It Can Be Difficult Caring For Pets While Living With A Disability, But A Service Is Trying To Fill The Gap

Debbie Pragt lives with multiple sclerosis (MS) and gets around using a mobility scooter.

Some days, when her symptoms are particularly severe, she finds it difficult to move around her house.

What brings her joy and helps her get through each day is the company of her two dogs.

She’s in good company – around 63% of Australians are pet owners.

But she sometimes needs help looking after the dogs and recently discovered a service that provides that kind of support when she can’t.

She asks that these services be deployed in other regions of the country.

“It is my family”

“My MS has now gotten to the point where I can’t really stand or walk from my bed to the toilet, so I have this little chair here to help me get from my bed to the bathroom,” said said Ms. Pragt.

“And my dogs are my children, they are my family,” she said.

“I’ve had some tough situations this year and my dogs have supported me over the last 12, 18 months and without them it would be nothing.”

She said her dogs often show signs they could tell when she was having a particularly rough day.

“It seems really strange, but when I fall they go [be] watching me carefully, waiting for me to move – it’s really very encouraging, because I know that at least they care,” she said.

“Dogs are an integral part of everyone’s life, especially those with disabilities, especially those who are ill [or] dying.

“If they weren’t here with me, I really wouldn’t want to get up quickly.”

Ms Pragt said there were times when she struggled to look after her pets.

“With my MS which is particularly bad…I couldn’t feed them properly,” she said.

But that all changed when she discovered Furry Favours, a Canberra-based service that provides support for people with disabilities who have pets.

Mel Bayley, who runs a business that cares for disabled people’s pets, says it’s a vital service.(Provided)

Led by Mel Bayley, the company aims to provide affordable rates for people who need help keeping their pets, even in the most difficult times.

“If I didn’t have Mel, I couldn’t [keep them],” she says.

“Because a lot of providers don’t care about the dogs, it’s not part of what they do, but what Mel does is just amazing.”

Thanks to Ms Bayley, the dogs now have someone to help pick them up and look after them in the backyard when Ms Pragt cannot.

Ms Bayley said her service fills a gap in the disability support sector.

“We help vulnerable people care for their pets because we understand it’s probably their most intimate relationship, and pets are what get them out of bed and help them be the best person they can be,” said Ms Bayley.

She said she had supported people with a wide range of needs, including a family of autistic people whose elderly mother cared for their pet and worried about their future once she herself would have died.

“You can just see the look in their mother’s eyes, to know that there is hope for their vulnerable children once they are gone,” she said.

“We held their hand when they needed it.

“It’s just decency and it’s something that’s lacking today.”

Concerns for those who avoid care for the sake of pets

A person's disembodied hand with black nail polish points to a black cat reaching out its paw.
Pets can be a vital part of the life of someone living with a disability or chronic illness.(Unsplash: Humberto Arellano)

It is estimated that 4.4 million Australians live with a disability.

According to Ms Bayley, the demand for services like hers is huge and the lack of support is having a negative impact on people’s health.

“There are a lot of people in the community who are old, vulnerable and sick, who won’t go to the hospital because they don’t know who is going to look after their animals while they’re away,” she says. .

“And so their health is compromised.”

She said she recently cared for two dogs who needed twice-daily medication while their owner was hospitalized for heart surgery. She said she was the only option for him other than giving up the animals.

“Not everyone can afford a kennel, not everyone has family support, and so it comes down to a community issue,” she said.

“I would love to see this rolled out across Australia as it is badly needed for the vulnerable and the elderly.”

Ms Pragt said she wanted disability support services to expand to encompass pet care.

“They need to be more animal-friendly, because it’s your family, it’s your network,” she said.

“Other people haven’t had the opportunity to meet Mel, and their suppliers don’t, and I think that’s just plain wrong.”

About Antoine L. Cassell

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