My Mama didn’t own a dog. She did, however have what we called ‘her virtual pet’. It wasn’t virtual in the digital sense, more due to the fact that she didn’t actually own it.
Even though at the time, my parents lived in the country and had plenty of room for a dog. It’s just that they were at a place in life where the responsibility of everything involved with owning a dog would have been too much. They were still living on their ‘own’ at this point, although my sister, and my husband and I made several trips a day out to their place to visit, bringing them meals, giving them their meds and generally checking up on them.
At that time my Daddy had Parkinson’s disease, and Mama was in the early stages of dementia. So keeping dog food on hand, trips to the vet along with other ‘doggy’ matters would simply have been too overwhelming for them.
What they did have was a neighbor who owned a very lonely old dog – a Queensland Heeler named Duke. Duke loved two things: Mama and herding. He liked Daddy as well, but really loved Mama. I think it was because he got to herd her up and down country roads every day when she took her walk – and always brought her back home safely.
Their neighbor knew that Duke liked hanging out with Mama and Daddy, so every morning he would let Duke out. Duke would immediately come bounding over to their little cottage. They provided something for Duke that his owner couldn’t – love and attention. My parents bonded so strongly to Duke that just two weeks after Daddy passed away, and Mama came to live with us, Duke died (probably from a broken heart).
What is my point in this (sad) story? Relationships with pets go far deeper than we understand – even if the pet doesn’t belong to the person.
Research is well established that pets contribute to a person’s quality of life. They can provide social interaction and companionship which can reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation. A loved-one with dementia may have diminished ability to have conversations, but may still be able to hold and pet a dog or cat.
It is not always possible or practical to own a pet. The good news is, there are a lot of options for your loved one to experience interaction with animals.
Perhaps a family member, friend or neighbor owns a pet that would enjoy an occasional visit. There are also several organizations that bring pets to senior care facilities for visits. You can also call your local ‘Area Agency on Aging’ or senior center to learn what is available in your area. Other options include contacting assisted living facilities or nursing homes to find what organization provides pet visits to their facility. For additional information, contact Therapy Dogs International to see if they know of resources available in your area.
Petting zoos could be an option as well if there is one within driving distance. The outing could be combined with a stop for a yummy treat such as ice cream.
Robot pets are also growing in popularity. Although still not cheap, they are becoming more affordable. I found a cute video showing a robot pet being introduced to a client of ‘Visiting Angels‘ in Knoxville, TN. A Google search for ‘Robotic pets’ will bring a wide variety of options.
The bottom line is, we live in a busy world. Giving someone with cognitive decline the chance to cuddle, pet and love a little fuzzy creature will go a long way in providing a bit of joy as well as lightening the load on those caring for their loved-one.
Has your world been touched by dementia? My recent book, “FinishingWell: Finding Joy in the Journey”, is a collection of stories and tips about doing life with my Mama. May it encourage and inspire you to find the joy on your own, unique journey.
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