Has ‘Realty Reality’ Created More Pet Rest Homes?

Pets are being left unattended to care for when seniors are admitted to a home.

Terry Wild Stock Inc

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Most of us have been able to help clients who loved adopting one or two older pets.

Many of these older pets were left behind due to the “no pets allowed” policy of rest homes that their owners moved into. Some were left behind when their owners died.

It surprised me that the bond between the adopting person or family and the older pet was so strong. The bond was filled with as much love as if the pet was theirs since it was young. It surprised me how much love and money was poured into the older adopted pet to battle cancer or organ failure. There is a special compassion and kindness in these caregivers who rescue older animals.

 Veterinarians are seeing more pet lovers adopting older pets. Most of these kind-hearted caregivers feel that they are helping to save lives of wonderful, unfortunate animals. They are dutiful and care for their charges with love and attention. They seek professional medical care for their animals’ age-related conditions and ailments.

Most good Samaritans who rescue older animals are able to keep a balanced life and maintain their jobs and personal affairs while providing proper care and housing for their animals. Many rescuers maintain good relationships with their veterinarians, some of whom generously offer discounts.

Job losses and recession-related home foreclosures since 2006 have wrenched millions of families with pets away from living in their own homes. Displaced families move into rental properties or live with family and friends where their dear pets are often unwanted. This sad reality has overloaded the nation’s shelters with well-behaved older animals.

Rick Sharga, senior vice president of RealtyTrac Inc., a data seller in Irvine, Calif., predicted to The Associated Press on May 12 that foreclosure filings will climb 20 percent in 2011 and peak. Unemployment will remain over 9 percent.

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Foreclosures to Climb?

In 2010, a record 2.87 million properties got notices of default, auction or repossession and more than 1 million were seized by banks (up 14 percent from 2009). About 3 million homes were repossessed since 2006, and that number may balloon to 6 million by 2013.

Foreclosure delays make month to month statistics appear improved, but it’s not true.  Delays are due to:

• Court delays in Florida, New York and New Jersey, where foreclosures must be approved by a judge.
• Banks must work through foreclosure documentation problems disputed last fall.
• Lenders are pressured to give homeowners more time to work out new payment or loan terms. It may take three to four years to upend the backlog of the estimated 3.7 million seriously delinquent homes.

Homeless Pets

I call this sad situation “Realty Reality.” Sharga reported that 3.7 million properties (over 83,000 per month) are expected to be foreclosed on by 2013. If at least half of these households have pets (U.S. average is 67 percent), thousands of good older pets will be homeless each month. There will be more families and their animals ousted per month than ever before. Nevada had the highest foreclosure rate at 9 percent, but five states—California, Florida, Arizona, Illinois and Michigan—made up 51 percent of the total foreclosures.

These states and Georgia, Texas, Ohio and New Jersey ranked in the top 10 for foreclosures. There will be a greater number of good pets in these 10 states with nowhere to go, no matter their ages or ailments. More animals will be relinquished at U.S. shelters not for typical bad behavior-related reasons but for home loss in the next three years.  

There seems to be a related rise in private and nonprofit pet rest homes these days. See the article in AVMA SmartBrief: “Colorado duo creates a loving home for dogs nearing the end,” USA TODAY (5/8), mediagallery.usatoday.com/Old-Dogs/G2232,A9100.

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Why are so many rescue organizations, animal sanctuaries, pet rest homes and pet hospice homes cropping up? Is it the law of supply and demand? Did the increased supply of good homeless pets cause it? Is it the rising interest and information available on end of life, palliative and hospice care for animals?

Kindness manifests in the nature of many baby boomers. Baby boomers are living longer and healthier and have more money in retirement than their parents did. Animal-loving boomers are more inclined to volunteer at shelters. Adopting animals brings love and enrichment to a lonely home or a boring retired lifestyle.

Senior Adoptions

Adopting older animals is encouraged and relatively easy, and actually may not be that expensive unless the caregivers opt for specialty medicine. The occupation of animal rescuer is admirable and rewarding. Some form nonprofit organizations and raise money to fund their animal sanctuaries. 

Dogs and horses love unconditionally and will forgive the hand that strikes them. Most kept animals are tolerant and are totally reliant on their caregivers. Some overpopulated rescue and rest home operations can easily slide into trouble. They are especially vulnerable if the caregivers or volunteers are challenged with personal issues, illness, and financial problems or become overwhelmed with the daily tasks and demands of keeping more animals than they can properly care for.

I have met many amazing caregivers who run their organizations well with volunteers and some caregivers who are on the verge of losing it.

Just Say No

The recession has whittled away funding for many groups, causing them distress. I generally counsel the overwhelmed not to add any more animals and to choose palliative care for their older animals’ illnesses (to save money) and to recruit volunteers to help clean, treat and feed the animals that they have.

I have often wondered what factors generate the accidental hoarder. The person might be a kind-hearted rescuer who is temporarily overwhelmed. The person is quite responsive and responsible. This is very different from the true hoarder mentality.

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True hoarders are blind to their appalling environment and blind to the suffering and neglect of the hapless animals they keep. The true hoarder does not seem malicious nor does she intend to harm the animals. True hoarders are inexplicably and maddeningly oblivious to the suffering and filth they create.

Their mental illness results in maltreatment, abuse and neglect of the unlucky animals that they keep. Hoarders’ animals are subjected to the depths of neglect, abysmal filth, starvation, misery and death.

To the Rescue

Animals suffer under the hoarder’s horrible keeping and it is a crime against animals and society and punishable by law. Veterinarians and neighbors who suspect that someone is a hoarder have an ethical obligation to ask their local animal control department to investigate.

Thank goodness that there are so many there wonderful rescue individuals and groups, private pet rest homes and small, large and exotic animal sanctuaries.

These issues involve ethical considerations, legal implications and the issue of whether caregivers of multiple rescued animals should provide their suffering and dying old animals with end-of-life veterinary care, or at least the gift of euthanasia.

It will be interesting to learn what percentage of animal rest homes will be able to stay intact and above occasions of being accidentally overwhelmed. 

Dr. Villalobos is a past president of the American Assn. of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians and is president of the Society for Veterinary Medical Ethics. Her column appears every other month.

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