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When Pets Outlive You

Tips for Puppy's Care After Your Death

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When Pets Outlive You

Mature people enjoy puppies as much as younger folks, but no matter your age, you should make arrangements for pet care in case something happens to you.

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How often do pets outlive owners? That's not a topic we want to consider, but it's important for the welfare of the puppy you love. What would happen to your furry family should the unthinkable happen to you? Your puppy would feel grief and might even suffer some behavior problems similar to separation anxiety. But what would happen to your furry wonder if you aren't around to care for her.

Recently a reader contacted me with a concern about setting up care options for her pets should she die before them. Although healthy and with every intention to stick around for the foreseeable future, at age 72 she wanted to be prepared, should something unexpected happen.

Even younger pet lovers should make plans. Some years ago, colleagues (a husband and wife) who wrote and published extensively about pets died together in a tragic car crash. They were in their mid-forties, and left behind four cats and six dogs. More recently, three other writers I know died unexpectedly. Despite being savvy pet people who probably offered guidance on the subject to others, they were caught unaware.

When we take a puppy into our lives and hearts, it’s with the assumption that we’ll outlive them. But some puppy breeds live into their mid-teens, cats often reach their late teens or early twenties, and some species of companion parrots live for 50+ years. I met someone who has had her African Gray for 28 years, and the bird likely will outlive her.

Sadly, orphaned pets often end up in shelters or destroyed by the surviving family members, when nobody feels able or willing to care for the left-behind fur-kid. The adult pet hasn’t a clue why she’s suddenly gone from a loving home and lap, to a scary metal cage.

Pets are good for people of all ages, and offer emotional and physical health benefits. Why should we deny ourselves the joy of loving them while we can? Preparing is simply the smart thing to do, whether you’re young, or simply young at heart.

How to Prepare For Pets After Your Death

What can caring owners do to prepare for the worst, if death, disability or age takes away a pet’s home? With my colleagues, the pet writing community rallied and found loving homes for all of the orphaned animals.

Your family and friends, veterinarian contacts and church relationships may also be eager and willing to offer a place for your pet should you die before them. Maybe you have brother-dogs (as did my friend) that would pine away if separated, or special needs cats (as did another friend) that requires extra medical care. Often, a simple promise among friends will be sufficient. Ideally, the animals already know and get along with the new owner—because missing you will be as tough for them as for your human family.

In today’s changing world, though, good intentions and a promise made years before may go out the window should the person’s own situation change. For instance, maybe your friend has other pets that won’t accept your animals, or living arrangements/finances have changed. For peace of mind, it’s best to make formal arrangements in your will and try to address every eventuality.

Legal restrictions won’t allow a beloved pet to actually inherit from your estate because critters are themselves defined as property. But you certainly can set up trusts for the care of the pet, and name a specific person who will receive those funds so that they can take the critter into their care for the remainder of its life. Once you find persons willing to take your pet, consult with an attorney about the proper paperwork necessary to make a legal and binding arrangement and set up specifics in a will that includes your puppy.

There also are “pet retirement homes” or “sanctuaries” that might be able to take your pets. Organizations that give pets a home for life, though, have limited openings. A fee is involved that pays for the care, and this may be set up in your will or other legal document. With puppies, though, it's best to re-home the baby and give the pets a chance for a long and rewarding life with another human who will also love them.

David Congalton and Charlotte Alexander wrote the book, “When Your Pet Outlives You” which contains sample legal forms, names of pet law specialists, addresses of pet retirement homes and sanctuaries throughout the U.S., a report on all relevant state statutes, important court decisions affecting people and their pets, and precise details on how to set up a pet trust.

The Humane Society of the United States offers a free brochure called Providing For Your Pet’s Future Without You. It suggests you find at least two responsible friends or relatives and provide them with emergency information for short-term care.

Also ensure your neighbors know how many pets you have and how to contact emergency care givers. Carry a wallet “alert card” with this information and post “in case of emergency” notices on your doors or windows. The pamphlet includes sample legal language for wills and suggestions how to choose a permanent care giver for your animals in case of your death.

Once these emergency issues are in place, you’ll have peace of mind. That allows you to relax and enjoy making the most of the time you have with your special animal companions.

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