My father in law is recently deceased. As I am beginning to realize, this causes a chain reaction with the remaining spouse – housing arrangements, travel changes, finances and of course, dealing with animals. As a vet, I have often encountered situations when a family member has to make a decision about an animal left behind. Unless it is stipulated in your will what you want done, often the fate is left to an executor who may not be animal oriented, and sees your pet as a liability, an item to dispose of. Sometimes this happens before the person is deceased.
I was at the clinic and was to see a new client, a daughter accompanied by her mother. I was unsure who the owner was, but quickly realized by the tone of voice that the mother was not in possession of all of her faculties. The dog was an older poodle, in good shape except for dental disease, a few warts, and eyesight that was slowly deteriorating. The reason for the visit was the animal was “not well” a generalization, which often accompanies older animals. A few blood tests later, I was baffled. The dog was fine!!! I returned to the client perplexed, in order to get a little more history. At this point, the daughter asked me to wait a moment, and escorted her mother to the waiting room. On her return, the purpose of the visit became clear.
“Can’t you pretend the dog has cancer?” was the request. I was in shock, and requested clarification. “Do you mean you want me to say your dog has a terminal illness? Why would you want this?” I was soon to find out that the mother, suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s, lived with the daughter. The dog was used to living with the routine of an elderly person. Suddenly, placed in a busy family environment, he responded by excessive vocalization and occasional inappropriate house soiling. The husband (who of course was not present) had laid down an ultimatum. “Well, if you cant say he has a disease, if I book him in for a dentistry, could you at least pretend he died under the anesthetic?”
My initial response was anger at this new request. I had to leave the room to voice my concern with colleagues, and plan an appropriate response. Clearly the people did not want the dog, but could not face the emotional fragility of the elderly mother, so felt they needed some sort of “disease” in order to justify euthanasia. One of our staff workers, who had been nursing her mother with end-stage Alzheimer’s, was horrified. It became apparent there is a need for foster homes for older animals whose owners can no longer care for them. Which now has led me to counsel older clients to have this written in their living will, and not for just when they pass away. Keeping older animals is costly, and an allowance should go along with the animal to make it easier for the foster owners to maintain it.
My staff went out to advise the owner about support groups who had helped her with her mother. The final decision was that the dog was to return, with crate training and anti-anxiety medication to aid the animal in adapting. If there was a problem, I suggested that the husband come and meet me to discuss it further. In person. One on one. No dog. If he dared.
Of interest, when we returned the little dog to the older woman in the waiting room, she burst out in tears. When asked why she was crying, she told us she had been sure she would never see her companion again. This caused us all to cry in sympathy, and pray that things would work out. I have yet to meet the husband.