Behind the Locked Front-door:The Crisis Confronting Pets, Owners & Paramedics.

Triple 0 Call-out; But What about the Homealone Pet?

(2017 update at the end of this post).

As a society, we are becoming increasingly insular and disconnected from those around us. Many family members live thousands of miles away and often as people age, there is simply no family left with which to connect.

Animals, especially dogs and cats, fill the void and provide much love, comfort and companionship to all of us, but especially those living alone. These companions are of great benefit to our health and well-being. Pet ownership is to be supported and encouraged.

However, these pets have needs that must be met on a daily basis. When those needs can’t be met for whatever reason, intentional or otherwise, the pet suffers.

We need to have an emergency backup support or care plan for our pets. Like the adverts on TV for Bush Fire Survival- the time to make emergency plans is long before you ever might need them.

The problem of the home alone pet arises most often when the sole human carer is suddenly taken ill. OOO is rung and our wonderful paramedic heroes arrive to, in most cases; transport the human patient to hospital. Sometimes the patient will return home, but sometimes they never do return.

What happens to their pet in those early days?

On the day of the OOO  call, the paramedics have very little time to concentrate on the well-being of the family pet. But that doesn’t mean that knowing they have left a pet behind does not dwell on their minds and negatively impact on their own lives. Often the paramedic only has enough time to tip their own water bottle down to leave for the animal, secure the property and leave. The paramedics have enough to be dealing with; they shouldn’t be left to carry the weight of this pet issue as well.

Reporting the home alone pet can be done by the paramedic alerting the RSPCA, but again days may pass before the RSPCA can attend. A young healthy dog might recover ok from such a gap in care. Not so an elderly dog, or medicated pet, or any cat. After 48 hours left alone, these pets are in big trouble…!

POOPs (RSPCA program) does regular scheduled visits to pets of older people. But many folk who live alone are not always elderly. Yes, the AWL and RSPCA both have emergency boarding programs. This doesn’t help though when the sole owner rushed to hospital in an emergency. The missing link is how to get into the person’s place and transport the animal from the house to the AWL/RSPCA.

So what can we as a society do?

I don’t have the answers and I am interested in feedback and suggestions.

I will be running with this topic and taking it to Veterinary and Animal Welfare and Council bodies but the more thoughts we can collect on the issue beforehand the better.

The first collection of thoughts is;

1) We need to put together some good TV ads highlighting this particular situation and the means to address it.

2) The current wallet-card system (of which we have samples at the clinic) for those who live alone need to be expanded or adapted.

  • The current wallet-card alerts the finder that the ill/injured person has an unattended pet at home and provides an emergency contact number for a person who can look after that pet.
  • We need an alternate card that indicates the person has an unattended pet at home but no emergency contact. The card-holder gives permission for an RSPCA officer, Council Ranger or Police officer to attend the home and rescue the dog immediately.

These cards need to be prominently displayed in a standard location in houses so the paramedics know where to quickly look to retrieve it.

  • Human medical cards displaying a person’s medication history are available to display on the fridge so the paramedics can take this with them. Could this card be expanded to have the ‘homealonepet’  notification added to it with authority given so the pet can be rescued quickly?

Currently, a notice has to be posted on the door of the house and if no one contacts authorities in 72 hours, then the house can be entered and the pet retrieved. We need to remove that waiting period and get to the pets faster.

3) Is there a need for, or a way to have a register of approved persons, happy to provide emergency home shelter or foster care for such an animal?

4) Is there a way to have a Neighbourhood Pet-Watch sticker, where approved homes close to where the pet lives can be identified? Rescued Pets can be temporarily housed there until their own owner returns home?

5) Would ACAT teams be able to act a resource for the older owner as well and community care people in general for any sole pet owner?

5a) The Red Cross has a telephone checking- in service-has that a capacity to run a register and be the point where permission can be left to access a house as soon as an alert is raised?

5b) Could sole owners be encouraged/allowed to enroll on a database with The AWL or RSPCA who both have emergency boarding programs or with the Red Cross?

5c)Could the medical alert button also have a sister button that again can be left in a standard place which the paramedics can push and activate as they leave? This alerts the service that a home alone pet has occurred with permission given for Council or Police or RSPCA to respond to that home alone pet as soon as possible.

5d) Could the neighbour pet-watch scheme be a legal extension of the AWL/RSPCA boarding programs? That way any insurance issues and privacy act rules can be automatically covered by these existing charity organisations.

I personally believe these animals are better off in actual homes rather than commercial or charity shelters. Sole isolated owners tend to live quieter lives Many of the dogs don’t know they are dogs! Extracting these pets to be then placed in noisy high-traffic Veterinary or RSPCA settings is not ideal. Most veterinary cages are not suitable for extended stays for any animal, let alone a healthy one. The RSPCA kennels would be slightly better as they are designed for longer-stay clientele, but animals suddenly plucked from their homes need to be able to have quiet and peace and space to move around in an environment that mimics their normal home daily life. We don’t put left-alone children into the local doctor surgery, hospital or institution when rescued. The human child goes into emergency foster care homes. We need to offer similar to our pet dependants. Otherwise, the pet’s quality of life suddenly crashes around them, just as their stress levels soar.

What can be done now is;

  • If you know someone on your street that lives alone; offer to be a contact for their pet if the owner is taken ill or injured suddenly.
  • If you live alone; make sure you fill out the emergency pet contact card with the details of the preferred emergency contact.
  • If you don’t wish to name a contact; then fill out the wallet-card that allows the authorities to send someone to your home and rescue your pet ASAP.

If you have any additional ideas or suggestions, happy to hear them so I  can compile a dossier so we can start to make things happen.

If you have any stories to share on pets you know ran into trouble like this, then happy to hear them as well.

THE TIME TO ACT IS NOW.Spread the message, talk to family, alert friends and help get the ball rolling.

Update July 2017. Wonderful news.

We spread the word via our Facebook and our website but also the Centre for Vet Ed Sydney Uni and the AVA helped highlight the issue. we had our signature poster available for clinics to download and display and the clinic staff emailed and wrote and phoned as many relevant bodies as we could.

It all helped, but what we needed was an actual organization to take control of the program and operate it long term.

Then, by complete happenstance, in Feb 2016, I  saw an ad on TV for the NSW Government’ Trustee and Guardian. We realized this body, which deals with single or alone people’s needs, but at that time made no mention of pets, would be a perfect fit for our campaign. The organisation replied to our emails, indicated some interest and requested we send them all our information and data.
We sent everything we had: the result in July 2017 looks to be this new program from the Trustee on the link below.

Please share this link, inform family and friends who might benefit from this government service, print out copies to show and encourage your local councils and social services to spread the word to the at risk members of your area.

This way we can all have a huge animal welfare impact both locally and across NSW and Australia.

Thanks again to all those who provided support and encouragement to us when we first started the ball rolling almost 2 years ago.  We are getting there!

August 2017.

We have an Alert  Card for Pet-sitters & owners not using  NSW Trustee services ( Free to download and use.

We also have a free poster to download and display in offices and notice boards. Poster: