When Losing a Home can be Fatal
Picture yourself in this scenario. You have a comfortable home. Everything about it says “home” from the smell of coffee in the morning to the sound of the fridge kicking in. The TV remote is next to your favourite chair. Your stomach knows when dinner is due and starts rumbling just before. By late evening everyone is winding down for bed. Bed — even the word sounds nice. Hotels brag, but there’s no bed like your own.
Then one day, the family says let’s get in the car. You don’t know where you’re going, but as they drive, you hear things like “it’ll be okay.” Yet something tells you it’s not okay. They stop at a strange place and, next thing you know, you’re in a small room with someone locking the door.
There’s a sick feeling in your stomach as the family walks away. Their expressions and tone of voice say they’re not coming back. Days pass. The caretakers bring food but you don’t feel like eating. A couple of times you’re sure you heard the family car and you wait, heart racing. But it wasn’t them.
Every pet whose family takes them to a shelter goes through that. Some handle it better than others. Some are friendly right away and tuck into their food. Others shrink from strangers and ignore food. Some survive their loss, and some give up.
Over ten years, Katie’s Place volunteers have had a lot of experience with animals who gave up. Obesity and age are factors. Heavy cats and older cats are generally more vulnerable. Yet healthy cats as young as three-year-old Sasha lost the will to live and faded.
Temperament is key. Chubby, ten-year-old Theo thrived at the shelter while another chubby ten-year-old lasted ten weeks before her systems failed in a domino effect. Devon arrived at 14 years old. He was contented at the shelter while a 14-year-old Siamese curled up brokenhearted, refusing to eat or move despite going to a foster home for intensive care. Forty-eight days after losing her home, her kidneys failed. Background is also key. The chubby ginger had the same home all her life. The Siamese had the same indoor home for 12 years. Shelter life was a huge change for these two.
Another loss at Katie’s Place was a robust, friendly tabby who fell into a diabetic coma less than three weeks after losing the home where he was born. He was an undiagnosed diabetic in an advanced stage of the disease. He never showed symptoms, likely because he ate regularly at home, maintaining his blood sugar. His intake changed at the shelter and he probably didn’t eat enough.
There’s no sadder death than fading away among strangers, bereft and bewildered. It’s hard on volunteers who watch helplessly. Each animal is vet checked on admission. But animals hide symptoms instinctively to avoid alerting predators to their vulnerability.
People need to know that if they’re thinking of giving up a sensitive cat who’s been with them all his life, he’s at risk. If he’s overweight and older, his risk increases. Many lose homes when people move. Pets can handle a move better than losing their home and family. Try to find pet-friendly housing. Allergies cost many pets their homes, but there are ways to control allergies. The shelter is a last resort, not an equal option.
Each case is unique though. For every pet who gives up, ten similar cases rally. So please don’t put him to sleep without talking to Katie’s Place first. Most important, consider the implications before adopting in the first place. Don’t do it unless you can keep a pet for his whole life span. The volunteers will help you consider the possible scenarios.
Lastly, if you must give up your pet, get him vet checked and let the shelter know of issues. The tabby’s diabetes might have been caught and treated. Nobody was at fault. It’s a learning experience. We hope our experiences can save other lives.
The cat pictured was sensitive, chubby senior whose health deteriorated after she lost her home. She died a couple of months later.