when seniors have dogs – preparing your dog for the future

This article received the DWAA Maxwell Medallion Award, February 2013!

You know, the very first book I wrote was called ‘The Old Woman and her Dog’. That was over a half century ago. I’m not sure if writing that story shaped my life or was a premonition of things to come.

In brief, she was an old woman who didn’t like anyone and was fairly cranky. She saw a puppy in a window, bought the puppy and fell in love. This puppy grew into a dog and the two were devoted to each other. The old woman became sick and the dog saddened by this. The little neighbor girl came over to help and all three became the best of friends, then the woman died and the dog wandered off. The End.

So strange how in my adult life, and career working with people and their dogs, this scenario, more or less, is very real.

When seniors have dogs its super important for the entire family to be involved in the care and well-being of the dog. Many times, the dog will out live their owner, and that is when things can go very wrong if they weren’t right to begin with.

The wish is for seniors and their dogs to live a long, healthy, and prosperous life together. But preparedness is important.

Socializing, training, potty training, and appropriate exercise are still at the top of the list for dogs living with seniors. If a senior needs to move into an assisted living and/or nursing home, it can be very stressful for the dog if they did not receive good socialization and training to begin with. Family and even extended family need to be part of the bigger picture to ensure that all is going well.

A responsible and caring family member should be appointed as the co-guardian of the dog. Assisting with socialization, training classes, food/feeding, veterinary visits, when needed. They should also agree to step in and care for the dog full time should that need ever arise.

The POA (Power of Attorney) should be notified by the owner of the dog who is to be the legal guardian of the dog, or co-owner of the dog should the owner no longer be able to care for the dog do to age related reasons, or facility policies. The Guardians name and information should be given to close family and friends so everyone is on the same page when the time comes to transition care.

Some seniors create savings accounts that transfer to the Guardian to either assist in re-homing their dog, or for the dogs care for the rest of their life.

Planning and being prepared is super important.

Here is my cautionary story. I keep this memory front and center in my mind when working with families, their senior parents, and a very loved dog. I have worked with countless families over the years that have to face these tough choices. I no longer accept clients who are unwilling to step in and help their senior relatives, that has become my first question.

I received a call from an older gentleman, he needed help exercising his dog. His wife had a stroke and was now in assisted living, and he had Parkinson’s but was still living at home. We made an appointment.  He instructed me to not touch his dog because he would bite, and bite hard. He drew blood weekly on his friends and no person wanted to come and help him any longer. Also, when out walking keep him away from other dogs, he has never met a dog and wasn’t sure what would happen.

When we started chatting I found out that his dog was four years old, had never been out of the home or yard area, never been to a training class, and never socialized to anyone except the owner and his wife.

This little dog and I became friendly, went for walks/runs a few times a week, I was able to handle him over time, brush him and hand feed him. We worked on tricks they could do together. We were moving forward an ounce at a time, and there were lots of smiles.

Two months later this very kind gentleman had to move into assisted living as well. This little dog was going to be moving with him, so I set up a pet walker and my husband agreed to run with this dog three days a week.

He was so ill equipped to deal with life outside of his home that it went to hell in a hand basket very quickly. He wouldn’t let nurses into the room, would bite anyone that went near the wife, would bark out the window, and started to have accidents in the room (they were on the third floor).

They were told they had to get rid of him. The wife looked at me and said, ” it wasn’t supposed to play out this way. We weren’t supposed to be here just yet. We got him to grow old with us, spend time in our garden, and snuggle at night. We love him and don’t want to see him go. He is our dream”.

Their children were contacted and both said NO. They were more than financially able to not only take this little very loved dog of their parents, but to hire a trainer, dog walker and pet sitter full time to help out. Still the answer was no. They even refused to help with finding a suitable home for him, pay for transport, or temporary care.

I found a national breed specific rescue that was reputable, and we talked for almost a week. They found one of their foster families that would be happy to take him, and keep him since he had a bite history. I was very specific about care and his history. There would be no more surprises.

After tears and heart ache when we went to pick this little guy up, the wife had a seizure from the trauma of her dog going away and never being able to see him again. This older gentleman said, “I trust you and I am sorry I had to put this on you”. That was the last time we talked.

My husband and this little dog drove ten hours, stopped for hiking and runs along the way, and arrived at the foster families home. He went over his care, needs and special considerations with the new experienced foster family. They reassured him that they understood and had worked with dogs like this before and would give him a good life. My husband told them he would drive up and get him if it wasn’t the right fit.

I called three days later to check up and see how he was doing. They had euthanized him because he was too much for them.

I cried for a week straight and could barely stand on my own two feet. My husband was in such disbelief at the tragic end to this little dogs life and was inconsolable for days.

Every dog that I have had the pleasure to work with and who has allowed me into their space, and their life, means something to me. Some crawl into my heart a bit deeper than others, but it’s a connection that is undeniable.


16 Comments Add yours

  1. Eleenie says:

    What a poignant post. It certainly makes you realise how important it is to plan ahead.

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      yes it does. The photo is of my Dad and his puppy Charlie. Two of my sisters help out with Charlie, and both have agreed to take him when my parents are no longer able. They also have one great neighbor that takes him for walks on days they cannot. It’s way more work, but I do know my Dad’s little dog brings him so much joy, and that little dog adores my Dad!

  2. Sandy Watson says:

    What a “great” article and being a “senior” myself all of the things you talked about have always crossed my mind when I think about having to leave Sophie at some time in my life. It’s a worry and things you mentioned gave me food for thought as I too must plan ahead. I’m so thankful that this world has been filled with people such as you that care enough to go the extra mile.

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Sandy, I love you and Sophie! You have done an amazing job showing her how great life can be with you… I wish for you two to have many many many more years together, and me tagging right along!

  3. Susie Boyer says:

    Oh my! That is the saddest story!! That breaks my heart!

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Susie, this happens everyday, that is what makes it even sadder…

  4. Kim says:

    It’s so sad that stories like that play out everyday. My mom had an elderly neighbor with multiple medical issues that desperately wanted a puppy. My mom did all she could to discourage the idea and tried to get her to consider a cat instead if she “must” get a pet at all. Nothing worked and the woman bought a bishon puppy from a backyard breeder. Within days her medical issues prevented her from even being able to take the puppy outside to potty (she lives in a condo), and things went downhill from there. My mom did everything she could…offered to walk the puppy, took her on outings for socialization, tried to potty train the dog herself, even offered to find the dog a new home…the woman just wasn’t physically able to keep up with a puppy, yet absolutely refused to consider rehoming her. Here it is a year later, the woman is now in assisted care and had to move out of state to be near family. Despite her known, and ongoing medical issues, she had made no plan for the dog, and when things went to hell in a handbasket overnight (that required emergency surgery and now permanent assisted care), she had no one to take the dog, even temporarily. The assisted care facility does not allow pets so the dog was ready to be sent to the shelter when a distant relative stepped up and took the dog…a dog she had never even met before. Fortunately, I hear the dog is adjusting well despite learning very little her first year in life. Few dogs get so lucky.

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      I think it is sad that this happens everyday. I am glad your Mom tried to help as much as possible, and that the dog is being cared for now … Families need to be more involved with their senior relations, for a lot of reasons, this is just one!

  5. Kathy Phelan says:

    Last month, before my 70th birthday, I set up a revokable pet care trust for my little mini Aussie, Dusty, just to avoid a tragedy like the one you describe.

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      Kathy, my jaw hit the ground. I cannot believe your are 70! That is amazing in so many ways… May I have your energy and curiosity and zest for life when I am 70… I think you currently have more than I do anyway! Dusty is in excellent hands with you!

    2. Kim says:

      Kathy that is so wonderful that you have thought ahead for Dusty! May others follow in your awesome example! And I can’t believe that you are 70 either!!!!

  6. very heartbreaking story! One of the things I ask on my questionnaire when interviewing folks that want my pups is “Who will care for the puppy if your situation changes”. I also stipulate that if they come to a point that they need to find a home for their dog that I will either take it back or help them find one.

  7. We also work with an amazing trainer like yourself who is also very active in assisting senior clients in our area with their training needs. This is such an important topic, made only more obvious by such a tragic story. My heart goes out to you and your husband for trying to assist… We have several sad stories of our own here at Bay Cities, being the ones people come to when they feel a situation is “hopeless”. Let’s hope we can all work toward change.

    1. Nancy Tanner says:

      I agree! The more information to our seniors and their families the better! Cheers

  8. Nikki Brown says:

    This is all very sad and disturbing. But especially for the dogs who were not taken care of as promised. It is unconscionable for the people who take a dog into their home agreeing to contact the caregivers and then just euthanize the dogs. I hear this more and more, and it scares me. I have made arrangements, have a savings account to care for my dogs after I can no longer do so, but I do not know how to protect them from people like this.

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