Paws for thought: who will look after your pets?

Are you ready? Every day during Dying Matters Awareness Week, we’re asking a pertinent question about preparing for end-of-life. Settling practical issues now can offer peace of mind and free up precious time to enjoy what really matters during last weeks and months.

Sarah, 45, is a Martlets outpatient. She has brain cancer and is currently living in a nursing home. Her two dogs, Patrick and Sally-Anne, have been an important part of her life.

“I had Sally-Anne right from a baby puppy and in this picture she was only nine weeks old. I just fell in love with her, she was so cute. Sally-Anne was all about life and she made me feel alive because she had so much energy; she also used to get up on the bed and nuzzle right into the duvet when I was underneath for a snuggle. I had another dog, Patrick, too – he was a schitzu and very old.

I didn’t have cancer at the time when I got Sally-Anne and I wanted to be there for her as you’d be there for your children. I wanted to look after her for the rest of her life and the rest of my life, but obviously that couldn’t happen which is heart-breaking, but I’m told she is in a good home.

Pet pals

Sally-Anne was such a comfort when I was first ill, but because she had so much energy she was always rushing around. If she saw another dog on the other side of the road she’d get all excited and make her ‘wooo wooo woooof’ noise and I’d need two hands to keep her close on the lead; gosh she was such a strong girl for her size.

To begin with, a charity called the Cinnamon Trust walked the dogs for me which was really helpful, as I was confused and weak from the operation on the brain tumours. I had a couple of falls when I first got cancer and my parents were worried that the dogs would get under my feet and be dangerous. My family felt I couldn’t look after them so they arranged for Sally-Anne and Patrick had to be re-homed by the Cinnamon Trust.

I think Patrick is in Penzance in their sanctuary (a retirement home for dogs) and Sally-Anne went to a family home in Hertfordshire. I’ve asked to have a visit from Sally-Anne, but they don’t know if they can do it because she’s now living so far away. If you do want to see your pets again, it would be a good idea to state that you want them re-homed locally perhaps.

Your family obviously want to protect you and look after you when you’re ill, but it can be hard to know when’s the right time to re-home pets and what kind of support you need, so it’s really important to talk about it. I’ll always have my Sally-Anne with me in my photos and in my heart.”

Niks Kent, Family and Support Team Manager at Martlets, helps patients and their families consider the care options for their beloved pets.

“Family and friends often bring patients’ pets into the hospice to visit their owners and it’s lovely to have pets here, alongside our Martlet’s cat who’s called Misty. If you come into Martlets as an inpatient for symptom management or respite care, even if it’s just for a weekend, it is important to think about who’s going to look after your pets during that time.

There’s an organisation called the Cinnamon Trust that can re-house your pets temporarily or permanently when you’re in a care home, hospital or hospice, or find dog walkers for you if you’re ill but staying at home. Borrow My Doggy is another great organisation who can connect you with another family who can walk your dog.

Heads and Tails

We can put our heads together to facilitate important conversations about who could look after a patient’s pets when they’re ill, or after they’re gone – whether it’s family, friends or a relevant organisations. Understandably, patients often want to keep a connection so they can see their pets right up to the end, though this isn’t always possible.

It can be hard for the pets too as they’re confused and don’t know why their circumstances are changing and many of these pets are elderly themselves as they’ve lived with the patients for many years. As well as dogs and cats, I’ve heard of people with reptiles that can live for 40 years so they need rehoming too!

Sometimes talking about pets and what will happen to them can help start a bigger conversation about preparing for end-of-life. This is so important, as planning ahead ensures patients and their loved ones – including their pets – are cared for in line with that person’s wishes, which is a comfort.”

Find out more

  • Learn more about Dying Matters Awareness Week here