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Golden Years: How Pets Add Life to Senior Living

“My face may be white, but my heart is pure gold.  There is no shame in growing old.”  

A pet’s love knows no boundaries, and there are few discomforts that their companionship cannot ease.  While this holds true for all stages of life from children to seniors, in times of happiness and health, to times of loneliness and recovery, those who experience the greatest benefits may be the ones who need it most.     Like pet therapy for children and people with disabilities, animals also have a special power for spiritual healing and physical well-being in senior citizens.

The popularity of pet-friendly senior housing has grown tremendously, and with good reason.  According to A Place for Mom, the nation’s largest senior housing referral service, of  all the inquiries they receive more than 40 percent ask if pets are permitted.

seniorcatHaving a  pet offers seniors much-needed companionship in a time where they are likely to feel lonely or forgotten.  The stress of moving and surrendering some or all of their independence can be eased by the presence of an animal.  By nurturing a beloved pet, they are given mental stimulation, a sense of purpose, motivation to keep active, and may even be more likely to take better care of themselves.   The benefits are endless.

To take advantage of the power of pets, senior housing complexes have multiple ways of incorporating furry friends into the routine. Some allow their residents to have in-house pets (weight/species restrictions vary), while others have ‘community pets’ that have free roam of the place or hang in communal areas.  Even more communities employ visiting therapy animals to brighten up everyone’s day. Scientific studies have proven that just 15 minutes spent connecting with an animal can lower heart rate, decrease blood pressure and release serotonin.   Over time, these benefits can reduce depression and even prevent serious health complications such as heart disease and strokes.

So whether your loved one has a full-time furry companion, or just the ability to spend time with one on a regular basis, the benefits are outstanding.  Cooperation with the animal rescue community allows seniors and living centers various opportunities to take advantage  of this incredible bond.  Seniors for Seniors-type programs match senior citizens with a senior pet, and some even waive adoption fees.   For those who aren’t able to care for an animal full time, pets can be ‘shared’ among multiple residents.  Alternatively, seniors can foster through a local rescue organization and keep pets on a short-term basis, allowing them to save multiple lives through their own.  Some assisted living centers even have Pet Care Coordinators that share in the responsibilities and management of in-house pets.

If you are considering pets for yourself or a loved one who is in senior or assisted living, contact the organizations director or reach out to a Senior Living Advisor at A Place for Mom.  For a list of pet-friendly senior and assisted living communities by state, go here.  Of course, the care of the animals is of the utmost importance for everyone involved, so speak with the appropriate representatives, depending on your situation.  If you someone you know is currently a pet guardian, consider including the animals in an estate plan or trust to ensure their long-term comfort and well-being is secured.

“Senior pets: their affection is timeless, their devotion is endless, and their love is forever.”

 

Rescue Pets Are Priceless, Not Free

You can’t put a price tag on saving an animal’s life, or on the relationship you have with them.   However, adopting one still requires you to dig out your checkbook.   Some people are surprised at the cost of a group’s adoption fee (or that there is a donation fee at all).  They expect it to be minimal because, after all, the pets aren’t ‘for sale’ anyway.    Unfortunately, rescue groups are non-profit, always on limited funds, and without donation fees from adopting families, we would go under in no time.

What Donation Fees Cover

Some potential adopters have the mindset that adopting an animal is basically doing us, the rescue group, a ‘favor’ and therefore we should be grateful, and not ask for fees.  Remember that in rescue no one is out to make a profit.  In most cases, we barely break even.   Adoption fees cover (barely) our basic costs, such as:  spay/neuter, vaccinations (first vaccines for kittens/puppies require multiple boosters), deworming and flea treatment, testing for diseases such as Feline Immunodeficiency Virus in cats or heart-worm in dogs) as well as food and litter.   If you were to get these services done at a veterinary clinic, you’d be spending significantly more.  When adopting from a rescue group, you’re really getting a packaged deal and saving money in the long run.

Why No Pet Should be Free

Having adoption fees is important, aside from the fact that they cover a rescue’s expenses.  Most people won’t dole out that kind of cash unless they’ve been planning to adopt and have considered the weight of the commitment.  This deters ‘impulse’ adopters, and reminds people that being a pet guardian is a serious dedication- monetarily, emotionally, physically, and timely- and should not be done spur of the moment.  If someone has trouble affording the adoption fee, it might not be a good time for them to adopt.  Of course, you don’t need mountains of money to be a great, loving pet parent, but you do need to be realistic about the costs and be able to meet those requirements to keep the pet in good health for the rest of his or her life.

It is also worth mentioning, however unpleasant it is, that donation fees help prevent animal abusers from obtaining animals from rescue groups.  Usually (but not always) people who intend to abuse an animal will search for free ones- especially on Craiglist and from ‘free to good home’ ads in neighborhoods and bulletin boards.

Why Fees Can Vary by Rescue

If you’ve been browsing various shelters and rescues in your search for the perfect new addition, you might have noticed differences in the costs and what is covered.  This doesn’t mean that one group is better than another, just that each organization is in a different financial situation, and works on different scales.  Therefore, they adjust the fees to their needs.  For example, a large, county-wide shelter with in-staff veterinarians is typically able to have lower fees because they do higher volume adoptions, get donations that exceed their costs, and aren’t paying someone else for veterinary services.  They might have sponsors, and likely have a larger staff that includes a grant writer to get state and national grants.  Smaller, foster based organizations like Pet Adoption Network, have fewer volunteers, no paid staff, no physical facility.  Therefore, our fees may not always compete with other shelters.  However, you’re getting a great deal, in terms of savings, in either scenario along with a ‘priceless’ happy ending.

Gimme Shelter: Winter Feral Cat Care

It is hard to imagine that any animal can survive such harsh wind, snow and frigid temperatures.  Most wild creatures, like squirrels and birds, have great adaptations to help them through (nonetheless, they do appreciate extra seed or corn being left out for them!), but our feline friends need more help to ensure survival.  This post will go over ways to give that help to any feral cats that you might be caring for this winter.

GIMME SHELTER 

Some feral and stray cats, such as those that live in the crawlspaces of apartment complexes, have plenty of warm, dry places to sleep,  but most aren’t that lucky.  When the temperature drops, or there are storms or strong winds, outdoor cats need somewhere to cuddle and conserve body heat in order to make it through the winter.  Whether you choose to go pre-made or DIY, there are a few things to keep in mind: whenever possible, two entrances are always better than one. Cats feel more comfortable when they have an extra escape route, and if they feel more comfortable, they are more likely to utilize the shelter. This is not always possible to do, but ideal.


The entrances should not just be basic holes because this will allow rain, snow, and wind to enter too easily.  Be sure the openings have some kind of flap, cover, tube, or awning to add an extra protective element.  Openings should be just large enough for a cat to pass through, about 5 inches, to deter wildlife from entering.


All shelter floors should be lined straw, which allows cats to burrow under and stay warmer. Do not use hay- it has no insulating properties!  Remember it like this: HAY is for HORSES, STRAW is for CATS.   Newspaper and blankets are not effective insulators either,  and can actually causes cats to lose body heat.  Heated blankets and pads are wonderful additions if you have an electrical outlet nearby. 

Easy DIY Options

Although DIY options aren’t as aesthetically pleasing as the pre-made designs,  they do the job just as well and cost significantly less.  Most can be made with items easily found at any hardware store.  Please note, cost estimates often include the cost of buying extra, so if you make a second or third shelter, you won’t pay as much for them.  For example, if insulation only comes in 20ft rolls, the cost estimate will include that, even though you’ll have extra left over to use for a second shelter.  Thus, your first shelter might cost $50, your second only $30, etc.

Rubbermaid Bin:

Buy two rubber-maid bins, one slightly smaller than the other.  Place the smaller one inside the bigger one, add insulation material (see below) in the dead space, add straw (you can also add reflective material such as Reflextic tape to the inside walls and bottom to reflect a cat’s body heat back onto his or her body).

Easy, affordable, sturdy.  Note the tubing at the entrance.  Visit Spay & Stay's website for instructions.

Easy, affordable, sturdy. Note the tubing at the entrance. Visit Spay & Stay’s website for instructions.

Coleman Coolers:

Coolers are wonderful because they can be bought cheaply at thrift shops or garage sales, and are already insulated, so there is less work for you.  Simply cut openings and fit them with flexible rubber tubing or flaps, add straw, and you’re good to go!  The lids allow for easy cleaning and maintenance.  Again, using reflective tape or Mylar blankets add extra warmth protection.

This cooler was purchased for just $5.00 at a Goodwill.  The metal tubing for the entrance was only another $5.00 from Home Depot.

This cooler was purchased for just $5.00 at a Goodwill. and the metal tubing for the entrance was only another $5.00 from Home Depot. Remember, having two entrances is ideal.


Styrofoam Cooler:  Styrofoam material is often used as shelter insulation, but in some cases, a Styrofoam cooler can be used on its own.  Because they are not weatherproof, they would need to be used only in or under another protective
element like a deck or shed, and only if they could be replaced when needed.   These are easy and very inexpensive.

Small, but cozy and easy.

Faux Rock shelters: These are expensive and can be difficult to cut an opening in, but are a great alternative to use when cat shelters, for one reason or another, need to be camouflaged.  Prefabricated faux rocks can be purchased at Home Depot, Lowe’s, and garden stores.

fauxrock

Perfect when shelters need to be hidden from neighbors!

Ashot’s Insulated Shelter Design:  Made from a 2ft x 8ft x 2 in sheet of hard Styrofoam, it is pretty affordable, but does require a few tools: table saw, utility knife, caulk gun, etc.  Directions for building available here, or if you are in the NYC area, they are available for purchase from someone who makes them (pricing not currently available).

This is a great design for people that are handy- instructions can be found here: http://www.nycferalcat.org/CatWinterShelterBuild.pdf Also available for purchase in NYC.

This is a great design for people that are handy- instructions can be found here:
http://www.nycferalcat.org/CatWinterShelterBuild.pdf

Insulation choices: spray insulation (kind of messy), Styrofoam, bubble wrap/solar pool cover type material, egg cartons with Reflectix tape (see the ’18 Gallon Tub’ instructable from the Maryland Feline Society), etc.  These options are used in the ‘dead’ space of a shelter’s walls, or to line the inside of the shelter.  Additionally, lots of straw should be added inside the shelter to allow a cat to burrow.

Pre-made Options  These ready-to-use options are perfect for people without building skills or the time to make them, but typically cost more than the DIY options.


Dog Igloo:

dogigloo

Sturdy and easy to find at pet stores (and at garage sales for much less), but they often do not have a flap or covering on the wide entrance which means they need to be placed under a deck, in a shed, etc. unless you fix on a weatherproof flap.

Feral Cat Cylinder:

Cylinder Shelter

These are pretty cute and cost $99.00 plus shipping at Amazon.

Feral Villa

FeralVilla

These come in two versions: unfinished for $48.95, which needs paint, roofing, etc. and a completed style for $72.95.

Thick-n-Thistle

thickandthistle

Comes in two sizes including a heated option. Price for small/non-heated starts at $159 with free shipping.

Remember, if you are caring for outdoor cats, shelter and food is not enough.  These cats MUST be spayed and neutered, or you are doing a great disservice to the local rescue community, not to mention, you’ll spend a lot more money feeding the babies than you would paying for the spay/neuter surgeries.  For general information on Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR), visit Alley Cat Allies, the nation’s leading feral cat advocate.  For local TNR resources and clinics in the Monmouth County area, please visit Pet Adoption Network’s ‘Helping Stray’s’ section. 

Importance of Word Choice in Animal Rescue

Language is possibly the most important tool of human interaction.   As the primary way of communicating, it can become casual, second nature; something we don’t give much thought to doing because it comes so freely.  But word choice is crucial and can change the whole meaning of a sentence and, more importantly, how a person receives it.

What are your words implying?

What are your words implying?
From Best Friends Animal Society’s campaign.

In this post, we’re going to analyze connotation: (the suggesting of a meaning by a word apart from the thing it explicitly names or describes) behind common rescue-related phrases.   Linguist Keith Allan, PhD of Edinburgh explains connotation as being ‘effects that arise from encyclopaedic knowledge’  and ‘from experiences, beliefs, and prejudices about the contexts in which the expression is typically used.’  In his peer-reviewed article The Pragmatics of Connotation Allan said that to identify a connotation of a term ‘is to identify the community attitudes towards it.’

In rescue, our entire mission focuses on changing how our communities see animals and how they treat them, so our messages should be strong, consistent, and send the right message.   Let’s look at a few of these terms and expressions.

Adoption vs. ‘For Sale’ or ‘To buy’

This is probably the most important as far as word choice, as it sets the tone for the everything that revolves around the rescue movement.   Many people come up to me during Adoption Days at Petsmart and say,  “Are these for sale?”   My response is always  ‘No, these kitties are not for sale, they are up for adoption to good homes.’  Although many of these people do, in fact, realize that the cats are rescued, it is important that we don’t allow people to talk about them as though they are products.

‘For Sale’ implies there is inventory; products to be bought and sold for profit.  Animals are not either of these things, but of course breeders and pet stores do treat them as such.  If we don’t create a definitive line between the rescue of animals and the sale of animals, our movement is weakened.   The difference needs to be clear: animals are sentient beings that are to be ‘adopted’ into forever families, not bought.

Make it official! Many adoption groups include congratulatory 'Adoption Certificates' to make the adoption official.

Make it official! Many rescue groups include congratulatory ‘Adoption Certificates’ to officially welcome the new family member into their forever home.

Cost vs. Donation

This goes along with the previous one.  ‘Cost’ typically indicates a markup on a product where profit is to be made, which is far from the truth.  Explain the adoption ‘cost’ as a donation fee or adoption donation.  It may also be helpful to briefly explain what the donation covers and what it goes towards.  For example, I usually explain it like this:  ‘The adoption donation for this cat is $100, which covers her spay surgery, vaccinations and FIV/FeLV testing.  It also helps us to care for the nearly 60 other cats and kittens that are currently in our care.’  This makes people more receptive and defers from the idea that anyone is ‘profiting’ from rescue.

Euthanize vs. Kill

Euthanasia: ‘the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals (as persons or domestic animals) in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy.’

Everyone is familiar with this definition, yet it is used, almost always without question, to describe the murder of three to four million companion animals each year in the U.S alone.  This is a euphemism that helps distance humans from the guilt and involvement of these deaths, and anyone who supports rescue should avoid the term.  (Please note I am not referring to the decision to euthanize a suffering animal companion when they are ill or elderly.)

The 'Declaration of the No kill Movement' requires that we discontinue using words that mislead the public, including 'euthanize' and 'putting them to sleep' which downplay the gravity of ending life and make the task of killing easier

The ‘Declaration of the No kill Movement’ requires that we discontinue using words that mislead the public, including ‘euthanize’ and ‘putting them to sleep’ which downplay the gravity of ending life and make the task of killing easier

Animals that enter shelters because they are stray, abandon, surrendered or otherwise unwanted are not put to death as a mercy killing.  It is murder, no two ways about it.  I don’t mean to say that people who work at kill shelters are horrible people who are responsible for the killings.   In truth, the guilt and the responsibility to end the killing is shared by entire communities.   To call it euthanasia only encourages people to feel better about it; its a hard truth, of course, but if people think of these deaths are merciful- and the euphemism encourages this- they aren’t going to feel compelled to do much about it.

Owner vs. Guardian

The term ‘owner’ implies that animals are property; belongings rather than feeling creatures that are part of a family.  It may be a subtle connotation, but there nonetheless, and sustains the concept that when humans are done with an animals, they can disown or dispose of ‘it’ like an old television or vehicle: leave it behind, pass it off to any willing taker, dump it at a shelter to make it someone else’s problem.

Guardian, on the other hand, suggests that we are their caretakers, protectors, sentinels for their well being.  Our job is not to own like property or control our companion animals, but to shower them with love and affection, tend to their needs, and look out for their interests for as long as they are with us.   Changing this one term has the potential to create a new level of ethics when it comes to our furred/feathered/scaled family members.

Declawing: Routine Procedure or Cruel Amputation

Declawing is slowly getting the terrible reputation it deserves, but many people still think it is acceptable because veterinarians offer it as a service.   Even though some veterinarians will do it, it is far from a routine or ethical ‘procedure’ and is in fact extremely painful with many adverse affects, some that last for the cat’s life.   In actuality, declawing is the amputation of the first digits of the paws, like cutting off the first joints on your fingers and toes.  It is a mutilation.  What’s worse, it is done because people care more about their furniture’s appearance than the well being of their cats.

It is important that when we discuss this topic with the public, we don’t speak of it lightly.  It is not done in the best interest of the cats, like a spay/neuter surgery, and is nothing short of cruelty.

Wild or Feral

Wild or ‘feral’ cats and strays are two different things (see here), but when talking about feral/wild cats, feral is the ideal term.  ‘Wild’ implies that they are relatives of wild species, when they are actually the descendants of domesticated house cats.   They have become unsociable, but are not a different species than those we keep as companions.  I also try to incorporate the phrase ‘community cats’ when talking about feral colonies because it suggests- rightfully so- that feral cats are not the problem or responsibility of a single feeder or property owner, but of the community as a whole.   For more feral cat terms, visit Alley Cat Allies’s ‘Speaking of Cats’ page.

If you have thoughts or experiences on this or a related topic, please share in the comments!