Bob and his dog: confronting our deepest fears of ageing
This is a story about Bob and his dog. It’s a story with a happy ending, but it nearly didn’t turn out that way. There are many people like Bob whose stories don’t have happy endings. Bob’s story resonates with us because it picks up on some of our deepest fears of ageing.
We fear loneliness, we fear loss of loved ones, we fear losing our homes, we fear loss of independence, we fear serious illness — the list goes on.
I know I worry about my health: that my niggling back ache is turning into degenerative disc disease, that my digestive problems will turn into something more sinister. As you get older I bet most of you have similar fears.
These fears are the reality that 87-year-old Bob has had to face over the last few months.
Let’s look at Bob’s story and see what we can do NOW to prevent our own fears becoming reality.
The beginning of Bob’s story
Our story starts nearly 5 years ago. Bob himself has kidney failure and needs weekly dialysis sessions. His wife, Margaret, had dementia, which made life tough for both of them. Bob could no longer look after Margaret in their own home and so they moved into a care home.
How would you cope if you get sick or your partner does? Or what about your parents? It’s worth some thought now about how you might cope in the future. How about trying some of these ideas:
· Change your lifestyle to prevent illness — eg more exercise, healthier diet (yes, yes, I know it’s easier said than done. First, just think about giving it a go.)
· Make a retirement plan covering finances, including provision for health and care costs
· Look at where you or your parents live — can you/they age in place or should you/they move now?
Bob and Margaret were lucky — they found a care home that would accept married couples together. You may not be so lucky. Recently, an elderly couple in Canada went into nursing homes miles away from each other. Check out their story at — Elderly couple say tearful goodbye after 62 years together. Their granddaughter, Ashley Bartyik, is campaigning for better provision for couples with differing health needs to be able to stay together.
How would you feel if you could no longer live with your partner? What if your parents were split up?
· Check out local facilities such as purpose-built facilities for older people or care homes. Do they accept couples? Is there a waiting list? Should you put your name or your parents’ names on it?
(Yes, I know you don’t want to go into a home, but what would you do if you or your partner need care?)
Bob’s dog: such a comfort when his wife died
Two years ago, sadly, Margaret died. Bob and his dog remained in the home to grieve together. Darkie was a great comfort and the other residents in the home helped Bob as well.
Would you have to have your dog or cat or your parents’ budgerigar put down if you or they move into a home?
· Check out the pet policy of prospective care homes or sheltered accommodation.
(Yes, I know you said you’d never go into a home, but what if …..?)
· Look for a back-up plan in advance. For example, can you or another family member take the pet? Check out charities locally which act as foster homes for pets.
Bob gets another devastating blow
Last year, new managers were appointed in Bob’s care home and they arbitrarily decided that the dog had to go. They told Bob either to get rid of his dog or to quit. Now Bob is a cheerful, positive soul, but this was devastating. He was faced with the choice of losing either his beloved dog or his home.
There was no way that he could give up Darkie. Fortunately, Bob had kept his social circle going and so he talked to his friends about his dilemma.
Do you talk to your friends about problems? If you don’t:
· Ask yourself why you’re afraid to show your vulnerability
· Work on your ability to ask for help
· Make a habit of talking to people about the issues you’re facing
(Hint: confide in them, but don’t bore them to death!)
Bob’s friends rallied round and looked but there were no other nursing homes available in the area where Bob had lived all his life. Even further away it was difficult to find one which would accept his dog as well.
Bob got notice to quit
Despite their best efforts, Bob failed to get the owners of the home to change their minds and let him and Darkie stay together. The owners duly served a notice to quit on Bob. Bob could not bear to part with Darkie so he was faced with moving out. But where was he to move to?
Bob had the good fortune to have the most marvellous friends. The daughter of one of them, Tracey Streit, was so incensed about the treatment of Bob and his dog at the hands of the nursing home that she started a petition to be presented to the UK Parliament. So far, it has obtained nearly 270,000 signatures.
Tracey also headed up “Team Bob”, a band of friends and well-wishers, who rallied round to support Bob in his fight to stay in his home. They publicised the plight of Bob and his dog and it made the national press.
The Happy Ending
The publicity meant that Team Bob raised enough money for Bob to be able to rent and furnish a bungalow which was a suitable home for him and Darkie.
Bob was duly evicted from the nursing home and has gone back to living independently. The friends coordinated with social services to ensure that Bob is getting the care needed to keep him going in a home of his own. He’s doing all right.
But, he’s missing the companionship he had in the care home. Friends to the rescue once more: they regularly take him back for visits. And that’s important for the residents of the care home too.
Do you have a good social network? If you don’t:
· get back in touch with old friends
· write postcards or telephone your far away loved ones
· seek to make new friends, do new things
· it takes time to build up a network. Do it now before it’s too late
What about the other “Bobs” of this world?
So, Bob’s story has a happy ending. He and Darkie are well looked after for the time being — but only because of the willingness of Team Bob to undertake such a lot of work. Not everybody has the support that Bob and his dog have. What if it were you? What if it were one of your parents?
Team Bob wants the government to look again at its policies and at the whole system of social care. The “Let Bob keep his dog” petition is the UK’s most successful petition ever about the plight of one person. But it doesn’t have quite enough signatures. The UK government only has to respond to petitions which have over 300,000 signatures.
So one thing you could do NOW to help stop our fears becoming reality is to support the petition.
Please help prevent cases like that of Bob and his dog by
· clicking on: https://www.change.org/p/letbobkeephisdog then type in to the search box “Let Bob keep his Dog” and sign the petition
· clicking on the heart under this article so that more people get to hear about the petition.
· sharing this article and the petition with your friends
Bob’s story illustrates some of the nightmares and unhappiness that can arise as you age. But it isn’t all doom and gloom. Look how he benefited from keeping up his social circle. Even though he has medical problems he has a happy time with his beloved dog and his friends. A look at the Facebook page about him shows how is still going out to gain new experiences and having fun. Bob is living proof that it’s worth taking action now so that you can live a longer happier life too.
www.the sun.co.uk — Thousands sign petition