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Life & living are inextricably interwoven with a myriad of conditions, perceptions, depths and colors: challenges, complications, victories, defeats, love, laughter, sadness, joy - these are but a sample of the palette that the tapestry draws upon.  The pattern of our existence is perhaps one of the most beautiful canvases ever created, one that each of contributes to and yet few can ever truly step back to view or appreciate. We occasionally catch a glimpse of this beauty if we are lucky, usually (in my experience, at least) when our particular patterns & threads are laid down alongside those of others, particularly when new colors & depths are introduced.

Simply speaking, sometimes we learn to appreciate the depth & level of caring in our lives when we see it expressed through the actions of others. For some, this comes through the interaction of and with pets - our "fur families."1

        Kathi ("HawkWife") & her furry caregivers, in fuzzy comfort
Recently, many different threads from the pattern of life have come together and added some further color to the background. My wife is recovering from a minor hospital stay, and our dogs have been doing what they do best: caring for a member of their human family.2

Studies - both formal and informal - have long supported the assertion that pets have a definite & positive role to play in the caregiving process. Pets in general have often played an important role in life: for some, they offer comfort and companionship, conversation & exercise. For others, they can instill a sense of responsibility & purpose that can make it easier to navigate through difficult portions of life when all other meaning may appear to have been lost.

These images are taken from our personal collection and show Georgia ("Mumsie") and Missy ("The Woo"). The first image appears in Her Final Year: A Care-Giving Memoir; it, and the other two images, appear in several posts on Daily Kos, ePluribus Media and several other online communities.

In the past, I'd written a few pieces that helped me through the caregiving & recovery process:3

For families with pets, pets are part of the family.

Over the fold, you'll find some references and excerpts providing more insight into the role of pets in caregiving as well as some examples & excerpts from online posts made to Daily Kos over the years from a variety of people, documenting the role of pets in caregiving as both providers and recipients of care.



CareGiving Kos is a community diary series posted generally on Sunday morning and Wednesday evening by volunteer diarists. This group & series is for those who are now (or have been) in the role of being a care-giver for a loved one. We want this space to be supportive and free of squabbles. Our only rule is to be kind to yourself and others who are going through a very difficult time. Please respect the concept of this group: No Politics Here.

By "no politics" we don't mean "avoid politics completely" - it's too relevant, at times, to portions of the topics discussed. But keep any references to politics focused and within the context of the caregiving topic. Avoid flames, flaming, flame-wars and dragging the discussion off-topic. Thank you.

Here are a few industry studies that I thought folks may find to be of interest & relevant:

  1. Pets value in Caregiving by Margarete De Gaston of the blog Essential-Caregiver
  2. Wonder Dog Reminds Me What’s Important, posted on 08/16/2011 by Amy Goyer
  3. An Angel With Whiskers: Interview with Dr. David Dosa, author of 'Making Rounds With Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat' by Carol Kaufmann
  4. Pets As Caregiving Instructors; A look at the healing power of pets, written by Joanne Reynolds
  5.  SENIOR CARE: Caregiving Pets are Great Stress Busters in Elder Care | Family Caregiver HUGS - Helping Us Gain Strength by Xahnia
  6. [PDF]:Pets and Caregiving Spouses of Individuals with Traumatic Brain Disorder
    Previous research has shown that reactivity to stress can be buffered by the
    presence of pets. In addition, although some widely prescribed medications for
    hypertension (ACE Inhibitors) lower resting blood pressure, it is known that they do not
    diminish reactivity to stress.

    This study focused on the effect of the presence of pet dogs on blood pressue (BP) and heart rate (HR) reactivity among caregiver spouses of people with traumatic brain injury.
  7.  Animal Caregivers by Frances Maguire Paist
    “It’s funny how dogs and cats know the insides of folks better than other folks do, isn’t it?” With those words written in 1912, Pollyanna author Eleanor Porter foreshadowed what many of our nation’s leading long-term care facilities have learned only recently, that animals hold the one of the keys to graceful aging.
    Geriatric researchers from the University of Guelph in Guelph, Ontario, published a study showing that elderly people who own pets are more active than those who do not. They hypothesized that the care-giving aspect of pet ownership gives owners purpose and responsibility and makes them more active day-to-day. Additionally, they said pet ownership helps counter social isolation and that for those elders who do not have a strong network of friends and family but who are pet owners, inevitable life crises are handled more effectively.

    There are many ways to enjoy pets in the wide variety of senior facilities available today. Many permit individual pet ownership. Some facilities actually have “house” pets. For those who can’t or choose not to own their own pet, there are organizations like Therapy Dogs International and Pets On Wheels who will bring pets in for visits. Carefully selected animals, accompanied by their owners, visit a wide range of facilities including nursing homes and long-term care facilities. The result? Great happiness, contentment and sometimes even a rekindling of childhood memories from otherwise reticent elders. When an animal first appears on the scene at a long-term care facility, surprise is quickly replaced by smiles, and the animals respond with great affection and excitement. Indeed, everyone benefits! Whether it’s pet therapy or just a friendly visit, sharing animals with our seniors has proven to be a wonderful mechanism of healing and hope.

And here are a few examples of caregiving pets, caregiving for pets and pets caregiving for caregivers - from posters on Daily Kos:


  1. The Cat Who Became a Caregiver, Wed Sep 28, 2011
  2. Art for my Mom, Wed Oct 05, 2011


  1. A Tale of Two Pooties, Tue May 26, 2009

    Gardeen made the last week of Dad’s life—which was hellish for us—tolerable. His basic sweetness and affectionate nature helped calm me down when Dad would glare at us, his eyes filled with rage because we were following the orders of his doctor and speech therapist.  I had a tiny scrap of black fur who would curl up under my chin or on my shoulder and purr himself to sleep. Dad threatened my husband and bit him, my husband would leave him in his room watching TV and go play with the kitten. There were nights when the kitten’s warm, loving presence was all that kept us from howling naked at the moon.
  2. The Law and Elder Care, Fri Apr 24, 2009

    A few weeks ago, a Kossack made a casual suggestion that we needed a law to force families to care for their elderly family members. In this  diary, a few people were upset that anyone would have the gall to expect help from the government in paying for long-term care, and those who did were mooching off the rest of hard-working Americans, sounding remarkably as if they were quoting Republican talking points about any healthcare reform, actually. I’d like to take issue with those comments and also explain which a law "forcing" people to take care of their family members isn’t necessary and wouldn’t work.


  1. Just a happy dog story. Thu Jun 07, 2007


  1. Pets, and Growing Older, Sat Feb 19, 2011

    Now my son is attending community college full time while living at home and maintaining a half time job as well.  I'm working full time as retirement seems an impossible dream at this time.  Beloved pets have passed on.  We still have two cats from his kindergarden years - one so aged I have to carry him everywhere.  But we love him.  He's part of our family.

    And yet... I just rescued a little dog anyway.  I may be old.  I may be tired.  But I still remember what these critters can bring into our lives.  For me, they created a family for a lonely little boy.


  1. Chronic Tonic--Cats Who Care, Thu Feb 25, 2010

    One of the worst things about dealing with chronic health troubles is how they can cut us off from social contact. If our health is poor it can be difficult to get out. Even if health problems don't flare up all the time, we can rarely figure out when they are going to do that, making long term plans difficult or impossible.

    This is when having a pet, especially a loving and interactive pet, can make a great deal of difference. Dogs are the first officially train companion animals, first with help for people with vision problems, then with mobility help, and now even with psychological disorders or seizures. Dogs have the trainability and physical ability that lets them be helpful in these unique ways.

    However, we might not have thought about how cats have their own unique ways of being helpful.

    I think cats are the ideal choice for those who can't get out as much as they would like, or any other kind of socialization challenge. Cats have some special features which makes them uniquely suited to be pets for people with certain challenges.

So - what's your story? Do you have one to share...? If so, please do - the floor is open!






  1. Granted, not all pets are furry, but roll with it for the purposes of this piece, ok? Feel free to add comments to provide examples of any non-furry pets & companions who have helped illustrate & embody the concepts of caring, family & love. :)
  2. FYI: Kathi's recuperating nicely at the moment. Malamute Jack, meanwhile, is suddenly & inexplicably lame - his right leg is giving him issues, and he's been very quiet. We're keeping an eye on him and have let our vet know that he may be in to visit sooner than later...
  3. Not a complete list.

Originally posted to GreyHawk on Wed Oct 26, 2011 at 01:58 PM PDT.

Also republished by CareGiving Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I've got to run, but will be back in a few hours. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ekaterin, alguien

    Please keep the topic alive and discuss among yourselves.

  •  I have had many (6+ / 0-)

    moments of comfort and the security of unconditional love from my woozles, past and present, and now my moocher as well.  Here are just a few examples:

    Quentin, the first woozle mr. luvs and I had together had an uncanny knack for knowing just where my back would hurt the worst.  He'd hop on the bed and sniff his way from the nape of my neck to my behind.  When he discovered where the pain was most severe, he would settle his furry rump up against that section.  A mobile heating pad with GPS.

    When I was a struggling law school student (and I do mean struggling!  From the first semester to the end of my second year, my GPA wouldn't have added up to a respectable earthquake on any seismograph on the planet!), I ended up doing the 1st year student's nightmare - The Appellate Brief - in one sitting.  I started at 4 inna morning on a Thursday, and finished at 9:30am the next morning.  At the time, we had four dogs and throughout that period, I was never without one of the dogs on my feet.  They rotated their guard shifts in 3 to 4 hour blocks.  One would come downstairs from snoozing with mr. luvs and relieve the on-duty canine.  You could practically hear them exchanging the First General Order, as they made the exchange!

    When we lost our beloved Dalgliesh, far too early to cancer, my sorrow was so intense that my doctor referred me to a grief counselor.  

    They are not pets, nor even companions.  They are family in the best sense of the word.

    Good diary!

    Our promises are made in proportion to our hopes, but kept in proportion to our fears.-LaRouchefoucauld

    by luvsathoroughbred on Wed Oct 26, 2011 at 02:16:50 PM PDT

  •  How nice to see the photo of Mumsie (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    alguien, GreyHawk, HawkWife

    kissing your dog. I always loved that photo. Mumsie was like a family member to many of us, thanks to your excellent diaries.

    Best wishes to your wife for a speedy recovery!

    We either add to the darkness of indifference ... or we light a candle to see by. -- Madeleine L'Engle

    by Ekaterin on Wed Oct 26, 2011 at 02:17:42 PM PDT

  •  When my father moved in with us, he tried to (5+ / 0-)

    make rules for the pets. They could not sit on furniture. They were not allowed in his bedroom. We told him he could shut the door on his bedroom, but the cats were NOT  banned from furniture or locked up in a bathroom at night. It was part and parcel of Dad's need to control US; the cats were merely on more way he could assert his authority. Dad was a Dem but he was also an authoritarian control freak with the family.  He lost the battle.

    Once he acknowledged defeat, he welcomed the cats with enthusiasm.   Mike (mee-kay, the Japanese word for calico cats), our Japanese bobtail, used to cuddle with him.  So did Illya, our elderly Russian Blue, as did Morgana, our little mostly black female.  They'd sit on the sofa oir crawl into his lap. The one photo of Dad I have from before his death was of him with Morgana curled up on his lap, asleep, as Dad dozed.

    The bedroom door didn't say closed long. They were first banned from his furniture, then the chair became okay. Then they were allowed everywhere but his bed. Then that was okay.  The last week of his life, Mike came in and crawled under the covers with him. Dad called us in to see her with her head on his shoulder.  He had capitulated completely and, I think, was actually happy to do so. He loved the cats.

    The last time we mixed religion and politics people got burned at the stake.

    by irishwitch on Wed Oct 26, 2011 at 02:43:02 PM PDT

    •  You've shared wonderful glimpses of your fur (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      HawkWife, irishwitch

      family and the role they played in caregiving - both for your dad as well as you...I hope you didn't mind the references to your pieces. :)

    •  lol, I once sold a Jack pup (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      GreyHawk, irishwitch

      to a friend who had, up until then, only had big dogs. When Gina opened her closet and had to stare down a rat, she gave me a call, knowing I had some avid hunters. As I was chatting to her about the need to be the pack leader with these terrorists, she drew herself up and said "Oh, don't worry, I have RULES for the dogs!"
      Called me about a week after Dixie went home with her, and in a sheep voice said "Uh.. you know those RULES I had...?"

      Wonderful pup. Great dog. She was named Dixie Piper, because she was going to run all the rats out of Fries. She may not have gotten the whole town, but she sure did clean out the house!

      And when she wasn't ratting, she slept where she darn well pleased.

  •  My Kids (5+ / 0-)

    I had planned on writing a diary for this evening for here. What I hadn't planned on was getting into a car accident. I looked very carefully before I made a turn into the Goodwill driveway. My car was hit hard enough to rip off the back bumper by a motorcycle but I was the one cited. Spent several hours at the hospital and am home and aching like crazy.

    I am glad for my two kitties tonight. Pixie, who was Mom's caretaker kitty, has been with me since I came home. She can tell I'm hurting and upset and won't leave me alone. Merlin will cuddle up when I go to bed.


    "Always forgive your enemies - nothing annoys them so much." Oscar Wilde

    by michelewln on Wed Oct 26, 2011 at 04:14:53 PM PDT

  •  My late cat, Max, (4+ / 0-)

    was not a cuddler. But whenever one of us was sad or sick, he would park himself close by, at the foot of the bed, for example, or on the arm of the couch. He'd stare and purr (he purred so quietly, often the only way to tell was that he "vibrated"). He'd usually fall asleep, but came awake instantly when we stirred. It was always such a comfort to see him there.

    When my son had to make a couple of middle-of-the-night visits to the emergency room several years ago (extreme pain; turned out that Celiac disease was at the root of it), Max would be waiting at the door. Then he'd accompany him to his room and hunker down to observe, purr, and eventually sleep.

    We used to joke that Max had another reason for being so concerned--"I love you and I'm sorry you're sick, but how is this going to affect my schedule?"  He may have had that concern--he was a cat, after all--but the love came first.

  •  Absolutely true (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    GreyHawk, HawkWife, emmasnacker

    that my pooties are a key component of my support system!
    One of my cats, my torti-tabby Coco, is especially devoted. In the early weeks of my recuperation, when I was sleeping a lot and close to home almost always, she spent hours and hours on my lap. Often, she would crawl up my lap so that her face was close to mine, and then she would purr and knead contentedly for as long as I let her. (As long, that is, as her claws didn't get through my clothing and blankets.) Since my (human) family was at work or school, this constituted a really important source of companionship for me.
    If it were in her power to love me back to health, she would do so--and I think she's doing her best to make it happen. How can I do any less when she is so single-minded?
    I hope your wife has a quick and uncomplicated recovery herself.

  •  This last year (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    has been the hardest of my life in the physical sense. First stricken in May of '10, by summer I was a shuffling cripple, in intense pain in most all joints, particularly knees, ankles and wrists. In mid August that year, I self-diagnosed Drug Induced Lupus, having rejected the RA diagnosis by my NP. I studied the bloodwork too, and did more research than she did. I stopped taking the Atenolol. Immediate, slight improvement, a series of liver cleanses, slow and steady improvement. Cautionary diet.  And through it all, the woozles and horses kept me getting up every day. And then cared for me by adapting their pace to mine. As I shuffled along, I was constantly checked on. If wooz was on a leash, not one of them ever pulled a pound. Not even a half. I was cautious about handling the horses, but when I did, they offered their respect and docility.
    I think with out them, I would have given up last winter. I am fortunate to have them in my life.
    Flashie G, Grace, Bess, Pip. Pounder. Gladwyn, Myfanawy, Vala and Tegwyn. Ariel, Saint Timmy, Dan, Juanita and Independence. Thanks, everybody!
    We're walking faster now, and even picked up a trot a couple of times recently!

  •  My week got interesting. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Tuesday my friend, who is my father in law's caretaker, called and said his therapist was ordering him to inpatient care.

    (Dad is in his late seventies after six back surgeries, hard of hearing, severe arthritis, and Alzheimer's.)

    Now, I was not totally shocked by this. I go out to Dad's weekly to give the caregiver 24 hours straight respite, and saw that he wasn't coping well. I've tried to encourage him to do things for his mental health, but he wasn't interested in doing them. Dad cannot cook for himself, and if he is not supervised and his pills sorted, Dad is apt to forget what he took when. He also needs help in the shower, but he can toilet himself and feed himself if you put it in front of him. We have a live-in chiefly because sometimes he gets ideas about doing things at odd hours, and it helps to have someone there to divert them before he ruminates on them.

    So I am basically living out at Dad's for the week. Cooking out here is okay; his oven works, and mine doesn't, and it's much easier to do laundry when stairs to the basement aren't involved. But Bear, my husband is here too.

    Because Bear can't bend over or stand for more than five minutes, and between the knees and the gut problem and the COPD is pretty immobile most days.  

    The notion of us taking alternate days to wait on Dad has been shot down. He has taken the good spare bed. Which is a twin. And he is whining and sulking because his routine is busted.


    When you come to find how essential the comfort of a well-kept home is to the bodily strength and good conditions, to a sound mind and spirit, and useful days, you will reverence the good housekeeper as I do above artist or poet, beauty or genius.

    by Alexandra Lynch on Fri Oct 28, 2011 at 04:52:16 AM PDT

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