By Tracie Korol
None of us, realistically, believe our dogs are going to outlive us. We’d like them to age gracefully alongside us and diminish shortly before or shortly after we do. But sometimes it doesn’t work that way, unfortunately. Tragedy will arrive in all our lives, some time or other, that’s for certain. The best we can do is try to prepare and remember our Best Friend when we do.
The Humane Society of the US estimates there are 112 million pet dogs and cats, as well as millions of birds in this country. Some of these pets will outlive their owners and perhaps these pet owners have made informal plans with friends, neighbors or family members. But sometimes those who informally agree to take on the dog, just in case, are unable or unwilling to follow through when the time comes.
In order to avoid such circumstances, pet owners need to leave instructions for the care of pets and a short list of guardians of various ages who have been contacted in advance. If possible, people should also leave some funds to cover expenses, especially if the pet in question has health concerns. This might seem reminiscent of aging eccentric heiresses who leave millions to their cats to supply filet mignon in perpetuity. Not quite. But it pays to be prepared.
You might designate a trusted friend, family member, neighbor, or kennel owner who knows your dog, has proper facilities (meaning space to keep an animal, a fenced yard, or an actual kennel) and who is willing to keep your dogs together (if you have more than one), should an emergency arise. I am listed as default caregiver in five wills in two states: it is a tremendous honor to be asked to care for a beloved pet.
This person should have a list of emergency phone numbers, including those of your vet and of nearby family and friends who have access to your home and are well acquainted with your dogs. Carry a wallet “alert card” that lists the names and phone numbers of your emergency pet caregivers. Tuck one in the glove box, too.
In your personal business records, include signed and dated instructions designating your wishes for the placement of your dogs in case of your incapacitation, or worse. List the name of each dog and the name, address and phone number of the person who has agreed in writing to adopt or foster that dog for the remainder of its life. Check in with your designated caregiver every year to see if the offer is still good. Update this document at least once and year, and provide a copy to your designated caregiver.
Provide the caregiver with written authorization to obtain medical treatment for your dogs, should it become necessary. On occasion you’ll run into a vet who has esoteric HIPAA-like rules concerning the animals of other people. Also provide copies of medical history, a list of any health problems that require regular attention, and written feeding instructions (“Barney doesn’t like peas.”). In addition, provide your veterinarian with written authorization to administer treatment in an emergency, and place copies of that document in your Pet File. Include names and numbers of all persons you have authorized to seek treatment for your dogs. Both the vet and caregiver should have written instructions as to how to proceed should the untimely happen to the dog — autopsy, cremation, burial. With the copy and paste feature of most word processing programs, it takes only a few minutes to draft a simple, cover-all document.
Some pet owners make provisions for honorary trusts for their animals that dictate a portion of the principal or income be dedicated to the benefit of the animal. The trust ends when there are no living animals receiving care. The amount of money left for a pet’s care should be reasonable rather than large, so other beneficiaries will not challenge the provision.
In an emotionally charged situation (your incapacitation or demise) a relative’s’ solution may be to dump the dog at a shelter. Know that most no-kill shelters have waiting lists. It can take up to three months for a place to open through adoption. If you happen to have one of the “dangerous” breeds — pit bulls, German shepherds, rottweilers — planning for his future takes special consideration. Let me stress the importance of planning if you have a dog with a “special need.”
Plan ahead and put your plan in writing. Semper Paratus — always prepared.