Home care rules isolate pet owner

Workers are to leave if cats not locked up, tough herding cats

A Maple Ridge woman who needs home health care to help her with such basic tasks as getting dressed and bathing has been told she has to wrangle her cats into a den before workers arrive.

One cat is no problem – Miette is easily manageable. But another, a high-strung feline named Rajah, hates to be corralled into the small room and easily evades his wheelchair-bound “master.”

This new regulation is one of many frustrations Susan Tomlin has had with home care service this year, but she has been told the new rules could ultimately force her to give up her pets.

Tomlin has needed home care for 23 years, and it has been a great service. At one time, health workers would arrive daily at 9 a.m., help her dress and get ready for the day, put her through a range-of-motion exercise routine, and even perform some domestic chores before departing by 10 or 10:30 a.m.

Beginning in January, the system changed.

Tomlin gets different home makers now, and they can arrive anytime between 9 a.m. and noon. On bath days, a second worker will arrive anytime between noon and the end of the work day. So there is no routine, and she is dependent on their help.

Worse, she has to have the cats locked up, or the workers are supposed leave. They call 15 minutes before arriving, then it’s up to Tomlin to carry, chase or cajole the cats into the room.

Tomlin is weak from spinal muscular atrophy, a condition known as Kugelburg-Welander’s disease. It’s a slow paralysis that starts in the trunk muscles and then spreads down the legs and eventually the arms.

Tomlin tries to use treats to lure Rajah into the den, but the stubborn 14-year-old can’t be bribed. Tomlin thinks he must associate being locked in the room with veterinary visits.

She said the home care workers have actually left, a handful of times, because the pets aren’t both locked up.

The situation has too often left Tomlin frustrated, shaking and literally in tears.

Lately, she has had an easier time. With the nice weather, she just has to open the door and the cats go out.

However, when the rain returns, it won’t be that easy. And there are days when she is too weak to get out of bed, even with the help of a ceiling lift, or to open the door.

The cats have never attacked anyone.

“My cats are big sucks. I’ve never heard any complaints about my cats,” she said. “They’re my babies. I don’t have any close family.”

Fraser Health spokesperson Tasleem Juma said the health agency has been providing service to Tomlin for years without incident, and confirmed there have been no safety issues concerning her cats.

However, a policy for home care workers says pets cannot be in the same room as a care provider.

“It’s actually a Worksafe BC policy, that we have to abide by,” Juma said.

She said it is apparently intended to reduce staff having allergic reactions or being violently attacked by pets.

Juma said Fraser Health acknowledges that patients love their pets, and even uses pet therapy programs in residential care facilities, in which good natured dogs visit with seniors who can’t keep their own animals.

“We recognize the importance of pets to individuals in general.”

Juma made some calls about the situation, and said Fraser health is committed to ensuring services to Tomlin can continue without interruption.

“We’re confident we’ll find a solution that works for everybody.”