Hi all, sorry for the loooong post, but It's been a while since I've asked any questions as everything is sort of floating along right now, though it's far from good and the ship is sinking. My FIL passed this March (2022) at 92+. MIL, the one with early/moderate dementia, as a widow, is living alone at 88. We've managed to get her to allow us to have a caregiver come in two days a week for 3 hours at a time. The lady takes her to the store, etc. since my husband disabled her car. We live about 130 miles away and we both work. She won’t move closer to us because when we retire next year and move closer to our son, she doesn’t want to have to move again and won’t go to a “cold” climate (Olympia, WA). She won’t wear a Life Alert and won’t use Alexa.
Her current house is 1,900 sq ft and too big for her. We have taken her on tours of Assisted Living places, which she thought were okay for “some day.” We even found one that will allow her to bring her large dog, who is a huge part of the problem. More on her later. She also says that since her budget is sort of balanced, she can stay put. (True enough, but it won’t stay that way as she needs more care.) We'd like to move her while it's not a panicked emergency.
We FINALLY got her to go to a primary doctor, who referred her to a neurologist as he didn’t feel he could accurately diagnose her. So my husband, 64 and her only child, took off and drove down to take her to see him on 10/31. Neurologist says she may have had a stroke because she’s weaker on the right side. MIL says it’s because she’s left-handed. Maybe so, but he wants an MRI. MIL couldn’t remember the 3 words even until he got out of the room so we thought we would at least be able to get a paper with a preliminary dx of dementia. Nope. He said first he would call my husband in a week with results of blood work, etc. He never called. We tried about 7 times to get ahold of him and left messages. Desk person says she will call back with info. We never hear from her either. So no diagnosis means we have no legal ground to make her do anything, as I understand it. We are trying to get a referral to a different dr and/or a gerontologist. We did finally get ahold of the neurologist at the end of last week and he said all her blood work is good and she doesn’t need ANY medication. My husband said he sounded annoyed to have to talk to him. No word on diagnosis because no MRI yet and still no referral.
Now, about the 70-pound neglected dog: The dog won’t use a doggie-door if there is a flap installed. FIL removed the door flap between the house and garage, and this gives rats the run of the place. I find evidence in the living room, on the dining room table, across the furniture, on the 2nd floor. They are in her pantry and run along the baseboards in the bedroom. The exterminator won’t come and deal with the rats because they can't keep the rats out with no dog flap. Traps haven’t worked. The caregiver reports that they are now eating bananas kept on the kitchen island. MIL won’t let her throw them out because, once she cuts off the chewed part. “It’s still good,” she says. Same with spoiled food in the fridge.
So are we likely to get called by APS if a caregiver reports her? That might be the best thing that could happen, but I really don’t know. Am I missing something here? She plays cards and watches TV all day long. I guess she’s happy. But we are thinking that the breaking point for this all might be when she falls or otherwise gets hurt and has to go into the hospital.
I know we don’t have NEARLY the problems most of you do, but I appreciate your time.

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MaryJann, I think you are missing the big picture here.

You say you are worried that if you report the rat infestation, Jeanne won't speak to you anymore and you'll have less "input" into her situation.

Do you HONESTLY believe that someone who would live with rats should be running their own life?

She needs to be protected from herself, like a 5 year old with a loaded gun.

She needs to be taken from that home and taken to someplace else to live with supervision and a legal guardian/conservator.

Will she know it's you who reported the rats? You could not report it and she might STILL blame you guys because she is no longer compis mentis.
Helpful Answer (18)

Once you have rats (or mice) get in to your home, you will always have a 'problem' with them. Sometimes a huge, nasty problem, sometimes a simple 'once in a while

As rats and mice move, they are constantly peeing and pooping. That's how they 'mark' their territory and send signals to other rats and mice. Once a house has been as marked up as your MIL's, the rats are reading this as an open bar! They will chew through anything to get in, knowing that the place is now 'theirs'.

It's gross and not remotely "OK" for this to go on.

Caregivers ABSOLUTELY can and should report this. Neighbors, family--the more calls the more attention to be paid to this untenable situation.
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Probably, they're usually mandatory reporters. You should call APS yourself and have her evaluated. If they refuse to intervene, at least you've done your due deligince. Best just to leave her to the fate she's created for herself in the meantime.
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There are some folks you can't help.

As stated above, let the inevitable sad fall/illness happen and make sure the hospital discharge people know that she lives alone, will not cooperate and the vermin in her home.

Do NOT show up at the hospital and do NOT take her into your home.

I know this sounds hard, cruel and cold. I am not an uncaring person. My mom was a cooperative elder; she got good care.

My MIL wouldn't hear of having help and threatened to call the authorities on my husband when he became frustrated with her continued self-neglect, so he walked away. A crisis ensued and she got the care she needed. Not what she wanted, but sometimes it's the only way. Step away.
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You do know that rats would have no hesitation jumping and crawling on her, right? To the point of biting her? I’ve heard horrific stories of this happening to children in filthy conditions. Her living conditions are disgusting, dangerous, and must be dealt with immediately.
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ZippyZee Nov 2022
And if she were to pass in the house they would not hesitate to eat her.
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Maryjann, my mom had a fully functional doggie door intact and rats chewed through to get in.

There are food sources and that's why they are there. No resources, no vermin.

Get the sticky rat traps. That's what we did with my mom's house, get all food safely put away. Tin containers are required, rats and mice eat plastics and cardboard. Place those traps along the walls and both sides of the doggie door. She can just throw them away when she catches something and replace it. Outside of the house needs deterrents, we used moth balls and chlorine tablets placed across all the walls leading to the back door. Then I sprayed everything with 409, it is great at killing the scent trail these vermin leave.

My mom doesn't have any dementia, she just doesn't take care of things and lets food stay on the floor, leaves dog food down all the time and feeds the critters outside. All of which means easy resources for vermin and when the city did sewer work in her area the rats relocated and her house was an easy target.

My mom couldn't handle all of this alone. It feels overwhelming to get any kind of infestation, she needed our help and our ability to find solutions that worked. Your MIL needs that now. It is bigger then her abilities, you and hubby need to plan a week trip and help get this under control.

My mom had a flip out because I threw food away. I had to stop her from digging stuff out of the trash can. So be prepared to have a battle about perfectly fine items being thrown out.

Once we placed deterrents outside we were able to get all the critters that had moved in.

I don't know what the answer is for her actual condition but, she needs help clearing her house of this current emergency and your husband is it by default. He can speak with exterminators, search the web, do what we did or ???. But, he really needs to act now to help her.
Helpful Answer (9)

The dog should not be sent to a facility where he may be killed. There are other options available. One of them is paying a dog walker or dog sitter. The fireman neighbor is walking the dog, that's great, but there are other issues here where a dog sitter would be a good idea. They aren't expensive, usually, and they will make sure the dog is fed. They can come in a few times a week or every day. There is a cleaning service that MIL has so this is probably doable for her financially. Then there are dog feces clean up services, and you might be able to get a combination deal if you can get one person to do both services. The other option is to find a foster family for the dog which might need to be done anyway, if MIL will soon be at a facility herself. I implore everyone to take this into consideration and please don't just drop off animals or worse, let them go in the neighborhood, which happens more often than you would think after elders die. The family figures a cat, especially, can take care of itself out in "the wild" but they usually can't and it is cruel to do this. Please look for other options now. San Diego is super animal friendly. At the very least research no kill shelters but the best thing to do is find someone to foster or adopt the dog. Perhaps your MIL has the funds to pay for the dog's upkeep out of her house once this is taken care of, which will make a foster family a lot easier to find for an older dog with incontinence issues. Can't help wondering if the dog is actually incontinent, though. Maybe the dog isn't being let out enough.

The rats are a big problem that you can see if you have a UV light. Or you can take my word for it. I have had rodents of all kinds as pets. I have also had a lot of experience with other animals. I also lived in a place that was very old and near a river, and we had our share of rodent visitors. I had cats that were great hunters but that doesn't solve the problem because the cats and dogs can get sick from the rats. So can people. Rats are known to carry things like hantavirus and even plague (yes, the Black Plague from the Middle Ages is alive and well out west in the US and several people and dogs get infected every year) so getting rid of the rodents is paramount. Rats can and do chew through wires in the walls and that can lead to fires. Rats can and will bite your MIL while she sleeps. Rats will spread urine as they walk (mostly the males but females as well) and they are very smart so they can evade a lot of capture attempts. With a UV light you can see these urine trails. They are on the bananas. They are in the dog's food if it is left on the floor. Call APS. They will go out and assess the situation and they will start a process that can be out of your hands, which it sounds like is for the best. You are the DIL and they don't listen to you. Your husband is afraid to take care of this situation and I can understand that, although he should stand up to her. That's likely a lifelong issue, however, the fact remains that you can't and he can't force an adult to do anything. If she is mentally ok according to professionals who assess her, it is her perogative to live in filth if she wants. You are aware of this if you grew up with hoarders.

So how about you give yourself permission to care compassionately for yourself and your MIL and even your husband and figure out a place to put the dog. Then call APS. Otherwise you may find MIL on the floor, dead or injured, being attacked by rats. It is frustrating and you have my sympathy. You are a caring person or you wouldn't even be writing about it to ask for help. Good luck and keep us updated.
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geddyupgo Nov 2022
Great suggestions particularly about the doggie!!
Elderly dog and elderly MIL are both in need of different living situations. Now. You mention some communication with a rescue person in that area, but no real plan.
Track her down, or call the vet that last saw the dog, or ask for help. There are no-kill shelters that will take animals they feel that they can help/nurse back to health/rehome. Some dogs have health conditions (who knows what the rats have shared with the dog), and really are not going to have much quality of life. If dog cannot be rehomed, please be responsible and follow the guidance of the treating vet.
Tell MIL whatever you want to tell her as a reason for dog's absence. Just stick to the same story, dont get dragged into explanations or justifications. The dog does not deserve to suffer, as it has been doing for a while now.
MIL - call police for welfare check...they will get APS involved quickest and APS can often help make a plan for her safety (first) and her living situation (facility, likely assisted living). APS doesnt pay for all of those things, but can have a conservator appointed to manage MIL money, so that takes your husband off of the hot seat.
It will be tough going for a while, but if your son is the only adult child she has (or that is in contact with her) then he needs to step up and ask agencies for help in being sure she is in a place where she is safe and her needs are met. She will be angry,,,,,but if she is making such poor decisions now and lacks the judgement that having rats in your house is a very very unsanitary situation, then the time for independent living is over. And she doesnt see the dog's needs clearly, either. You and your husband dont have to take the dog or MIL to your home or pay for what she needs, but you do need to call in the experts who can help you manage these situations. Good luck.
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Dear MaryJann: I'm sorry you are faced with such a terrible situation here with your MIL and her dog & this rat infestation. And I empathize with you feeling like your hands are tied b/c she has no 'formal' diagnosis of dementia. That said, however, I'm questioning your husband's mental state that he's not rushing in to fix this horrible situation going on with his mother. Denial aside, this is worrisome that he's not seeing a VERY bad scenario here; that rats can kill his mother and her dog, or make her seriously sick, etc. That reeks of cognitive impairment to me, more so than 'denial', the more I read. So there's that to consider. And you feeling like you don't have the right to step in and do anything here, I think is wrong too. MIL obviously is not firing on all cylinders b/c she's willing to live in THESE dire conditions. You don't need APS to step in to insist she get help. Put her in the car along with the dog, take them OUT of that rat infested dangerous home, and then get people in there to fix it up; to remove all the food, the rats, to button up all their entry points, etc, as Isthisrealyreal explained. Don't wait for permission to do this o/w your MIL and her dog may suffer very real and horrible health consequences as a result. Put them up in a hotel that takes dogs if need be, while this clean-up operation goes on. Tell her that the Dept of Health condemned her house and that she MUST move out until it's cleaned up. Period; no room for discussion on the subject. Lie to her. Whatever it takes. Just remove the two of them from that home and get it cleaned up; if DH has access to mom's funds, he can use them to pay for this job. If not, he can pay for it and hopefully get reimbursed later on. This is an emergency and it cannot wait for 'formal diagnoses' to come down the pike, or for APS to step in, or for her doctor to say something besides "Well that's not good."

There are no 'last chances' for your MIL. Pick her up bodily and put her in the car after you tell her the Board of Health condemned her house. That's what I would do if it were MY mother, even if she was as mad as a wet hen, who cares? Deal with that anger later, after the house has been made safe. Neither she nor her dog can or should be living in such a dangerous environment. Ask yourselves how you will feel if she's dead (God forbid) or hospitalized with rat bites or disease b/c nobody had the guts to do the right thing, for fear of angering her?

This advice comes from a place of caring about you and your MIL, her dog and your DH, who should get a full physical from his PCP once this crisis has passed.
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I just have to add that when you are thinking of the doggy door as the rat entry, you're likely right but a rat has a different skeleton set up and they can get through openings smaller than a dime, at times. With the nesting you've described, there are likely multiple points of entry and they will chew through things to make more. They can chew through cement. People don't realize that. You have to fill all the holes and entry ways with stuff they don't like to or can't chew through. There are different kinds of metal that can accomplish this goal once the rats are removed. Rats, like other rodents, need to chew things constantly in order to keep their teeth from growing up into and through their brains. They love wood to accomplish this but they will chew other things as well. Check the bottoms of all furniture. They will go into couches and chairs. Throw them out in this case. Mattresses are also great for rats and these should be tossed too if rodent activity is discovered. Check boxes of cereal for chewing. Check the tops of the refrigerator. Check the tops of closets on shelves. You'll find droppings and urine there. Don't try to sweep them up or move them without wearing a respirator. Tell this to the cleaning person as well. They need to be sprayed with a disinfectant and then wiped up and thrown away immediately. Gloves need to be worn along with a respirator, which you can find easily nowadays due to the pandemic. They are the N95s and you might add goggles if it's really bad. Disturbing the mess will cause the stuff to fly into the air and particles of hantavirus among other things, like plague, will easily enter through your nose. Possibly through eyes in a bad case in which case you should call in a pro cleaning company and tell them there was a rodent infestation when you call. It's a lot. Good luck .
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