Amazing what pets can do. And I’m not talking about high fives, playing dead or catching burglars, though the last is pretty impressive too. I mean what they can do for us, for our well-being and happiness.
Take Romeo. The manager of the shop where Romeo is the resident mouser is something of a tough guy, yet in a few short weeks Romeo has captured his heart. He comes when he’s called (Romeo, not the manager). “Does your cat do that?” the manager asks me. “Not usually,” I answer truthfully, omitting to say that MasterB is my shadow when we are outside and amuses my neighbours the way he follows me about. The manager gives me a smile that is both pitying and superior.
A week ago Romeo arrived home limping and crying. Much consternation and he was taken to the vet. The manager missed him dreadfully. No pretty tabby with tail aloft greeting him when he arrived at work each day. After a couple of days absence, MasterB realised his persecutor was no longer around and returned to the garden with renewed enthusiasm. Today he was looking out of the sitting room window and started meowing and looking round at me. I joined him and saw Romeo in the loading bay at the back of the shop. MasterB has refused all invitation to go out.
Later I learned that MasterB’s alarm was raised within minutes of Romeo’s return. I am glad to see he isn’t limping, and I am hoping his extremities have been removed and that he will gradually lose his urge to dominate our garden and poo in high places. I’m getting a bit fed up with sluicing it away with buckets of water.
Last night there was the second of two programmes about puppies. I watched with MasterB. He really did watch, face tilted up to the screen. “Shall we have one?” I asked him. He turned to look at me. I can’t say his look held enthusiasm. “Not here,” I explained. “We could move; you could have a cat flap and your own garden. No Romeo.” Still unimpressed. “One like that,” I persevered as a German Shepherd with ears to die for came on the screen. He yawned.
My friend D’s cat died a short time ago. I know how much she loves her pets. When we spoke on the ‘phone she told me how hard it had been to take him on that final journey to the vet. Her grandson dug the grave. The third time he has done so for one of her animals. In an email she has said she does not know if she can face having more pets. Since her cat’s death she looks at her dog, now eight years old, and wonders how long she has left. I understand that pain, and the reluctance to go through it again. Yet D is exactly the sort of person who should have pets. Too many people get them as accessories and give up on them as easily as if they were handbags. Last night’s programme mentioned a statistic I have now forgotten, but which was high, of dogs being given up after less than two years.
I read somewhere that 1.4mn cats are put to sleep each year because homes cannot be found for them. That would be a shocking statistic if it were a tenth of the size. Some people are forced to give up their pets when they move into care homes or sheltered housing. To my mind this is cruelty on an unforgiveable scale. Imagine being increasingly frail, not coping, moving to one of these places and being told, sorry, Fido or Tiddles can’t come. How many years do you have left? Maybe not many. How many of your friends are alive and mobile enough to visit? One or two if you are lucky. Family? Likely to be working and not necessarily local.
If these ‘homes’ really were homes, every effort would be made to accommodate the pets; to make the last years of both humans and animals the lives they want. I felt both anger and hope when I read an article in a recent copy of Pawprint. It’s the piece that starts on page 18, Spike of the Manor. Spike is a rescue lurcher who is taken into a care home once a week. The residents and staff are overwhelmingly positive about his visits. The comments that both cheered and frustrated me were these:
Scientific studies have found significant decreases in agitated behaviour in dementia patients following regular contact with animals for just three weeks, and research has shown simply stroking a dog will lower the petter’s heart rate.
Some of the elderly residents at Mount Vale suffer from dementia and can often become upset and confused, but a visit from Spike can calm the most distressed patient and bring a smile to their face. “Even if he’s just seen two people, other residents pick up on the fact that they have calmed down, and then they calm down. It’s like a domino effect,” says Rebecca Clark, Activities Co-ordinator at the home. “Some of our residents can’t speak and dementia means that some don’t respond to much at all, including people, but we do have residents who will almost wake up and become much more alert when Spike enters the room. It’s amazing to see.”
Dr David Hughes, a resident and former anaesthetist, says Spike’s presence is simply wonderful and he looks forward to each visit, especially now that he can no longer keep his own pets. “We’ve always had dogs at home, and I used to do a lot of riding too. I enjoy just seeing an animal. It’s just lovely seeing Spike. Just him being present is relaxing. We all love seeing him. Believe you me, things are very similar day by day and to have a little change like that makes all the difference in the world.”
￼￼￼And the killer:
“You don’t think that just five or 10 minutes with a dog would make a difference, but to see their faces light up shows it really can.”
Five or 10 minutes? Why not allow people their pets and see the positive effects 24/7? Surely the care of the elderly should include the care of their pets if they bring such benefits. Yes it’s more work for the staff, but these homes are supposed to be run for the benefit of the residents. It’s not that much to ask.