Your Proactive Caregiver Advocate: Dr. Cynthia Speaks!

Topics: Pets in the Caregiving Space

I will never forget the look on my mother’s face when Joey came through the door. Let me explain. Five years before mommy’s passing, we had to give Joey away because Joey’s actual owner became pregnant, and my caregiving duties and employment schedule at the time did not make me a good dog owner. With much hesitancy and unhappiness, we found a forever home in a neighboring city for Joey. We said our sad goodbyes, and off Joey went.

When mommy was up and about, Joey was a welcomed visitor at our home. He would visit mommy often, and we all were so excited to have him over. They had a relationship. Joey’s mother was lost in the neighborhood, and, on my daily walks, Streetie, the name I gave to Joey’s mom, would follow me. Over time, it was clear, the dog was homeless, so I took her in. Little did I know that Streetie was pregnant. Joey was born in 2013 in my bedroom closet along with his brother and sister. He was the runt. Joey has been a part of the family his entire life, so giving him away was no small task; but necessary at the time.

When Joey would visit, Joey would always run to mommy’s room to lick and cuddle. She was always glad to see him. What he most enjoyed was eating the food crumbs and pieces of food he found on the floor around my mother’s chair. You do know, older people miss their mouth from time to time(LOL)!

Pets Are Powerful Companions

As I watched their interactions, it was clear that pets can play a significant role in the caregiving space. Fast forward, seven days before mommy passed; August 13th, 2017, during her birthday party as she turned 97-years old, we got word that the person who had taken Joey in, had died and Joey was found wandering in the neighborhood. You will never believe this. When found, the tags around Joey’s neck still had my daughter’s name and phone number on them. She received a call about Joey being found and asked if she could come and get him. When the call came in, my daughter was 75-miles away. But guess what? Her husband was visiting his parents close by. The caller and my son-in-law connected, and Joey was handed over, and the journey of Joey returning to our home was underway.

The day Joey arrived was my mother’s birthday party, August 13th. My son-in-law delivered Joey, and Joey came in as if he never left. Jumping, leaping, licking, rolling over, and just happy. You could see it! You could fill it! It was wonderful! The birthday party was even more meaningful because Joey was home. Did Joey know if was mommy’s birthday? Was it fate?

The celebration between my mother and Joey’s reunion was unspeakable. You would have had to have been here to see the look and excitement on her face when Joey jumped into her lap.

There is solid research on pets and caregiving. Pets have been known to reduce stress, help with despair, anxiety, address loneliness and encourage seniors to be active. Pets can be fun, entertaining, supportive, and, if trained, helpful. Pets offer healing support and, for sure, companionship. I have found that older adults are empathetic to the needs of pets. I am sure it’s because those same feelings are ones they can relate to. Now, I don’t want everyone to run out and get a pet. But, if you decide to do so, consider the type and size of the pet that will fit into a senior’s world. There should also be a responsible person to care for the pet, feed it, and you know the rest. More importantly, make sure that you as a caregiver understand your senior may not give full attention to all the pet’s needs, so keep that in mind.

If you are wondering where Joey is…he lives with me. Since my mother’s passing, Joey’s actual owner went on to have another baby, and both her boys have allergies…or so she says. So Joey, the man, the boss, the king, is with me. After many attempts of returning him to his original owner, Joey has bonded with Your Proactive Caregiver Advocate. It’s a rap! Till death do we part. Be well! Stay safe! Bye for now.

Dr. Cynthia J. Hickman is author and speaker. Her book: From the Lens of Daughter, Nurse, and Caregiver: A Journey of Duty and Honor shares caregiving tips.