On my recent visit with my father who has been residing in a dementia specialty nursing home for several years, I realized that often we are kinder to our animals than to people. Although he is not in much physical pain, his quality of life is pretty much gone. I know that sounds harsh, but it’s true. Seeing men and women who can no longer hold a conversation, recognize loved ones or eat solid food is depressing, to say the least. So I should be glad that he and others don’t know what is going on around them. At times pet therapy does seem to help, and it is wonderful to see some sparks of recognition from other patients when dogs are brought in for visits.
I’m thankful that we never let our animals suffer in the same way. I have had to make the most difficult decision in my life twice – to put down my beloved Cato, and then 2 years later Solo Mio – and both times, as sad as it was, it was also a relief. I knew I was doing what was best for my dogs. It was my selfishness that told me to keep them alive, but my heart and mind (with the help of my husband) eventually won out and we knew the right thing to do.
It seems ironic that we would treat our human family members worse than we treat our pets. I don’t know the solution, but I know how difficult it is emotionally and financially to treat dementia and other Alzheimer’s-like diseases (most dementia care is NOT covered by Medicare until you need full-blown hospital type care). I remember hearing Nancy Reagan describe Alzheimer’s as “the long goodbye” and now I know why.