Keep Your Pet: Ensuring animal lovers keep their pets in times of crisis

Keep Your Pet is a service in York that helps older people look after their pets. Jake the cocker spaniel. Picture Scott Merrylees

Keep Your Pet is a service in York that helps older people look after their pets. Jake the cocker spaniel. Picture Scott Merrylees

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For devoted animal owners, a time of crisis can become all the more difficult to deal with when they are forced to find care for their pet at the last minute.

And some elderly pet lovers are even putting off urgent medical care due to their dedication to their animals.

Keep Your Pet is a service in York that helps older people look after their pets. Jake the cocker spaniel with volunteer Diane Roberts. Picture Scott Merrylees

Keep Your Pet is a service in York that helps older people look after their pets. Jake the cocker spaniel with volunteer Diane Roberts. Picture Scott Merrylees

That stark fact sparked the founding of a volunteer-run service in York and Selby that is helping older people to keep their companions despite medical emergencies.

The organisations looks after pets while their owners are taken ill or have a hospital stay and even continue to care for the animals after they return home.

Keep Your Pet was launched in 2012 after a small group of volunteers collaborated with Age UK York and the local RSPCA.

While there are some similar services in other parts of the country, there was nothing operating in York or the wider area at the time that offered both a responsive and planned service.

Phyllis Woodward hands over her dog Jake to KYP's Diane Roberts. Picture Scott Merrylees

Phyllis Woodward hands over her dog Jake to KYP's Diane Roberts. Picture Scott Merrylees

Pet owners can register with Keep Your Pet “just in case” anything were to happen, and then, if the worst does occur, dozens of volunteers are ready to step in.

Phyllis Woodward, 78, of York, used the service for the first time last year after she was suddenly taken into hospital and had no one to care for her cocker spaniel Jake, who she has owned for eight years.

She went on to use them twice more in 2015, after a series of health problems meant further stays in hospital.

Mrs Woodward said: “When I was taken ill again, because I was already registered, there was no problem in finding him a foster carer. It takes the worry out of going into hospital, because you know he’s in a safe place and being looked after.

Keep Your Pet is a service in York that helps older people look after their pets. Jake the cocker spaniel with volunteer Diane Roberts. Picture Scott Merrylees

Keep Your Pet is a service in York that helps older people look after their pets. Jake the cocker spaniel with volunteer Diane Roberts. Picture Scott Merrylees

“With me being on my own, when you find yourself in that situation you don’t know what’s going to happen or how long it’s going to last.

“And when you’re on a pension, kennels are very expensive. I couldn’t bear to part with him as he’s such good company.”

Keith Martin, chairman of Keep Your Pet’s steering group, said: “We’d heard some awful stories about people who had needed to be taken into hospital but refused because it would mean leaving their animal behind. Now GPs know they can contact us for help and we’ll be there.

“The core purpose is to keep the pet with their owner through a period of crisis. It’s good for both the owner and the animal, and we know it’s good for recovery to have a pet.

“It also gives them purpose, a reason to get up in the morning, and company when they are on their own.”

Mr Martin said that by pairing with Age UK York, it had opened up their clients to wider support too.

“A lot of these people had been previously reluctant to take up services,” he said.

“But having used Keep Your Pet they seem much more likely to use other services, whether it being befriending or help with the shopping.”

Sally Hutchinson, chief officer at Age UK York, agrees.

“The fear of losing their creature can mean some older people put their own health on hold,” she said.

“Keep Your Pet has also brought our attention to people who can use our help in other ways. People often don’t realise they are isolated, but through this service we have been able to put them in touch with other services that can give them a better quality of life.”

Keep Your Pet has around 40 volunteers, and relies on regular fundraising to keep going.

It will hold its annual fundraising dog walk at Knavesmire on Sunday April 24 - and there’s still time to get involved.

Registration begins at 10.15am, before a dog demonstration at 10.30am and the walk begins at 11am. Dog walkers and their pets are encouraged to turn up on the day.

For more information on registering with Keep Your Pet email keepyourpet@ageukyork.org.uk, call 01904 726191 or visit www.keepyourpet.co.uk

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