A Plan Can Ease the Way
Our animal companions often leave the circle of life before we do, but this is not always the case. Pet owners do become ill, incapacitated, or may predecease their pets. Historically, most people have provided for pets through verbal agreements with family or friends. Robert Blizard, Humane Society Director of Donor Marketing and Out- reach, advises pet owners to devise a formal written plan detailing your wishes for your pet’s continued care. Initiat- ing this process helps safeguard your pet’s future and may save him/her from a less-than-optimal life in a shelter or a cage. Your veterinarian can be a tremendous resource in helping you decide the best course of action for your pet.
Animal General recommends that pet owners formulate a specific plan that takes into account your pet’s needs and your desires. Give a copy of this plan to your veterinarian to keep in your pet’s file, and include it in your will. When naming a trustee and/or caregiver, all parties, including your veterinarian, should have notarized papers detailing consent for those positions and the plans for your pet. Review the information included in the document on occasion, as pets’ needs change with age.
Presently, a number of states, including New York and New Jersey, allow for specific provisions for pets within a will. The establishment of a trust is also now possible for domestic animals. These legal documents can provide funding, name a trustee and/or a caregiver, and dictate specific instructions regarding desired care for your pet.
Both wills and trusts have drawbacks, with trusts being slightly more expensive but more easily activated. What follows are some examples of the types of concerns about which you may wish to provide instruction:
• Food and diet
• Daily routines
• Favorite games or activities
• Housing or sleeping requirements
• Cages: Yes or No? For what purpose?
• Personality traits or endearing qualities
• Bad habits
• Socialization: What type and how often?
• Medical care, including preferred veterinarian
• Compensation, if any, for caregiver
• Method the caregiver must use to be compensated
• How the trustee is to monitor the caregiver’s services
• How to identify the animal
• Disposition of the pet’s remains
The Humane Society of the United States provides extensive information on estate planning for pets at “Providing For Your Pet’s Future Without You.”
AARP reports that assisted living facilities are recognizing the important role that pets play in contributing to the well-being of human companions. Some facilities have begun to encourage clients to bring their pet(s) along; dogs, cats, fish, and birds are now being seen at assisted living facilities. Should the animals outlive their companions, some facilities see that the owner’s written wishes for the pet are followed. Pets can be turned over to family or friends; others remain as a permanent part of the community. For more info, search: pet friendly assisted living facilities.
There are a number of institutions that offer special programs to find new homes for pets or to offer group retirement facilities. Some provide private sleep areas where the pet is not confined to a cage. Be sure to research this option carefully, and attempt to visit the facility before deciding if your pet will make an adequate adjustment there. For more info, search: retirement homes for pets.
If the animal is old, infirm, has many special needs, or simply does not do well in new situations, as is the case with many cats, you may want to consider euthanasia as a compassionate choice. Animals do not understand the concept of tomorrow; they live in the moment. Just as we can’t imagine our lives without them, many pets truly do not do well when their owners pass away. Your most generous gift is often the years you shared together with a dignified, gentle end.
At the very least, your plan for your pet’s future must include a simple and clearly written directive stating what your intentions for your pet are. File the directive in a place known and accessible to at least two consenting friends who can step in to care for your pet in an emergency until your legal decisions can be activated. These friends should have a key to your residence for quick access to your pet.
Consider also carrying an information card that specifies the type of pet you have, the pet’s name, veterinarian contact number, and the contact number of the emergency caregiver for your pet. The information should also be posted somewhere in your home (front door or refrigerator). These items will serve as additional safeguards should you meet with an unexpected accident while away from home, and they will serve as additional directives to secure a comfortable future for your pet.