Every day I go off to work and leave my two dogs, Daisy and Angel, behind to guard the house. Because Daisy and Angel’s combined weight is less than ten pounds, I have a sinking suspicion that they are less than diligent in this duty. However, when I get home, they meet me at the door and find comfortable seats on my lap at night when I watch the evening news. Thus, and in spite of their lack of aptitude as guard dogs, I have grown fond of Daisy and Angel and plan on keeping them around and caring for them for at least the immediate future.
As long as I come home, all is well. But what happens to Daisy and Angel if I become disabled, go to the hospital, move to a nursing home, or pass away?
Each year in the United States approximately 500,000 pets end up in shelters when their owners die, become disabled, or move to long-term care. Unfortunately, depending on the data used, 50-70% are euthanized rather than adopted.
As a society, we do extensive planning in anticipation of disability and death, and to provide for the care of our spouse and children, but what happens to Daisy and Angel? While most pet owners think of their pets as members of their family, the vast majority fail to plan for them as they would a human family member.
In planning for the care and well-being of your pets, you need to think about short-term emergencies and well as long-term care.
What happens if you are in a car accident, suffer a stroke, or our hospitalized with an injury and don’t return home? How long can your dog or cat survive without you? Usually pet care is needed within a few hours, not a few days. For the short-term emergency, you need to ensure that someone is able to care for your pet immediately.
There are several simple and informal steps you can take to ensure that your pet is cared for in the event of an emergency. Have an identification card in your wallet or purse so emergency responders realize that you have pets that need immediate attention. Plan ahead with a caregiver, by providing them with a profile of your pet’s information such as veterinarian, medications, behavioral habits, fears and dislikes, allergies, special diet needs and special care instructions. Make sure the emergency care provider has access to your house and can feed and care for your pets in the short term. Place window decals on your home so emergency responders know how many children and pets are in the house. Leave the profile with a second relative or neighbor so that your pet receives necessary food, water and medicine.
After the immediate crisis is resolved, you need a long-term plan to care for your pets.
In Oregon and Washington, this can be done by using a pet trust. In addition, a power of attorney or a will can include provisions to provide for your pet’s care in the event of your death or incapacity. Whether you provide for your pet in a will or trust, you should seek the advice of legal counsel to make sure your wishes are carried out, and upheld by the court if challenged by your devisees or beneficiaries. Some of the items that you should consider and include in your will or trust are:
- Who will have custody of your pet?
- Who do you want to name as a backup care provider if your first choice dies, is incapacitated, or refuses to do it?
- Who will pay for the expenses of care (it doesn’t have to be the same person who has custody)?
- Do you want a trust protector? This is the person who makes sure your pet is cared for and that the money you set aside is used for your pet.
You should also determine how much money to set aside for the care of your pet. How much do you spend every year for food, supplies, training, toys, medical care, and kennel stays during vacation? How old is your dog or cat and how many years do you want to provide for them?
Someday you will not be there for your pet. Providing for them can be done as part your estate planning or on a stand-alone basis through a pet trust. Don’t fail to plan for your pets. If you have a dog, cat, fish, snake, or lizard and want to make sure they are cared for when you can’t, seek the advice of an attorney, carefully consider the needs of your pet, and make a plan for the well-being of your pet.