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

The question often does not have an easy answer, especially for sick or elderly people who are moving to home nursing or assisted living. During the pandemic, specialist rescue, advocacy and adoption services run by volunteers try to fill the void, one animal at a time.

Leaders of the small movement said the past two years had opened the eyes of many.

“The problem with COVID is that a lot of people think, I can’t be sure I’m here forever. A lot more people are trying to plan ahead which is the best thing to do because unfortunately a lot of people are waiting until they are in hospice or there is a dire situation, ”said Amy Shever , founder and director of 2nd Chance. 4 Pets in the suburbs of Sacramento, California.

The number of pets handed over to shelters due to the health or death of the caretaker rose 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. 50 states.

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

Shever’s goal is to educate vets and shelters on how they can get involved. His organization also tries to help pet owners who need guidance. 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 door hangers, for example, to pet food banks and animal welfare organizations so that 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 the pets of critically ill and terminally ill people, said Dianne McGill, President and Founder. of Salem, Oregon. Most hospices provide home care services, where pets often provide comfort and support.

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

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

“Social workers hear about the problems of 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 is navigating her end-of-life journey or when she dies? “

“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.

Step into the angels on earth as 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 association 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 took in Jackson last August.

“I have never been without a dog since around 1965,” said the widow. “Its former owner has passed away.

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 to relocate him if his health deteriorated.

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

Caitlin Koska, 31, and Michael White, 34, of Ypsilanti, Mich., Included Luna, 14, in their May 1 marriage after Koska adopted her via Tyson’s Place around Thanksgiving 2020. Luna, also chihuahua, was their ring bearer.

“Her owner had entered a retirement home and could no longer care for her,” Koska said. “She has a lot of dental problems, cataracts and very bad hearing. She’s just the sweetest dog. Everyone who knows her loves her.

Jill Bannik-Brecht founded Tyson’s Place about six years ago. It serves the entire state of Michigan, working directly with an animal owner before placement becomes an urgent matter, or with family members after a death, using a small network of homes to ‘homepage.

For Koska, Tyson’s Place did some important dental work for Luna before she was adopted.

“I used to work for a high-mortality animal shelter and knew what happened to old dogs when they entered. I remember a dog that animal control literally picked up from the side of its deceased owner’s body, and it didn’t. I didn’t even get the chance to be adopted. He fell asleep because we had no space, ”said Bannik-Brecht.

Now, hospices and social workers are referring patients to Tyson’s Place. Bannik-Brecht struggles to extend his reception reach.

“I just cannot meet the demand for this type of service, especially when it comes to cats,” she said. “In the past two months, I have turned down 40 cats that fulfill our mission simply because we don’t have room to put them.”

Bannik-Brecht knows only a few other rescues like his. One 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 cranky 14-year-old cat, Mackenzie.

“She was my grandmother’s best friend and when she passed my grandfather took care of her for the following year before she passed away,” Rafuse said. “He wouldn’t put his name on a nursing home list knowing no one would take the cat, which has the crankiest 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 it in front of the camera, has been viewed nearly a million times.

“Then so many people started telling us how their grandparents’ cats ended up in shelters and how their grandparents are worried about what will happen to their cats or dogs because they don’t. ‘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 would empower a senior and help them organize this and empower their family. Everything was just shelters.

After its launch, emails asking for help and offering donations arrived, but it did not have enough foster homes to meet the demand. She is working to expand. One of Rafuse’s goals is to help keep a pet in the house until the last moment.

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

“She’s always cranky,” Rafuse said. “She developed a really special connection with my dad, and I know my dad likes it because she’s the last thing he has from her parents.”

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