Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Preparing for Your Animal's Future: Social Aspects

     Yesterday we talked about how to prepare financially for your animal's future.  As we said then, even though it may not seem necessary now, unless you face a tragic unexpected accident, all animals will grow old and face illness.  You can take action now that will substantially improve your ability to function at that time - whenever it may come.  We hope it will not be until they have lived out a wonderful life with you and your family, but unfortunately young animals get sick and have accidents also.

     What do we mean by "social preparedness" and why does it matter? 
Social preparedness means that you have the connections and network available to assist you with your animal and his or her care should you need them.  Hospice care was developed as a team approach and works best when that is what you have in place.  It is very difficult, and many find it impossible, to care for a seriously ill, specially needs, or  elderly animal alone.  The work of caring for animals at this stage is large and sharing it with others is important.

     Imagine this scenario: your wonderful dog is diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer that requires immediate surgery, supervised rest for a week and follow up weekly chemotherapy for 2 months.  You ask for time off from work, but your boss says you have used all your vacation time, they need you to complete a critical project and your pet doesn't "count" as a family member under any law, so they don't have to give you the time off.  Your best friend wishes she could help, but her son needs to be at soccer practice and her daughter has a doctor's appointment, so there is no way. Your next door neighbor is squeamish and says she couldn't cope with blood, feces or vomit - she would pass out.  Your sister can't imagine why you would spend that kind of money and energy on an animal and refuses to "enable" you; she tells you to euthanize the dog instead.  It's winter and your parents don't drive in the snow or at night.  What do you do?

     Unfortunately, this scenario - and others like it - happen all too often.  Just as you don't want to have to make a decision based on whether you can afford treatment, you also don't want to be in a position where you have to make a decision about your animal's care based on whether you are willing to quit your job or pay someone to help you.  This is where your animal social network comes in.  You need animal friends who are available, interested and share your values when it comes to animal care.

      Here are some things you can do to build your social preparedness now before you need it:

     1.   Talk, talk, talk.  You need to know where your existing social network stands before you need them.  Are your family members available and able to help if necessary?  How would they feel about caring for an elderly or ill animal?  Would they be willing to come over to help here and there?  How would they feel if you wanted to allow your animal to die naturally at home (with, of course, good pain control)  rather than be euthanized?  Would they disapprove if you spent your savings on surgery or treatment for your animal?  This is the place to start.  Evaluate what you have already.

     2.    Become part of an animal community.  It doesn't matter your age, gender, social status or lifestyle - animal lovers connect with other animal lovers and, even more, with animals in need.  Those are the people you need in your social network.  You need people who will understand your sorrows as well as your joys.  Your struggles, your dilemmas.  Who will understand your deep connection with your animal and trust that you are making the very best, most compassionate decision you can with the information at hand -- even if it may seem "irrational" or "foolish" to others.

     There are lots of wonderful ways to make social connections.  Join your neighbors walking your dogs.  Go to and find a group near you that meets for play dates, walks or other outings.  If you live in an urban area, go regularly to your local dog park and strike up conversations with others there.  Arrange to meet there at a certain time so the friendship has a chance to flourish.  Once you have a friendship, offer to take care of their animals when they are away or at work.  Give without any expectation of receiving and you will be amazed at how quickly a genuine friendship develops.  If you have a dog, joining a training center can also spark friendships.  Whether you are interested in obedience, puppy class, agility, rally or any other sport, you will find other share your interests and have a strong connection with their dogs.  Go to animal shows and expositions.  Join fanciers clubs.  There are many ways to make connections when you set out to do so.

     3.   Identify professionals in your area.  Paying a dog walker, pet sitter, or other care provider to care for your animal over long periods of time can be prohibitively expensive, but can be extraordinarily helpful in crunch times and to supplement what you and your social network are able to handle.  Many caretakers have First Aid and CPR training which can be very useful and reassuring.  Find someone with a flexible schedule and have them come intermittently before your pet is ill so you develop a relationship with the caretaker and your animal knows him or her.  If your gut tells you something is amiss, trust it and move on.  Never once in my life has my gut been wrong, even though I have doubted myself and questioned myself a million times.  There are many care providers and if you or your pet doesn't click with one, you should seek out another. 

     You may also want to look for caretakers who will take the animal to their home or place of business should you need it.  If you have a special needs animal and need to go out of town, having someone come to your house a few times a day may not be sufficient.  Make sure you know where you would feel comfortable leaving your animal if you had to do so.

     Know your options when it comes to rehabilitative and alternative care.  Are there rehabilitation centers near you?  What do they offer?  How does it work?  Are there daycare centers that have special skills caring for injured, special needs or terminally ill animals?  What are those skills?  What types of alternative care providers are available?  What do they do?  How might it help your animal in the future?  Talk to your friends, get referrals, then meet with the care providers and see if you agree with their theories and methods.  Better to have a general sense of what is available before you need it, rather than having to scramble to get this information in a crisis.

     Developing a rich social network around your animal will have benefits even while your animal is well and young.  Think of the wonderful new people you will meet!  Some of my very best friends came about only as a result of interactions between our animals.  You know you have something in common from the start - your love of animals - and you will be there for each other should the need ever arise.

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