Elektra is one of the survivors.
My companion female Solomon Islands eclectus parrot, Eclectus roratus solomonensis.
Image: GrrlScientist, 2 April 2008 [larger view].
I want to talk about something that has bothered me ever since I spent nearly five months in the hospital: what happens to your companion animals when you are suddenly not there to take care of them? If you live alone and don’t have a local support system, as is true for me, then this is a very real problem, as I became painfully aware of nearly two years ago.
According to US census statistics, I am not unusual: roughly 27.2 million Americans lived alone in 2000 (26% of all households and about 9.7% of the overall U.S. population), and a much larger percentage of Manhattanites lived alone (354,336 people, or approximately 48% of all households in Manhattan). This is a growing problem since fifty years ago, only 9.3% of U.S. households consisted of people living alone, according to the Census Bureau. At least some of these people who live alone have companion animals, and therein lies the problem: what happens to a person’s companion animals if he or she suddenly is unable to be there to care for them?
At the time that I was hospitalized, I was fully aware of my parrots’ vulnerability, and searched for someone to care for them. Eventually, after one week of searching, I found someone who was recommended to me and who looked good on paper. She was a veterinary technician who claimed she would be paid by a funding agency associated with the hospital that covered pet care costs for unemployed and impoverished people (like me) and those who lived on fixed incomes. Well, after nearly five months in the hospital, the tragic deaths of two of my beloved parrots (one was a parrot that I handfed from a few weeks old and the other was only eight months old!), and a lawsuit filed against me by the caregiver for thousands of dollars in unpaid pet care costs, I learned that I was actually lied to by a person who is, at best, an incompetent and ignorant vet tech and businessperson. Sadly, this painful experience and the resulting guilt still resonates through my life to this very day.
I am not alone because there are horror stories out there .. stories about people who are hospitalized and whose pets are left behind to languish .. and die. Can you imagine anything worse than surviving some sort of emergency only to return home to find some or all your companion animals either dead or rehomed (or euthanized!) after they were “rescued” by the local animal shelter?
So I am curious to know what, if any, measures have been enacted in your communities to protect the welfare of companion animals whose owners are unable to return home due to some sort of emergency? What about the companion animals of those who are financially challenged or living on a fixed income? What agencies have been set up to address these problems? Who cares for these animals? How are these caregivers paid?
I am also interested to know what sorts of information you have posted in your apartment or home regarding emergency animal care for your pets? Where is it located? Do you also carry this information in your wallet so emergency medical people can find it in the horrible event that you are run over by a taxi while in a crosswalk and are unconscious for two days, for example?
I ask because I am interested to set up this sort of thing up here in Manhattan. If such an agency already exists here, then I would like to know this, too (they certainly did not exist two years ago, or if they did, no one knew about it such that I could have relied on them). Since there are so many people here who live alone and who probably do not know their neighbors well, I think that Manhattan would be a great place to start such an agency, so I am seeking your advice and knowledge about how people deal with this sort of situation when it arises, what you suggest regarding this idea, and what your plans are regarding emergency pet care?