Much has been said about how pets can enhance the emotional and physical health of seniors.
Animals provide companionship, emotional support, daily exercise, security, and even opportunities for staying social.
But there’s another side of this human-animal bond that very few see or want to talk about. Senior advocates say elder neglect and animal neglect sometimes go hand-in-hand.
“That relationship is so important, and particularly if someone is at a time in their life when maybe they’re isolated or maybe their mental capacity isn’t what it was, you know that could be the best relationship they have in their life, and you want to do all you can to keep that relationship together,” said Stephanie Kendrick of the Hawaiian Humane Society.
But there’s a dark side of the bond when animals unintentionally become the victims of cruelty, abuse and neglect.
“Sadly, we’ve had to take animals, some of them because of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, the animals can longer be cared for,” said Alicia Maluafiti of Poi Dogs and Popoki. “Some animals that were in hoarding situations and the kupuna died, those are the situations we’re very fearful of.”
Social workers say there is an association between animal abuse and elder abuse. Seniors who love their pets, but who are on fixed income or who have mobility, transportation or memory issues, may inadvertently neglect their animals.
“The good news for us is we’ve been able to work with some of the social workers who are visiting our aging kupuna who are living alone, and we will often get calls about the pets that they have there,” said Maluafiti.
Other kupuna may spend their limited funds on their animals and in turn, neglect themselves.
“When we did the Nimitz viaduct homeless camp rescue, there were a lot of kupuna down there who had just allowed these number of animals to get out of control,” said Maluafiti.
The death of a beloved pet can be especially painful for a senior who see the animal as a last link to a spouse or social interaction and physical exercise. Thankfully, social workers are trained to recognize early warning signs of animal hoarding, animal abuse, and senior’s self-neglect.
“First and foremost, we would like to keep them in the home and then see if we can provide the supplemental services to assure that they have the quality of life with kupuna,” said Maluafiti.