As anyone who’s had pets in the home can attest, they make life better. Puppies and kittens pretty much sell themselves: they’re cute, they’re cuddly, and they do a wonderful job of taking our minds off the trials and tribulations of everyday life. As they evolve into fully-grown dogs and cats, they become an indispensable part of the fabric of our lives, and in most cases, they assume family member status. For those of us who’ve had the experience, it’s hard to imagine life without them.
When we’re faced with the challenge of progressive memory loss, the importance of pets doesn’t diminish. Unfortunately, for those living at home with limited support, the task of caring for a beloved pet becomes increasingly difficult as memory fades. But in a residential setting, pets can still be a rich, rewarding part of everyday life.
At The Mooring, that’s exactly what Mick the dog and Mo the cat are. And since we’re talking about them, we should probably do some introductions – so here are their stories.
Mick has been part of The Mooring family from the beginning. We met him as a dashing 5-year-old yellow lab mix who needed us as much as we needed him. Mick was a stray who was rescued by a soldier, and then bunked with his Mom while he was away at basic training. When the soldier’s career meant Mick couldn’t follow him to the base, he was put up for adoption – and the base’s loss became our win. After his Grandma brought him to local nursing homes to make sure he was comfortable with mobility aids, she packed his bags and sent him to us in Maine, where he became The Mooring’s very first resident – ready to welcome our first housemate on move-in day.
From the moment Mick joined us, he made himself at home. He made friends. He scanned the floor for snacks. He found lots of great places to nap. He joined us on field trips, usually taking up two seats in case he absolutely needs another nap. And he lived up to his reputation as everyone’s best friend.
But being The Mooring’s house dog wasn’t without its perils. During his first two years at The Mooring, Mick’s particular genius at foraging for food outpaced his not-very-arduous exercise regimen. To put it politely, his appetite quickly tested the limits of his formerly-loose fur. So we sent Mick to boot camp.
For thirty days, Mick was in training. He adhered to a strict diet. He exercised regularly, presumably doing the dog equivalent of push-ups, planks and spinning with other reformed quadrupeds. He spent time napping on the therapist’s couch. And then, after the ordeal was through, Mick returned to us, weighing precisely what he did when he left.
Like any self-respecting cat, Mo doesn’t just live at The Mooring: he’s in charge. Like Mick, Mo came into our life when his original person was no longer able to provide consistent care. As a result, Mo arrived fully formed – with a keen sense of how to excel in his role as head housecat.
From the day Mo arrived, he fit. A people cat, Mo does exactly as he pleases, moving stealthily throughout the house. He’s universally loved by housemates and care partners alike, but like any self-respecting feline, he also knows how to disappear. When he’s tired of, well, being awake, he often shapeshifts his way into a bag, a box or onto the top of a warm computer for a nap. But even when he’s asleep, he’s aware. Whatever happens at The Mooring is his business.
Why pets matter.
Now that you’ve met The Mooring’s pet population, let’s consider the importance of their everyday roles. In a residential memory care setting, pets bring happiness, calm and a sense of familiarity to housemates navigating the challenges of memory loss. Those benefits have a deep impact on each housemate’s sense of wellbeing, and are borne of pets’ unique ability to provide:
- Companionship. Cats and dogs have a unique ability to connect – and that openness is contagious. No matter their motivation, be it food, physical contact or curiosity, people-oriented pets form connections that aren’t dependent on conversation or mood. When a housemate sees a cat or dog, the instinct to engage for a snuggle or a pet is automatic. That form of unspoken interaction helps housemates to enjoy judgment-free love and companionship – on demand. And from a pet’s perspective, the affection of a friendly human is almost always welcome.
- Purpose. Cats put on a good show of independence, but pets are ultimately reliant on humans for survival. People with dementia often retain that awareness, and they embrace their role as caregivers for household pets. At The Mooring, that responsibility manifests in the form of both meals and – enter Mick – snacks. Lots of snacks. Feeling a sense of responsibility for another living creature adds meaning to our housemates’ everyday lives.
- Physical activity. Pets, and dogs in particular, require regular exercise. Housemates often accompany Mick on daily walks around the grounds of The Mooring. The emotional and physical benefits of attending to a pet’s needs add a touch of welcome routine to our housemates’ lives.
- Stress relief. Cuddling with a loving pet is calming, and it feels good all around.
It’s fair to say that the sum of Mick’s and Mo’s roles at The Mooring add up to much more than the sum of their parts. Yes, they provide companionship, purpose, physical activity and stress relief. They ease the stresses of the unfamiliar. They offer judgment-free respite from confusion. The bring laughter, they listen and they need us. But more than anything else, they make The Mooring feel like home.