Three voicemails came in within a five-minute period on our One Family Welfare crisis line. Our Pet Safekeeping Coordinator knew this was going to be an urgent situation. The voice messages were from an elderly man who was audibly out of breath and struggling to speak. Another two voice messages came from nurses. The Pet Safekeeping Coordinator called the elderly man back who struggled to explain the situation and provide an address. The nurses filled in the gaps – Gerry, the elderly caller was refusing to go to the hospital unless he had a place for his cat and fish.
The Pet Safekeeping Coordinator arrived at the client’s home and knocked on his door, she heard someone shout “Come In!” in a panicked voice, upon opening the door she heard the client shout “I think I’m going to pass out!” from the hallway. This is how our Pet Safekeeping Coordinator met Gerry.
Gerry is an elderly male who lives alone; he suffers from debilitating COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) as well as PTSD. He had gotten a kitten a year and a half prior when his health affected him to the point where he was restricted primarily to his apartment. Henry, who had now grown into an adult cat was Gerry’s best friend. He had also gotten a beautiful red fish the previous Christmas. The fish (named Freddy) lived on top of a shelf next to his bed. These two pets were his primary companions, he knew he needed to call an ambulance and go into the hospital for a period, but he would not call until he knew his two friends had somewhere to go.
Gerry called regularly to check in on his pets, each call he was hopeful he would be back home with them soon, he missed them dearly and not being with them impacted his mental health. Gerry was released from the hospital within a week and our Pet Safekeeping Coordinator was able to re-unite everyone just a couple days later, letting Gerry know to call if he ever needed any help with his pets in the future.
Unfortunately, the call for help came sooner than expected, just five days after being re-united with his family. Gerry’s condition had worsened and he was required to be hospitalized for a second time. Once again, Gerry refused to call an ambulance until he knew his pets were safe, Our Pet Safekeeping Coordinator rushed to pick up Henry and Freddy.
Gerry stayed in hospital for a longer period this second time, and was cleared to return home at the end of March 2020. Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Pet Safekeeping Program put a hold on discharge appointments, meaning Gerry could not get his pets back when he returned home. Gerry’s mental health quickly deteriorated while being home without his companions.
The One Family Welfare department decided it was in the best interest of Gerry to reunite with Henry so they needed to find a creative solution. After a few days and many phone calls, two partner agencies were able to assist with re-unifying Gerry and his cat. Unfortunately, the fish was living with the Pet Safekeeping Coordinator and there were no creative solutions to help bring him home. Gerry decided that the Pet Safekeeping Coordinator should keep his fish Freddy temporarily until the pandemic was under control.
Freddy the fish made it home nine months later.
This story is not unique.
When in crisis, pet owners are often unable to focus on their own mental and physical wellbeing until they know that their companion animal will be safe. The Crisis Care Program provides reprieve to pet owners dealing with a life-changing event that impedes on their ability to care for their companion animal(s).
The Alberta SPCA’s Crisis Care Program was launched in 2019. This program is designed for individuals that have run out of safe options, it is a last resort program for individuals experiencing crisis and are unable to care for their animals temporarily.
Refuge should be available to everyone.