It’s so easy to have an idea (or lots, in my case) and keep them to yourself for as long as possible, so that other people don’t run away with it or worse: you wait until the plan is perfect before even thinking of implementation. I hope for my ideas to have a bigger social effect than my personal success, so I decide to put two of them out there, for you to add to, think with me, help out and join!
Vision 1 PETwork
I envision a platform where dog parents can be linked up with elderly people, disabled and chronically ill who are still living (semi-) autonomously but need a bit more connection and movement. In the past three years I’ve noticed there’s a massive demand for (experienced) dog sitters and (half) day carers, especially in a large city like London where people live without their extended family and work long hours. On the other hand, loneliness amongst elderly or otherwise isolated people is growing exponentially. Here are some heart-breaking facts on loneliness in the UK (Source):
The number of over-50s experiencing loneliness is set to reach two million by 2025/6. This compares to around 1.4 million in 2016/7 – a 49% increase in 10 years (Age UK 2018, All The Lonely People)
There are 1.2 million chronically lonely older people in the UK (Age UK 2016, No-one should have no one).
Half a million older people go at least five or six days a week without seeing or speaking to anyone at all (Age UK 2016, No-one should have no one).
Over half (51%) of all people aged 75 and over live alone (Office for National Statistics 2010. General Lifestyle Survey 2008).
Two fifths all older people (about 3.9 million) say the television is their main company (Age, U.K., 2014. Evidence Review: Loneliness in Later Life. London: Age UK).
There are over 2.2 million people aged 75 and over living alone in Great Britain, an increase of almost a quarter (24%) over the past 20 years (ONS).
Research by Sense has shown that up to 50% of disabled people will be lonely on any given day.
My idea to connect dogs and their parents with other people in their neighbourhood they would otherwise not meet, is not one I came up with myself. Many wonderful people have had similar ideas just like this, just have a look at the Compassionate Neighbours website. But the foundation that really inspired me is the Amsterdam based Stichting OOPOEH. ‘Oopoeh’ is another word for ‘Nan’ or ‘Gramps’ in Dutch and the acronym OOPOEH stands for ‘Opa’s en Oma’s passen op een huisdier’ ‘(Grandpas and Grandmas doing pet sitting’).
The foundation has already matched up 4700 pet parents with about 4500 senior citizens, who love to occasionally take care of a pet, but don’t want to (or are not able to) care for one full-time anymore. According to PWC’s impact measurement in 2015-2016, 82% of Oopoehs report to feel happier, 71% state they get more exercise and 72% report increased neighbourly connections.
I have experienced myself that when taking care of someone’s pet, the relationship between me and the pet’s parent is one of trust, care and mutual enjoyment of the pet’s antics. Next to that, we sometimes help each other out in a different way, non-pet related and/or a friendship form. Can you imagine the impact these connections will have on the day to day life of an otherwise isolated person?
Practically, it would mean I’ll create a website where you can sign up to be a PETwork parent. I will then come over to meet you and your dog to figure out what kind of care he/she needs. I will then link you up to another person in your area (or near your work) that has signed up to be a PETwork beneficiary (for lack of better wording). I will always be there to support the beneficiaries and Pet Parents in terms of giving the dog a bit more intense form of exercise, pet-transport and whatnot.
Parents pay an annual amount to fund the platform and network, beneficiaries take part for free and if possible, we can extend the kind of care to other pets like cats and other animals.
Obviously, I haven’t thought it through entirely and there’s still lots of work to do. There will be factors that will work against the idea, legal limitations and much more.
I am asking you to think about this vision for a bit and come up with ideas that would add to it, people that might be able to help you can link me up with, financial opportunities, legal issues I need to think about, ideas for designing a platform that would work for both us and people with limited technological skills. And where oh where to find the isolated people when they’re, well…isolated?!
Vision 2 End of life Doula for pets
As a society, we give a huge amount of attention to life experiences as (going through giving) birth, birthdays and such, but we get a bit eerie when thinking of death. Thinking of our own demise or that of a loved one makes most of us shiver and shake it off, just to continue with our day-to-day business as if we’re invincible.
I have been fascinated by death since I was a young girl. My mother’s cultural background means I was taken along to funerals and cremations since I can remember, and I’ve seen many dead people along the road. This, next to driving a motorcycle and being a cyclist in London, is why I’ve always been very aware of my own vulnerability. I don’t think there are many people my age that are writing up a living will.
I started the End of Life course for people to investigate the various scientific schools of thought about what a ‘good death’ and a ‘bad death’ entails in various societies around the world and how different communities cope with the difficulties around attaining ‘good death’. Modern medical advancements mean we get older, yet more frail, and we stretch our lives in such a way that might mean our quality of life at the end is often zero for the sake of elongating our life span.
A theme that popped up was that people were not only scared to have a lot of pain whilst dying, but also to be alone, to leave their families in the lurch, to not have autonomy over the process of dying and to not feel at peace with death. Pain can be managed by medical staff, but families need to be supported in their grief during and after death and the person needs to be supported in the process towards death after which their wishes need to be conveyed to the respective agencies. Like in birth, one person that can do that is the Doula. According to End of Life Doula UK:
“An End of Life Doula is there to support a person, and those that they love, with a terminal diagnosis. We work in the person’s home as well as Hospices, Hospitals and Care Homes. We are there for the frail, elderly and those living with dementia too.
Their non-medical role is to preserve the quality of wellbeing, sense of identity and self-worth from the moment we are called upon.
They are there at any stage from the beginning when a person has received the news they have a life limiting illness through to the final months and weeks, and beyond to funeral planning.
They are sensitive to practical and emotional (plus spiritual if important) needs. We are a consistent and compassionate presence with knowledge, experience and understanding. This supports those that we are alongside to exercise choice about where and how they are cared for. We facilitate an end of life that it is as peaceful, graceful, meaningful and dignified as it can be.
The person and those they love are at the very centre of all we do.”
The idea of an EOL Doula is slowly spreading in the UK for humans, but little attention has yet been given to the process of dying amongst pets and the psychological impact it has on their families and perhaps their furry siblings. Over the years I have cared for and supported many geriatric pets, both my own and my clients’, and these have been the most rewarding experiences of my life. Ironically, it’s what I live for.
I have always wanted to work towards better palliative and hospice care for pets, but I’m not that interested in becoming the vet or vet nurse that gives the lethal injection when the time is right. I’d much rather be supporting pets and families during the “Fourth Age” of a pet, making sure that their end of life, from terminal diagnosis to farewell ceremony, is just as comfortable and respectful as their beginning, adult and senior stages.
My vision is to become an EOL Doula for pets through training and start getting clients through the institutions that are already sending patients to me, such as veterinary clinics, trainers and physiotherapists. With my background in veterinary care and yoga & meditation teaching, I think I can offer a lot of compassion and support to both human and pet in this (often difficult and messy) process.
What I need from you is to hear your thoughts on this kind of care, both for humans and pets, and whether you’d be interested in it. I’m not assuming this is something I would do full time as it’s quite demanding emotionally but would love to pursue it next to my ‘happy go lucky’ job as dog walker.
Where would I look for funding for training? How would I “advertise” these services? And where?
To sum it up, I would love to hear your thoughts on either or both the visions explained here. I have a few more up my sleeve, but these are the ones I get the most excited about. I’m intending to make them adaptive projects, meaning I’ll try them out and alter them as I, and more importantly the community, see fit. If you have any suggestions, resources, spare time to brainstorm or even to become a partner, please get in touch with me.
Read Corona Dreamin' I again