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Norwich Bulletin - 1/4/2009

Who Will Take Care of Your Pets?

When people ask me how they can insure that their pets will be taken care of if they predecease them, my answer is an old adage, with a different meaning: "Where there's a will, there's a way." There are a couple of steps you have to take before you put anything in your will, and this is a great 2009 New Years resolution as it will bring peace and comfort to you and security for your animal companion.

We all know that pets usually have shorter lifespan than we do but we also have to consider that we might be the one who becomes seriously ill and cannot physically take care of our dogs and cats, or even that there may be accident and we may die before they do. As a responsible pet owner, you owe it to your pet to ensure that he will be provided with food, water, shelter, veterinary care, and love, even if something happens to us and we are unable to continue our responsibilities.

It is extremely critical to plan ahead no matter how much we may not want to think about a serious illness or accident, or of our own impending death, because in the confusion that accompanies such an unforeseen tragedy, pets can easily be overlooked. In some cases, pets are discovered in the person's home days after the tragedy occurs. To prevent this from happening to your pet, there are precautions that need to be taken,

The first thing you need to do is find at least two responsible and trusted friends or relatives who agree to serve as temporary emergency caregivers in the event that something happens to you. You should provide them with keys to your home; feeding and care instructions; the name of your veterinarian; how to contact each other, and information about the permanent care provisions you have made for your pet.

Then, hopefully, you are on good terms with your neighbors because the next thing you need to do is to let them know how many pets you have and the names and contact numbers of the individuals who have agreed to take care of them in an emergency. Because your dogs and/or cats need daily care, it is important that you make these first informal arrangements for temporary caregiving in case you die or become unable to care for them.

That brings us to number two – long care arrangements in a more formal way, and that would be through a will. My husband and I have mortgage insurance and should anything happen to both of us, our house will become the property of our animals' caregiver. We have listed our expectations and, in return, they will receive our house, free and clear, and I have the comfort of knowing that my cats will not have to leave their home.

So the best way to make sure that your wishes are fulfilled is by making formal arrangements that specifically cover the care of your pets. As much as we would like to believe that the friend that once verbally promised to take in your animal, or your child promised to take your old cat or dog, it doesn't always work the way we expected it to. You need to draw up a special will, trust, or other document to provide for the care and ownership of your pet as well as the money necessary to care for him/her/them.

First you have to decide if your pets are all going to one person, or if there are certain people for certain animals. If possible, you want to try to keep pets who have bonded with one another together, as it will be traumatic enough losing you. You want people you trust and know how to care for pets and you want to make sure that you have alternate caregivers in case your first choice becomes unable or unwilling to follow through on their promises.

It is important to discuss your expectations with potential caregivers and not just assume that at the reading of your will they will be thrilled to find out they are now caring for six cats and two dogs. They need to understand and accept the large responsibility of caring for those pets.

Remember, the new owner will have full discretion over the animal's care—including veterinary treatment and euthanasia, so make sure you choose a person you trust implicitly and one who will do what is in the best interests of your pet. Also, don't choose an old friend and then lose touch. You need to at least have correspondence with them on an ongoing basis.

Over time, people's circumstances and priorities change, and you want to make sure that the arrangements you have made continue to hold true, not just for you, but for the designated caregiver as well. If you really cannot find someone to keep your pet for the rest of its natural life, then you need to make arrangements for your executor to be willing to take care of your pets until a new family (NOT A SHELTER) can be found for your pets.

This can take time and you need to have that temporary care lines up. Authorize your executor to expend funds from your estate for the temporary care of your pet as well as for the costs of looking for a new home and transporting the animal to it.

Sample language for this type of arrangement would be:

As a matter of high priority and importance, I direct my Personal Representative to place any and all animals I may own at the time of my death with another individual or family (that is, in a private, noninstitutionalized setting) where such animals will be cared for in a manner that any responsible, devoted pet owner would afford to care for his or her pets.

Many people mistakenly think that a rescue organization will take their pet in and place it. Most small organizations, like Helping Paws, do not have the space or funds to care for your pet indefinitely and cannot guarantee that someone will adopt your animal. There are a few organizations that specialize in long-term care of pets of deceased owners. For a fee or donation, these "pet retirement homes" or "sanctuaries" may agree to find your pet a new home or care for your pet until she dies.

Be aware, however, that pets are companion animals who need lots of care and affection and may become depressed from long-term confinement in such facilities. Your pet will not want to be institutionalized any more than you would want to be. So please visit the organization to see how animals are cared for; where they are confined; who looks after them; when they are socialized and exercised; and what policies and procedures exist regarding care at the facility and placement with a new family. Do not just sign your money away without first knowing where your pet is going.

It isn't easy to successfully plan your pets care for after your death. To start with, none of us want to think about dying. But it is important that you do so and January 2009 is a great time to do it!

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