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Where to find respite care for your disabled pet

Taking care of a disabled pet can be a demanding 24/7 experience, but more pet owners than ever before are volunteering for the job so their beloved dogs and cats can live longer. Respite care for these dedicated individuals is essential; however, finding the right person to provide this service forces most pet owners to think out of the box.

Terri S. ran into this problem after her 11½ -year-old dog, Clancy, slowly became paralyzed in his hind legs. Terri and her husband, Paul, took Clancy to several veterinary specialists, but nothing could be done to stop the paralysis and by September 2013 the dog was completely paralyzed. Clancy needed round-the-clock care that included carrying him whenever he needed to be moved, hand feeding him meals, making sure he was turned regularly on his waterproof mat to prevent pressure sores, and holding him while he relieved himself. Terri and Paul saw that Clancy was never left alone. 

After 10 months, the couple had used up all of their vacation and sick time at work. They were exhausted and frustrated. They looked for signs that Clancy was unhappy living this way, but Terri described her dog as “happy and alert.”

Finally, Terri turned to the doggie day care where Clancy had gone before his illness for help. The workers behind the counter turned silent after she described the level of care her dog needed. They told her the day care was for active dogs only. Terri carried Clancy back to her car and cried.

What is respite care?
Respite care is short-term assistance for a disabled person or pet that gives the primary caregiver a break from his or her duties. It is not a luxury; it is a necessity.

Benefits of respite care

  • Allows a caretaker to get refreshed and rejuvenated
  • Helps a caregiver reconnect with the outside world
  • Enables a pet owner to do a better job

While respite care for people has been around for some time, the concept for a disabled pet is relatively new. It takes some creative thinking to find a person with the skills to help. Terri and Paul turned to a family member who was willing to learn how to take care of Clancy. Terri’s brother filled in a few hours twice a week so that she and her husband could have a break in the demanding schedule.

Other resources for respite care

  • Hire a vet tech at your veterinarian’s office or a physical therapy clinic that might be looking for extra work
  • Board your pet at your veterinarian’s office, even if it’s just for the day
  • Search the Internet for websites that specialize in licensed pet sitters, such as DogVacay or Care.com
  • Check the Internet for veterinary hospice care companies, because many also supply in-home medical respite care
  • Organize a respite exchange with another caregiver of a special-needs pet
  • Check with a local animal rescue group for a referral to their most reliable foster families

When you find the person who will provide the respite care, have a trial run to make sure he or she is a good match for you and your pet. In the recent PetsMatter article, “Tips for working with a pet sitter,” writer Bekka Burton points out this can “smooth out any rough patches.”

A trial period gives a pet owner the opportunity to be sure the individual can perform all of the necessary duties, and just as important, the chance to see if the pet likes the new caregiver. You may want to start with an evening away from your pet and slowly work up to longer periods of respite care. Then, once everyone is comfortable, be sure to let your veterinarian know the name of the person taking care of your dog or cat.

Being the full-time caretaker for a disabled pet is challenging, but with the help of a respite caregiver it can be a rewarding experience for you and your cherished pet.


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