During times of increased isolation, some seniors are turning to four-legged friends for companionship.
One such senior is 82-year-old Shirley Perkins LeClair, a resident of Northwoods Village. When LeClair’s 14-year-old cat Gracie Grey died in November, she knew she had to get another pet, as hers was all she had to keep her company. Due to the pandemic, LeClair has been confined to her apartment for nine weeks, and the thought of isolating without a pet around was unbearable, she said.
“We’ve been quarantined. We have to stay in the room. We can’t have visitors. We can’t even get out in the hallway to walk,” LeClair said. “The isolation and the loneliness is pretty bad.”
So after Gracie Grey died, LeClair reached out to the Kokomo Humane Society and made a very specific request. She wanted a female indoor cat that was declawed.
When Karen Wolfe, executive director of the Kokomo Humane Society, learned about LeClair’s situation and what she was looking for, she knew which cat at the shelter would be perfect for the senior — and it didn’t meet any of LeClair’s criteria.
“She wanted a cat that was inside. She wanted a female, and she would have liked one that was declawed. So we gave her an outside cat that was a male that had claws that had a big wound,” said Wolfe, laughing.
Despite not being what LeClair requested, Wolfe was confident that cat, Cappy, 3, would be a good match for her. Cappy came to the shelter with a large wound, and he’d been receiving treatment while living in the office area at the shelter with the employees.
Wolfe and her staff had gotten to know Cappy’s personality as he had become their office pet, and Wolfe believed that, going into LeClair’s house, Cappy would be a good match for her.
She was right. LeClair’s relatives picked up the cat and delivered it to her the day after Thanksgiving, and it couldn’t have been a more perfect pairing, LeClair said.
“Gracie Grey was the sweetest, nicest, most wonderful cat in the world, and I loved her to pieces. I didn’t think there could be another cat that could be that good, but Cappy is right up there with her,” LeClair said. “He’s just the most mellow fellow you’ve ever seen in your life. He loves to sit on my lap, and that suits me just fine. He’s so nice to be around.”
What pleasantly surprised LeClair too was that Cappy has been sleeping in her bed with her each night, something Gracie Grey never did.
Martha McCloskey, 92, also recently adopted a pet. McCloskey lives alone on three acres of land, and she lost her last pet, a 17-year-old cat, Pookie, on April 2. McCloskey knew her yard would keep her busy through the warm months, but she couldn’t fathom a winter alone.
“I was pretty busy during the summer with the yard and everything, but I knew I couldn’t go through this winter without having a companion,” she said.
McCloskey already had been in communication with the Kokomo Humane Society as she and her late husband had made a large contribution, and more recently, she had been purchasing a memorial brick. During one of her last conversations with the shelter about the brick, she mentioned that she’d like to adopt a small dog.
Wolfe was pleased to hear it and immediately thought, “Oh, I’m getting her a little dog.”
Wolfe waited for the perfect one to come in, and she found it after a family brought in two dogs after their owner had passed away. One of the dogs was a “fat little three-legged Chihuahua” that was housetrained and extremely friendly.
Wolfe called McCloskey and let her know that she had the perfect dog for her.
“She said, ‘OK,’ and her daughter and niece brought her in and brought the carrier," Wolfe said. "And what I loved about this was just this trust. She doesn’t know me, but I told her I would find her the right dog. So she came in with the carrier ready to take this dog home because it needed a home.”
According to McCloskey, the fact that the dog was missing a leg didn’t bother her at all.
“Nope, didn’t bother me. I didn’t even ask how old she was. I didn’t ask any questions as far as that. She said she had a little Chihuahua, and she said she had just three legs. I could have cared less,” McCloskey said. “I just knew she needed somebody, and I needed somebody.”
The dog not only has been perfect for her, she said, but the dog also has been an inspiration. Two days after the adoption, McCloskey fractured her collarbone. Seeing her dog, Pippi, 7, running around with only three legs and doing everything a four-legged dog does, she said, motivated her to overcome her injury.
“If she could do it, I managed to. Oh my goodness, she inspired me. She’d inspire anybody,” McCloskey said.
According to Wolfe, isolation is common even without a pandemic, and having a pet, she said, can significantly improve a person’s quality of life. It gives them a purpose.
“I think it really extends people’s lives by having some company. It’s so important, someone to care for, a purpose, a reason you have to get up in the morning because you have to feed this dog or cat. You have to let them out. You have to do all this stuff, so it’s really great,” Wolfe said.
When it comes to seniors adopting pets, Wolfe said sometimes there’s hesitation as maybe the senior’s family feels like a pet is too much for their aging parent, or they’re concerned about what will happen to the pet after the senior passes away.
As long as a senior is capable of taking care of a cat or dog, Wolfe said the fact that a pet may realistically outlive its senior owner shouldn’t keep them from adopting.
“They always talk about, ‘Well, what’s going to happen to the animal if something happens to the person?’ Nobody knows what’s going to happen to them. I could walk in front of a bus, and there’s four animals in my house,” she said.
Ideally, Wolfe said the family of the senior would commit to taking care of the pet should its owner pass away. However, that can't always be the case, and the shelter does get animals surrendered whose owners have died. In a lot of those cases, the animals also are senior animals, which are harder to get adopted.
Because of that, Wolfe said a senior may think about adopting a younger pet. That way, if the owner does pass away and the pet gets surrendered, a younger pet is more likely to get adopted faster.
Despite it all, Wolfe was confident that there were more pros to seniors adopting pets than cons, and watching the recent seniors fall in love with their new pets, she said, proved that.
“You just hear this joy. This is the best part of my job. I don’t get to do it that often, but man, when I do it’s so much fun. It really makes you feel like we’re doing our mission, and that’s uniting pets with families,” Wolfe said.