Seniors with pets struggle to find places to live

If Norma Dickson has to choose between keeping her cat or a roof over her head, she says she’ll pick the cat and live in her Jeep.

'I’ve been running up against a brick wall, because I made the mistake of having a cat,' says senior

Norma Dickson says she can't find an affordable place to live that will accept cats. (CBC)

If Norma Dickson has to choose between keeping her cat or having a roof over her head, she says she'll pick the cat and live in her Jeep.

Dickson, 68, is among a growing number of seniors who want to move into subsidized independent or assisted-living facilities and want to bring their four-legged furry companions with them.

Many are being told to leave kitty at the door.

"She's my company," said Dickson "She trusts me to take care of her, I'm not going to give that up, I can't."

The Seniors Association of Greater Edmonton, an organization that helps seniors find housing, said about one-third of the seniors they serve look for places that can accommodate pets.  

"It's a major issue," said Bernice Sewell, director of operations for SAGE, adding many seniors will remain in unsafe situations if it means they can keep their pets.

"They may be living with family members who are either exploiting them or are abusive to them," she said.

"But they can still keep their pet, and it's important enough for them that they'll stay in that situation."

Dickson said she's called dozens of places that offer accommodations in the Edmonton area for low-income seniors, including 94 independent-living places on a list provided by SAGE. Of the 94, Dickson said just one allowed pets and the waiting list to get into that place is five years.

"I've been running up against a brick wall, because I made the mistake of having a cat," she said.  

Research shows seniors are healthier and have a greater sense of well-being if they have pets. 

Yet, balancing the desires of pet-owners with those of non-pet owners isn't an easy one.

"In a congregate setting it's really difficult," said Irene Martin-Lindsay, executive director of the Alberta senior citizen's housing association.

Martin-Lindsay said some seniors have allergies to pets, while others may be fearful of cats or dogs; issues that demand her organization's attention while it tries to accommodate the demands of pet lovers.

She called it a "big struggle" that's further complicated when residents become older or their health fails and they are no longer able to properly care for their pets.

For that reason, any senior her organization helps must be able to care for their pet as well as have a plan if their health deteriorates.

The Alberta senior citizen's housing association is now in the process of putting the final touches on an accommodation registry, which is hoped will provide a more comprehensive list of which facilities accept pets.

The registry likely won't help Norma Dickson and her four-year old cat, Katy.  

Dickson has to pack up and move from her current apartment, a friend's home in Camrose, by the end of April.

She said she's waiting for other places to return her phone calls, and hopes she'll be able to find a place before she's forced to choose between her cat and a place to stay, though she said she's already made up her mind.

"You give up the thing you love just to keep a roof over your head, and that's so wrong on so many levels," she said.

A spokesperson for Alberta Seniors said the pet issue has not been raised with the department.


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