February 4, 2014 > Ohlone Humane Society: Transitions
Ohlone Humane Society: Transitions
By Nancy Lyon
Many of us avoid thinking about Òwhat ifÓ something happens and we become seriously ill or die and can no longer care for our loved ones. ÒThings are fine, weÕll deal with it later.Ó Unfortunately, later can sneak up on us and find us unprepared or unable to respond to their needs and that includes our animal family members.
Granted, itÕs Òonly humanÓ to put off dealing with the inevitable fact of life... that weÕre not going to be here forever. We assume because humans generally live longer than most of our animal companions, with the exception of some species like parrots and tortoises, it will not happen to us until way down the road and our companions long gone.
Nationwide statistics show that between 5 to 7 million companion animals are impounded in shelters across the nation, and approximately 3 to 4 million are euthanized. As caring guardians of our animal companions, we need to give careful thought to what can happen to them if our time runs out and we leave them unprotected, with no provision for their future well-being.
Are there ways to ensure their needs are met? And, most critically, will there be someone committed to seeing they donÕt end up in a shelter grieving and frightened, and facing death alone?
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) recommends the following if you are unable to return home to care for your animal family.
Carry a Companion Animal Alert card in your wallet.
This is a card that will alert authorities that you have an animal companion(s) at home, list two emergency contacts for them to notify if something happens to you.
Create a document for each animal in your care. The ASPCA suggests the following examples of information to include:
A document containing pertinent information about each animal that would be valuable to a potential guardian and/or caregiver in your absence. Even if you donÕt have a plan in place for their future care, this information is vital to helping them find a new home faster.
Medical conditions and medications taken
Veterinary information and records
Behavior around other animals/people/children
The document should be kept in a safe but accessible place with your other important papers and copies should be distributed to all parties in your animalÕs circle of care.
Decide on an Informal or Formal Arrangement for your animal familyÕs future care. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and Barry Seltzer, a Toronto-based estate lawyer and co-author of Fat Cats & Lucky Dogs: How to Leave (Some of) Your Estate to Your Pet recommend these safety measures:
Find Your Replacement
Find a committed caregiver. Assuming family will want your companion animal is often not the case. To avoid misunderstandings, get commitments in writing.
Appoint an Understudy
Your designated caregiverÕs circumstances may change. Have an equally committed alternate as back up or a group of friends that will act as temporary caregivers until a permanent situation is found.
An information packet that not only establishes daily needs and preferences but specifies the standard of living you want for your companion, including medical care and end-of-life decisions.
Pets on Pensions
Set aside a fund to cover his or her future expenses. For example, you can designate the trustee of your companion trust as the beneficiary of a life insurance policy or a bank account thatÕs payable upon your death. This ensures the trustee has immediate cash to devote to care. HSUS advises do not transfer outrageous sums of moneyÑtheyÕll be contested.
A Formal Affair
While informal arrangements can work, they can be fragile and it is recommended that a well-crafted legal arrangement is far easier to deal with than vague statements or expectations.
In Pets We Trust
Trusts can be relatively expensive to administer and maintain but they add a layer of oversight. The trustee pays the money to your appointed caregiver and may regularly inspect your companionÕs health and living conditions.
Many types of wills and trusts exist, so itÕs crucial to prepare carefully and seek legal advice. Before talking with a lawyer, you should have a plan in mind. ItÕs essentially Òplanning the same as you might if you were dealing with a young child.Ó
When considering that people often refuse to face death and disability, Berry Seltzer was prompted to pen a modified version of the BibleÕs Proverbs 29:18:
ÒWhere there is no vision, pets perish. Where thereÕs procrastination, pets perish. And where there is no plan in place, pets perish.Ó
For expanded information on protecting your animal companion: