperaments are evaluated well, an adult pet need not be on its last legs to be suitable for an older person.
Years ago an 80 year old woman called me because she had to barricade herself in her kitchen. Since she would be “home all day”, North Shore Animal League gave her an unruly puppy who had grown to Great Dane size. North Shore wouldn’t take their dog back from the owner. She was a prisoner in her own home. However, North Shore usually reclaims their dogs when they surface in town shelters with their tags on….which was why I was there to get him.
A purebred rescue lady is quite knowledgeable about dogs, rescue and training her breed. She is extremely careful when approving potential owners but tends to project into the future, calculating how old the person will be when the dog reaches his golden years. She once denied a breed savvy man in Connecticut because she felt he would be too old when the dog got old. This rescue lady is now bravely battling a life threatening illness herself. Life doesn’t come with a crystal ball.
These remarks bring me to two age discrimination cat cases. In both instances the rescues are reputable, private groups. Actually I am a board member of one. Before denying an applicant, we all need to re-examine criteria and delve deeper than the hopeful’s birth date.
Several weeks ago a friend’s mother passed away at age 94. Her Mom had a sweet 8-9 year old cat. The friend casually mentioned that years ago Last Hope had turned her Mom down because of her age, so they adopted the cat elsewhere. These people bore no grudge against the organization. Others would have. You never know how committed to family and furry friends the potential adopters may be unless you talk to them, nor do you know who you may be driving away because your rules lack flexibility.
Subsequently this couple adopted a paralyzed Beagle from Last Hope, a dog that wears braces and diapers, and needs to be expressed manually. They have become invaluable volunteers and fundraisers. The cat Louie who had never seen a dog has settled in nicely at their home among their four Beagles. In retrospect, the judgment call was so shortsighted when the mother didn’t “qualify” for a cat.
A teacher friend’s Mom is 88, and lives alone. She has two doting daughters. She had three cats including a feral I trapped and neutered for her. She gradually introduced him to her inside cats. Recently her favorite cat died. She would summon a mobile vet because this cat didn’t travel well. Daisy’s passing had been expected but the loss was still devastating. She wants a lap cat, because the other two are not like her Daisy. She went to Save A Pet and put an application on a cat that appears to be super affectionate.
I told her not to get her hopes up. I could hear it coming. Even though her niece gave a donation that will be matched by her company, Save A Pet denied her because her cats weren’t up to date on their shots. She offered to call the mobile vet back for shots. Still denied. Few people vaccinate their cats yearly now. Shot protocols have changed. Bottom line is the rescue would prefer to have the cat vegetate in a cage rather than be adored by a senior citizen who will cater to Kitty’s every whim.
My Dad turned 90 last week. Everyday he goes to Big Al’s gym where they celebrated his birthday. Dad gave up tennis at John Burns only recently because of the icy winter and because he didn’t want to hold others back in doubles. He attends several dances each week. No, Dad doesn’t want a cat, but if he did, I wouldn’t hesitate.
For Adoption at Babylon Town Shelter (631- 643-9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: “Loralei” # 94182 a young Boxer showed up emaciated, and has been nursed back to health. This sweet gal probably suffers from inflammatory bowel disorder which the shelter’s vet is trying to get under control. Boxers are prone to some forms. “Seabo” is the free roaming tuxedo cat at the shelter. He doesn’t like to be in the cage and instead hangs out with everyone. His free roaming buddy got adopted a few weeks ago, and now it is Seabo’s turn to find a home of his own.
More pets: “Cindy”- black Shepherd mix; “Maverick”-yellow Lab; “Mona Lisa” with perpetual smile; “Puddles” tabby in C-4; “Dubet”- tortie in C-2.