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Home sweet home
Retirement homes for people have long been an established part of the British scene, but what about pets? We generally expect that our pets will predecease us, but elderly owners can become infirm or die, leaving a pet needing a home.
Thanks to the National Animal Welfare Trust, the NAWT, faithful companions can now live their autumn years in dignity and comfort.
Founded in 1971, the NAWT’s primary role at its centres is to care for abandoned and neglected animals. Three large centres at Watford (the headquarters) Somerset and Cornwall care for neglected animals — the fourth, Trindledown Farm, just south of Wantage, has a niche role as a retirement home.
Trindledown is both the newest and smallest of the trust’s facilities. Centre manager, Alison Mercer, outlined what goes on down on the farm.
“We are known for taking in older pets. I will often receive a call from a bereaved family who, for whatever reason, cannot take on their relative’s pet. It is frequently delicate. The family is in shock from the bereavement, but feel guilty about not taking in the animal.
“We try to rehome all the animals we take in and we are pretty successful, but older animals do pose certain difficulties.”
“We are known for taking in older pets. I will often receive a call from a bereaved family who, for whatever reason, cannot take on their relative’s pet. It is frequently delicate. The family is in shock from the bereavement, but feel guilty about not taking in the animal.”
Those looking for a new pet from a rescue centre generally want a kitten or a puppy. They are not that keen on an older animal whose lifespan will be shorter and who may need ongoing medical care.
From the animal’s point of view, going to a new home full of boisterous children and other pets may not suit them either. It is often the case that a pet will have been the sole and faithful companion of an elderly person, with both owner and pet sharing a quiet and gentle lifestyle.
The owner will be at home all day, with puss snoozing most of the time, or Fido happy with a couple of gentle strolls to the shops or the pub. So the answer is to try to match such pets with an older person.
The pet continues with its way of life and settles quickly and the owner has a companion who understands what life is about.
“Many older folk just don’t want the hassle of training an unruly pup or a zany kitten, or a dog that needs long walks,” Alison explained. “And many owners think about their own lifespan, too. They do not want to take on a young whippersnapper that may be orphaned in ten years time.”
The centre checks the history of all its charges, including the animals’ behaviour with children. A new owner who is visited by grandchildren is matched with a pet that is comfortable around tiny tots.
The most common problem with rescue animals who come to the farm is obesity.
“We have had dogs so fat they could scarcely stagger across the yard,” Alison said .
Lack of exercise and poor diet are the causes. Dogs especially are given sweet biscuits fand treats and not taken for walks. Cats will sleep their life away given half a chance.
The cure is easy and usually quick, just a change of diet and gradually increasing exercise.
Unlike humans, pets’ metabolism stays fairly constant and the right diet is the key to change. Slimmer animals are much healthier and happier and the old habits of chasing a ball or skittering up and down stairs will swiftly return.
Lack of space means that the farm has no quarantine area and has to insist on newcomers being vaccinated before entry. That can take time. Sometimes, too, there is a waiting list for places, so the animals need temporary homes.
By the time there is a vacancy, those temporary lodgings can have become permanent. Plus Alison and her team always do their best to help, giving contact details for other animal rescue centres.
Home to aviary birds, cats, dogs, sheep, goats, horses and a couple of alpacas, Trindledown Farm also has a role as a rehabilitation centre for stressed pets, especially dogs.
“Some animals cannot take the noise and bustle of our bigger centres. They get upset and sometimes quite ill,” Alison said. “So they come here, where it is pretty quiet.”
The kennels are laid out around a yard. Each kennel has an outdoor run and a heated indoor sitting room equipped with old sofas and televisions donated by helpers to recreate home from home.
Some dogs share, others need to be on their own. Bit by bit, each one is given love and attention by staff and volunteers and resocialised.
Some have health problems which need stabilising, and that, plus the time it takes to match pet to new owner means that some animals spend a longer than average time at the farm. Some will enjoy their last years in NAWT’s care.
But even those on medication can be found new owners. Alison pointed out a spaniel with a heart condition that has found pastures new. Solan the collie was recently diagnosed as stone deaf, but will soon have someone to care for him.
Would-be owners can look for a pet on the NAWT website, then visit their chosen animal at least two or three times to make sure there is a match. Alison will pay a home visit, mainly to talk through what having the pet will mean and giving advice where necessary.
The trust follows the usual practice of checking and chipping new arrivals. Neutering is routine as well.
The farm has six full-time staff, backed by a coterie of volunteers. Some volunteers help with feeding, dog-walking and cleaning while others fundraise. There is no maintenance contract, the farm is kept immaculate by the volunteers.
With total reliance on donations, fundraising is done in two ways. On the first Sunday of each month, there is a barn sale at the farm, selling a wide variety of donated items, plants and flowers under cover. External fundraisers organise stalls at events, or sell craftwork.
For those of us wondering how to cope with an elderly relative’s pet when the time comes, fortunately the National Animal Welfare Trust is just a telephone call away.
For more information about Trindledown Farm, call 01488 638584