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Planning for pets important for seniors

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By Kristi O'Harrran
Herald Columnist
  • Kathy Brownell, shown with Maybelle the cat, wants folks to make
arrangements for their pets before they die.

    Photo by Deanna Dunkin Smith

    Kathy Brownell, shown with Maybelle the cat, wants folks to make arrangements for their pets before they die.

  • Photo by family

Dorothy Gadzinski of Snohomish made housing arrangements for her dog, Taffy, before she died last year.

    Photo by family Dorothy Gadzinski of Snohomish made housing arrangements for her dog, Taffy, before she died last year.

Part of living is making plans before death. Pay for cremations, select a gravesite, write your obituary and pick out your newspaper picture, find a good spot to leave the combination for the safe, prepare a will and put notes underneath the sterling silver about who gets what.
Don't forget a plan for pets.
"That is important," said hospital administrator Christie Shepard with VCA Veterinary Specialty Center of Seattle in Lynnwood. "I think it goes beyond just telling loved ones what your wishes are, but also planning for who will take in the pet when the owner passes away."
Painful as it may be, Fifi and Fido will need the best home possible when their owner dies. Administrative assistant Kathy Brownell, who works at the Carl Gipson Senior Center of Everett, wants others to know about the importance of the process.
Her mother, Dorothy Gadzinski, 81, died unexpectedly July 13th.
"The last thing on my mind that day was what was going to happen to her two pets," Brownell said. "Both shared fellow senior citizen status under my mom's roof."
Taffy the poodle was used to visiting with Brownell and her husband, Donald, every night, so it was a given that she would spend the rest of her life with the couple.
Oreo tried out another home, but has returned to the Brownell household in Snohomish.
Brownell said she knows it must be a difficult conversation to talk about pet care. She said asking someone what they would like done with their pet, if they had to go to a nursing home or after they die, must be awful.
They never had the conversation about Taffy and Oreo before her mother died.
"This wasn't the kind of conversation you share over breakfast at IHOP on Sunday mornings," she said. "But the answer may be more optimistic than you think."
She also said seniors should not deny themselves the pleasure of a pet because they fear what will happen when they die. Make an after-death plan known, and don't live without the joy and companionship of a pet, she said.
That is exactly what I said to my parents on Camano Island. They are 88 and 91 and Mom still pines for her deceased cat, Rusty. I've bugged her about getting another cat – so many need homes – but I can't budge Mom.
They no longer travel, so taking care of the cat would be no problem for my folks. I told her I would be happy to adopt the pet down the road.
Brownell has a good suggestion between friends: Maybe you and a friend could make a pact to take each other's pet if something happened to one of you, Brownell said. Or maybe that friend and you would agree to care for each other's pet until just the right person came along to adopt them. Or, you could call a family meeting and ask those you trust if someone would be willing to adopt your pet if the need arose, she said.
"I know I wouldn't have touched this subject with a 10-foot pole several months ago, but now, more than ever, I realize that we all need to think about the 'what if's' just because you never know."
She said she knows only too well about the pain of mourning. Pets go into mourning, too, she said.
"You owe it for your own peace of mind to make sure they will have the most loving home possible after you are no longer there to care for them," Brownell said. "I owe nothing less to the memory of my mom for entrusting me with her most precious possessions – the two pets who shared her life.''
Christie Shepard said even more than veterinary hospitals, animal shelters are impacted by unwanted pets.
"You actually see it in the pets section of Craigslist quite often," she said. "People trying to adopt out their elderly family members' pets because they can no longer care for them or because of a death."
Oreo and Taffy were lucky.

Kristi O'Harran: 425-339-3451,
Story tags » AnimalsSenior issues

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