Ask Elizabeth: April 2014

Is it Fair or Wise’ to Adopt at Their Age?

Q. I lost my calico after 17 years and miss her greatly. I am 79; my husband, 83. I have no children. I would like to adopt another cat, an older one, but worry that at our age, the cat may outlast us or that in coming years we may have to go into assisted living. Is it fair or wise to take on the responsibility of a cat at our age? Thank you for whatever advice or insight you can give into this situation.

A. First of all, I am very sorry to hear about your loss, and I hope that you can find solace in remembering all of the wonderful times you had together. I am sure that your kitty loved you just as you so obviously love her, and I know that such a loss can be difficult to experience. My most sincere condolences.

Thank you on behalf of all of my feline friends, for your generosity and kindness in adopting in the past and for your interest in doing so again. As I’m sure you know, the issue of overcrowding in animal shelters is a serious one, and your contribution to the well-being of cats is noble and compassionate. I am touched by your thoughtfulness as you consider adopting again. It is this sort of kindness that makes a true difference in the lives of so many homeless cats.

The issue of senior citizens adopting pets has been the subject of discussion for some time, and it has occasionally been a controversial one. I can offer you my perspective, however biased it may be, in hopes that it may be of some assistance. I don’t proclaim to have all of the right answers, but I do have some opinions on this important subject.

There is no question in my mind that the adoption of cats from shelters by healthy and capable senior citizens can be good for the kitties. Studies suggest that this benefit may also extend to the people adopting a pet. A cat can provide companionship, routine and even exercise for elderly people, and cats who would otherwise remain in a shelter are undoubtedly better off in a loving home.

Given the current situation with shelter cats, it seems like a good idea to take advantage of all potential adopters, provided, of course, that they are appropriately screened to make sure that they are physically and mentally capable of providing care for a cat.

When cats are adopted by elderly owners, I think, and it seems that you appreciate, that it is important to take measures to minimize the likelihood of their being abandoned if and when an owner becomes unable to provide continued care. This problem can be minimized by making contingency plans at the time of adoption for a cat’s care if the owner becomes unable to care for him/her.

One option is a pet trust (“What Happens If You Go First?,” CatWatch, May 2013). Many states recognize this legal arrangement to provide care according to an owner’s wishes. You can designate assets, such as insurance policies, real estate or cash. And name a trustee to manage the money and a caregiver to supervise food, exercise and medical treatment. An attorney can advise you about this.

Seniors who adopt older cats may provide much needed homes for cats who may be more difficult to find homes than younger cats. It can also be helpful to have a friend or relative check in occasionally to make sure that senior citizens are doing all right in caring for an adopted kitty. In some cases, elderly owners may need assistance with getting cats to veterinary visits or with shopping for cat food and litter, and the help of friends and family can be important.

I hope my thoughts have given you some help and that this note finds you well. I think that the fairness and prudence of seniors adopting cats is a subjective question, but my feeling regarding the matter is one of support provided that it is done with careful consideration and planning.

Best regards to you and your husband. I think it’s a wonderful thing that you have each other. —Best regards, Elizabeth ❖