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February 1, 2011 > Ohlone Humane Society: When a home is not forever

Ohlone Humane Society: When a home is not forever

By Nancy Lyon

A couple of weeks ago we transported an 8-week-old Doberman puppy to Vacaville and DogWorks Doberman rescue. She was picked up as a stray on the road, full of worms and with skin problems, very possibly the neglected leftover pup from a backyard breeder's Christmas litter that didn't sell.

We were worried about her because at first she was too quiet for one so young. Arriving at our destination, our listless pup soon became the lively bouncing sprite she was meant to be, a bit of a clown who started dismantling the entryway plants and carrying around a dangling key ring that was obviously now her possession.

Being "dogless" for the last few years, I was very tempted to bring this young bundle with her infectious joy home with me to become part of our family. However, this lady of a certain age is very grounded in the reality that many older people often forget. First, the needs of caring for "young things," whatever their species, and second, and more importantly, her need for a "forever" home that would offer her care and wellbeing for the rest of her life. Bringing her home would not have been in her or our best interests.

Because animal companions can live for 10, 20, or more years, adopters should be encouraged, whether senior or not, to look down the road and give serious consideration to what could happen to an older and less adoptable animal should they no longer be able to provide for the life they had committed to love and protect.

With the exception of a few species, such as parrots and tortoises, humans generally have longer life spans than their animal companions. However, since no one really knows what life may throw at them, it's wise to know what can be done to protect and provide for our loyal animal companions if, and when we are no longer there for them.

Unfortunately, not everyone has family or friends that will step in and take on the responsibility. Who will provide food and water, shelter, veterinary care, and love? It's not uncommon to see senior animals brought into a shelter because no provisions had been made for them should their human caregiver die or develop an incapacitating illness, and there is no place for them to go. While there are senior animal rescues and occasionally sanctuaries, they are usually at capacity; the animal shelter and probable death loom as reality.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) provides a general overview on how you can take steps to provide for your animal family's future. They state that the best way to ensure your wishes for their future is by making formal arrangements that specifically cover their care.

It's not enough that someone a while back may have offered verbally to take in your animal or even that you've decided to leave money to that friend for that purpose. It's necessary to work with an attorney to draw up a special will, trust, or other document to provide for the care and guardianship of your "pet," as well as the necessary money.

HSUS states "First, decide whether you want all your companion animals to go to one person, or whether they should go to different people. If possible, keep animals that have bonded with one another together. When selecting caregivers, consider partners, adult children, parents, brothers, sisters, and friends who have met them and have successfully cared for animals themselves. Also, name alternate caregivers in case your first choice becomes unable or unwilling to take their companion. Be sure to discuss your expectations with potential caregivers so they understand the large responsibility of caring for your friend. Remember, the new caregiver will have full discretion over the animal's well-being-including veterinary treatment and euthanasia-so make sure you choose a person you trust implicitly and who will do what is in the animal's best interest."

Because people's circumstances and priorities change over time, you'll want to keep in contact with the person or family that has committed to caring for you animal. It's important to have alternatives such as temporary care lined up should your primary caregiver not be available.

You should know and trust your executor and provide useful, but not unrealistically confining, instructions in your will. You should also authorize your executor to expend funds from your estate for the temporary care of your animal as well as for the costs of looking for a new home and transporting the animal to it. The will should also grant broad discretion to your executor in making decisions about the animal and in expending estate funds on the animal's behalf.

In some cases, self-written or "home-made" wills and estate plans may not ultimately be considered valid. An attorney can help avoid confusion later should there be other legatees involved.

Nobody lives forever, and older animals who have outlived their caregivers wait in shelters hoping that someone will look past the frolicsome pups and appreciate the love and devotion they have to give. Young animals are amusing for just a short while, but the love and gratitude of an older animal is everlasting. Look carefully, devotion may be looking right into your eyes asking for a second chance at love.

The HSUS offers a kit, "Providing for Your Pet's Future without You" that includes forms and advice to help you design a will and other estate plans for your animal companion's care should you pass away before them. For more information, call 202-452-1100 to order a free copy of the kit or view it online at:

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