An ancillary organization for the Clark County Elder Justice Center has created a program to provide emergency boarding and foster homes for pets of seniors during times of crisis.
Friends of the Elder Justice Center developed the Pets of Older People program to help keep elderly people and their pets together for as long as possible and enhance the well-being of elderly people who may refuse medical care or long-term care because they don't want to be separated from their pet.
"You take away a pet, and you are setting them up for depression and failure to thrive," said Dianna Kretzschmar, Friends of the Elder Justice Center member and health services liaison at Fort Vancouver Convalescent Center.
Friends of the Elder Justice Center is an offshoot of the Elder Justice Center. The center was founded in May 2011 in the Clark County Prosecutor's Office to prosecute cases of elder abuse investigated by Adult Protective Services.
The Friends of the Elder Justice Center was formed to provide resources and support for vulnerable adults not available through the judicial system or Adult Protective Services. One of the needs the group identified was emergency boarding and foster homes for the pets of elderly people who need to be hospitalized, rehabilitated or are experiencing some other life event when they cannot care for their pet.
"We were looking for how to provide support for the abused and vulnerable," Kretzschmar said. "There are gaps in community services. We wanted to provide some of those services."
Two success stories
The Clark County Pets of Older People program, which also goes by the acronym POOP, has already arranged emergency boarding and foster care for two pets through its network of animal shelters.
In one case, Samantha Petshow, a supervisor at Adult Protective Services, called because an elderly couple refused medical care and a move to a safer living situation because they didn't want to give up their chocolate Labrador retriever mix, "Baby," who had lived with them for seven years, Kretzschmar said. Adult Protective Services didn't have staff to coordinate a pet placement and lacked knowledge of foster programs that might take pets of vulnerable adults, Kretzschmar said. Within an hour of the call, the program had arranged temporary lodging for Baby through the Humane Society for Southwest Washington's foster pet program, she said.
Three weeks later, Baby was reunited with her family, she said.
"It was a win-win for everyone," she said. "The vulnerable adult received the care they needed to get well and to get to a safer living situation. Baby was well cared for during this time and was reunited with her family."
Another elderly woman with a deteriorating medical condition had to give up her cat, "Kitty," when she had to move into an adult family home that didn't accept pets, said Sarah Pugh, member of Friends of the Elder Justice Center and director of fiduciary services at Vancouver's Beacon Trustee Services.
"It was amazing. The next day we had a place for the animal to go," Pugh said. "It was so cool. We don't want animals with no place to go."
Rescue Paws of Longview took Kitty and placed her into one of its foster homes. Kitty was still up for adoption as of Saturday.
More homes sought
The program is seeking more foster homes and will hold a community resource roundtable Wednesday, Nov. 14, to discuss the issue.
The program is not the first of its kind. A program with the same name and mission, for example, was established in a hospital in the Sydney, Australia, suburb of Auburn and is now housed at the New South Wales Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
POOP provides other services. It brings pets from various rescue shelters into long-term care facilities to do pet therapy with residents and helps pair homeless pets with seniors in retirement and assisted living facilities.
"This way we are saving a pet and giving a senior an opportunity to be needed," Kretzschmar said.
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