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Special rescues help sick owners find their pets’ next home

By LEANNE ITALY
The Associated Press

NEW YORK – Who will take your pet when you die?

The question often doesn’t have an easy answer, especially for sick or elderly people heading for residential nursing or assisted living facilities. During the pandemic, specialized volunteer-run rescue, advocacy and adoption services are trying to fill the void, one animal at a time.

Leaders of the small movement said the past two years had been an eye-opener for many.

“The thing with COVID is a lot of people think, I can’t be sure I’ll be here forever. A lot more people are trying to make plans ahead of time, which is the best thing to do. because unfortunately a lot of people are waiting until they’re in hospice or there’s a hopeless situation,” said Amy Shever, founder and director of 2nd Chance 4 Pets in suburban Sacramento, California.

The number of pets abandoned at shelters due to caretaker health or death has risen from 7.3% in 2009 to 10.2% during the pandemic, according to the Best Friends Network of thousands of public and private shelters , rescue groups and other animal welfare organizations in all countries. 50 states.



Seniors’ pets are often seniors themselves, languishing in shelters or the first to be euthanized after being declared unadoptable, Shever said. They are regularly abandoned by parents who cannot accommodate a dog or a cat. The lifespan of other pets, such as parrots, is much longer, which sometimes scares relatives.

Shever’s goal is to educate vets and shelters on how they can get involved. Her organization also tries to help pet owners who need advice. She urges owners to identify a committed caregiver, provide written instructions for a pet’s routine and have a financial plan in place. His group has distributed thousands of emergency card talkers, for example, to pet food banks and animal welfare organizations so owners can make their wishes known.

Another organization, Pet Peace of Mind, works directly with about 250 hospices across the country to provide and train volunteers who care for critically ill and terminally ill pets, said Dianne McGill, president and founder at Salem, Oregon. Most hospices offer in-home services, where pets often provide comfort and support.

“These specialist volunteers bring knowledge of animal care with them so they can do whatever is necessary to help,” she said. “So they walk, feed, play, clean up or help organize a relocation plan.”

While providing pet care or adoption services is often not a priority for social workers or nurses, it’s a huge emotional driving force for patients and their loved ones living far away, McGill said. .

“Social workers hear about issues from family members,” she said. “They say, ‘My mom is really, really upset about what’s going to happen to her pet. I live out of state. I can’t help it. How can we set up animal care while she navigates her end – life’s journey or when she passes?'”

“I have a million stories of patients who literally hung on until they found out their pet had been given a new home,” McGill said.

Enter angels on earth like Kathy Reister, 79.



She adopted a 12-year-old Chihuahua named Jackson with the help of Tyson’s Place Animal Rescue in Holland, Michigan. The nonprofit organization helps people with terminal illnesses find new homes for their pets. Reister, who was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, had recently lost her own dog and was struggling to stay home alone when she welcomed Jackson last August.

“I haven’t been without a dog since about 1965,” the widow said. “His previous owner is deceased.

Soon after, Jackson was also diagnosed with congestive heart failure, and Tyson’s Place stepped in with a grant to help Reister cover his medical bills. She promised to send him back to the agency for rehousing if his health worsened.

“Having him really helped me want to keep living and keep fighting,” said Reister, of Grandville, Michigan. “I started walking a block and a block with him. Now we walk at least 20, 25 minutes a day. He needs to walk, and I need to walk. He made a such a big difference in my life.”

Caitlin Koska, 31, and Michael White, 34, of Ypsilanti, Mich., included Luna, 14, in their May 1 wedding after Koska adopted her through Tyson’s Place around Thanksgiving 2020. Luna, also a Chihuahua , was their ring bearer.

“Her owner had moved into a nursing home and could no longer take care of her,” Koska said. “She has a lot of dental issues, cataracts and really bad hearing. She’s just the nicest dog. Everyone who knows her loves her.”

Jill Bannink-Albrecht founded Tyson’s Place about six years ago. It serves the entire state of Michigan, working directly with a pet owner before repatriation becomes an emergency, or with family members after a death, using a small network of shelters. homepage.

For Koska, Tyson’s Place took care of extensive dental work for Luna before she was adopted.



“I used to work for an animal shelter with a high mortality rate, and I knew what happened to old dogs when they came in. I remember one dog that animal control literally picked up on the side of his deceased owner’s body, and he didn’t. “He didn’t even have the opportunity to be adopted. He was put to sleep because we didn’t have room,” Bannink-Albrecht said.

Now hospices and social workers refer patients to Tyson’s Place. Bannink-Albrecht struggles to extend his home reach.

“I just can’t keep up with the demand for this type of service, especially when it comes to chats,” she said. “Over the past two months, I’ve turned down 40 cats that were fulfilling our mission simply because we didn’t have a place to put them.”

Bannink-Albrecht knows of only a few other saves like his. One of them, in Canada, also needs help.

Angela Rafuse, 27, of Halifax, Nova Scotia, founded My Grandfather’s Cat on May 18, her grandfather’s birthday. He passed away in 2019 and left behind his grumpy 14-year-old cat, Mackenzie.

“She was my grandmother’s best friend, and when she died my grandfather took care of her for the next year before he died,” Rafuse said. “He wouldn’t put his name on a nursing home list knowing no one would take the cat, who has the grumpiest meow I’ve ever heard.”

Rafuse promised her grandfather that she would take Mackenzie. She started posting TikTok videos of their adventures. A video, of Mackenzie scratching Rafuse’s face as she held her to the camera, has been viewed almost a million times.

“Then so many people started sharing stories with us about how their grandparents’ cats ended up in shelters and how their grandparents are worried about what will happen to their cats or their dogs because there’s nowhere to take them,” Rafuse said. “I’ve worked in a non-profit organization for the past four years, so I thought it should be pretty easy to find resources to help these people. Nothing existed that empowered a senior and helped her organize this and empowered her family. It was all just shelter.”



After its launch, emails asking for help and offering donations poured in, but it didn’t have enough foster homes to meet the demand. She is working to grow. One of Rafuse’s goals is to help keep a pet home until the last moment.

As for Mackenzie, she’s living her best life, hiking and kayaking with Rafuse.

“She’s still grumpy,” Rafuse said. “She’s developed a really special connection with my dad, and I know my dad loves that because she’s the last thing he has from his parents.”

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Follow Leanne Italy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/italy