Are Pets of the Elderly in Danger?
This emaciated dog named “Mojo” died after being unintentionally forgotten and starved by his elderly owner who suffered from dementia. Mojo was a tiny chihuahua who was found locked in a room where his owner lived. He was rescued, but it wasn’t soon enough. He was unintentionally neglected to the point where he lost his life because of it. Starved. Cold. Alone. Forgotten about because of a terrible disease. The chihuahua’s owner suffered from dementia but no one noticed just how bad it was. By the time someone became aware of it, Mojo had paid the price.
Pets make wonderful companions for elderly people in many ways. More often than not, they make ideal partners. Sadly, however, that companionship can come with dangers, too. As the elderly increasingly struggle to care for themselves, the added responsibility of caring for a pet can sometimes be overwhelming. They may still love their pets but they can’t be as attentive as is often necessary.
Getting older isn’t easy. Familiar tasks that have been repeated hundreds of times before can now seem impossible. Common activities like boiling water, opening a jar, climbing the stairs or playing a favourite game can suddenly be forgotten. For many older people, these changes can lead to changes in the way they live. Not everyone with dementia is able to enter a nursing home or is taken in by family members.
When a senior citizen with dementia has no one to look after them, the results can be truly tragic, and not just for the senior. Mojo was a loving companion to an elderly man suffering from dementia. Sadly, the owner’s family didn’t realize how far the illness had progressed and Mojo ended up suffering for it.
Mojo’s owner was frequently confused and would often forget to feed the poor dog. It was not a case of deliberate neglect, but his failing medical condition made it impossible for him to provide for his dog’s most basic needs. By the time his family realized that something was wrong, Mojo was dying of starvation; they found his emaciated body lying in the house. No one could say how long he had gone without anything to eat. It was an awful sight, to say the least.
Sadly, Mojo didn’t survive. It was truly a senseless and preventable loss. Had anyone regularly checked on his owner, they would have been able to help save Mojo before it was too late. But no one did and tragically Mojo was too far gone to save.
However, it is not too late to save other animals like Mojo from a similar fate. If you see or hear of a senior who has a pet, please check to see whether the animal needs help by following these simple instructions:
Ask to visit the pet and check to see that it has food and water.
You can check to see if the animal is dehydrated by gently elevating the scruff about 2-3 inches above the back. Release the skin - if it takes more than 2 seconds to return to normal, the animal is dehydrated and you will need to take it to a vet.
Check for over-grown, curled toe-nails which will need to be cut by a groomer.
Check for signs of panting, excessive shedding or other signs of distress.
Ask your local animal shelter for help since they can intervene when necessary.
Do you think you can help prevent a similar tragedy from happening in your neighbourhood? We’d love to hear from you! Leave your comments below and let us know!
Canine psychologist Dr. Stanley Coren, author of numerous books and over 500 scientific publications on dog psychology, encourages others to participate in our petting events. Also read about the research on the impact our therapy dogs are making at the University of British Columbia.