What Happens to Your Pets When You Move to Assisted Living?

assisted-living-cats-dogsMy June sucked.

An emergency situation occurred that required immediate removal of my mom from her home into assisted living. She’s 87, so it wasn’t a shock, but I wasn’t expecting to get a call from the police on Memorial Day telling me she was being taken to the hospital after being found wandering around confused and incoherent. I immediately jumped in the car and drove the 4+ hours to pick her up from the hospital.

As bad as it sounds, I was grateful to be able to tell her that the police and doctors were the ones dictating that she could no longer live alone rather than having the “blame” be shifted to me. Within 36 hours she was packed up in the car driving back up to live with us while we determined what to do next.

“But what about my dogs?”

The heart wrenching part of all of this was determining what to do with her two loving, sweet senior dogs: a Dachshund and a Lab. My cats have nervous breakdowns anytime there’s the suggestion of a dog nearby, and as much as I would love to have been able to adopt the dogs, it wouldn’t have worked out. I checked them into a kennel for boarding while we ironed out the particulars.

The week was a non-stop cry fest. Mom was inconsolable over parting with her canine family. She’d lived alone out in the country and they had been her round-the-clock companions for years. I had no answers for her.

Crash Course in Assisted Living

Although we were mentally prepared to have her move in with us, it was quickly apparent that that was not a viable option. She had some difficulty navigating the stairs up to her room and required more specialized care than I was able to provide. I had to take a crash course in assisted living options with the help of a senior counselor (Thank you, aplaceformom.com!).

I assumed Mom would not be able to bring a dog to live with her in an assisted living facility, but I was wrong. In fact, many (if not most) assisted living facilities will permit one small pet as long as the senior is able to take care of him. If the pet is a service or emotional support animal, they cannot refuse to allow you to bring him to live with you.

But There’s a Catch…

Cats are generally not a problem since they stay within the confines of the senior’s apartment. However, the cat needs to be comfortable with caregivers coming and going, not bite or scratch, and not be inclined to bolt out the door at the earliest opportunity.

Dogs must be evaluated and approved before they can move in. They must be able to follow verbal commands and walk on a leash without pulling. They must be quiet and not jump on people. This is to protect the facility from liability so that residents don’t trip or fall because of an unruly animal.

So, although my mom had a chance of being able to bring her doxie to live with her in assisted living, he had never been harness trained, jumped up constantly and tended to be a barker. I realized he would not likely have been approved to live with her. Long story short, Mom realized she would need to give up the dogs, and I was successful in rehoming them.

Pets in Your Sunset Years

This whole excruciating exercise got me seriously thinking about what will happen to my cats when time comes that I am no longer capable of caring for them or am forced to move somewhere in which I cannot keep pets. Here’s what you need to know:

  • None of the assisted living facilities I researched would allow more than one animal. As you get older, consider downsizing your brood so that you won’t be faced with a Sophie’s Choice when the time comes.
  • None of the facilities I researched would allow large animals (over about 20 lbs.) unless they were ESAs.
  • The cost of keeping your pet in an assisted living facility can be prohibitive. In addition to a hefty initial deposit, it can require that you bump up your level of care (in one case, it was an additional $550/mo). Dog owners might need to hire a daily dog walker as well. If you’re on a fixed income, yikes! Make sure you understand all of the fees before you sign on the dotted line.
  • Skilled nursing facilities do not permit pets.
  • When adopting a new pet, consider the number of years you might have left and whether your pet might outlive you. Rather than adopting a kitten, consider adopting a senior pet. There are many “seniors for seniors” adoption programs available that reduce or waive adoption fees for adopters over the age of 60 who adopt senior pets.
  • The facility will do an assessment to determine that your pet does not present a safety hazard to residents. In most cases, dogs need to be leash trained and respond to verbal commands like come, stay, and sit.
  • Facilities cannot deny accommodations to emotional support animals under the Fair Housing Amendments Act. The one requirement for a person to legally qualify for an emotional support animal (ESA) is that the person has a letter from a licensed mental health professional (therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist–NOT the family doctor) on his/her letterhead that states 1) the person is under his/her care, 2) is emotionally disabled, and 3) prescribes for the person an emotional support animal. If the person presents an animal as an ESA without this letter, s/he is in violation of federal law; an offense punishable by fine and imprisonment.  If you think you might want to go this route, get your paperwork completed and invest in some training for the animal so that when the time comes you’ll all have a smooth transition.
  • Get it in writing. As part of your estate planning, document your plans for your animals if you are incapacitated. Identify someone who has agreed to care for them if you are unable to do so. Set aside funds to provide for them and the means for someone to access those funds. Don’t assume that a breed rescue organization will be able to rehome your animal unless you’ve made specific arrangements beforehand… I was unable to get a single breed rescue of the thirteen I contacted to even return my calls.


…And Just One More Thing about ESAs

Emotional support animals help individuals with emotional problems by providing comfort and support. They can be life savers. Unfortunately, far too many owners claim their pets are ESAs simply because they want the free airplane rides or one of the other ESA perqs. If you’ve ever been to BlogPaws, you’ve met a few of these scofflaws.

What’s the harm in bending the rules? It jeopardizes the legitimacy of ESAs everywhere and at some point, may force a change in the laws. So please, respect both the spirit and the letter of the law.





Tags: , , ,

Category: Featured, Last Week, Lifestyle, zzz Previous 3 cat articles

About the Author ()

Mousebreath Magazine is an award-winning online magazine that celebrates cats and the cat-centric lifestyle. Editor Karen Nichols is a popular conference speaker and writer, whose current project is The Cat Scout Handbook. She is also the denmaster at CatScouts.com.

Comments (5)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Bernadette says:

    That was not a fun month, even if you are prepared for some of it. Glad you could get your mom settled and her dogs rehomed, and thanks for all the advice about how to prepare. Many senior pets end up in shelters or on the streets this way, and lots of family arguments ensue.

  2. Hairy Larry says:

    I know a couple of those ESA “cheaters” you’re referring to. What a scam.

  3. Kitties Blue says:

    Karen, it hurts my heart so much when I think about what you have been going through with your mom and Buckaroo missing. I pray for you every day and for him to return home to you. As my husband and I age, I think about our kitties and am so happy I have a friend who will see they are cared for and will receive enough money from us to do so. Our local no-kill has a Seniors for Seniors program. I think these are absolutely great programs. You and your family will remain in my thought and prayers, Love Janet (Scout Mau’s mom)

  4. Ellen Pilch says:

    I am so sorry your Mom had to give up her dogs, and for all your family is going through.

  5. Kayleigh says:

    Thinking like that is really imrsvpsiee


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers