Previously we wrote an article on bereavement, and the emotional impact on owners when their beloved dog dies. The loss of a pet is something that most pet owners will have to face at some time in their lives. It’s a traumatic time, and one that can take many years to recover from.
But what if you were to die or become incapacitated during your pets’ lifetime? How would they be looked after? Who would look after them?
We’ve been doing some research into this subject, and we’ve put together some guidelines, tips and useful links so that you can plan and make provision for your pets if you die before them or become unable to care for them any longer because of serious illness or injury.
To ensure that your pets are cared for in any eventuality, it is advisable to have two sets of plans in place; one for the short term, including emergency plans should anything happen to you unexpectedly, and another for long term care that will place your pets into the hands of someone you have chosen, and who has agreed, to love and care for your pets once you no longer can.
How to prepare for an emergency:
- Agree with at least two family members or friends that they will act as short-term emergency caregivers should anything unexpected happen to you. You should also ensure that each caregiver has the contact details for the other so that they can liaise and agree which of them can get to your pets soonest. Ensure that they all have access to keys to your property, and that they are acquainted with your pets. Make sure they have details of your vet, feeding arrangements, and a list of any current medication.
- It’s a good idea to let your neighbours and your next of kin know that you have appointed emergency carers for your pets. Let them have the telephone number of the carers so that they can contact them if necessary.
- You may wish to carry a card in your wallet alerting the emergency services and/or hospital staff to the fact that you have pets at home and showing the emergency carers’ contact numbers.
- A notice posted in your window stating the number and types of pet you have can also help to alert the emergency services to the presence of pets in your home who may need help.
These simple steps will help to ensure that emergency care can be provided to your pets in the shortest possible time should anything happen to you and will reduce the risk of them being left alone in the house for several days with no care.
How to make a provision for long-term or permanent care:
Animals cannot have a legal receipt, so it isn’t possible to leave money directly to your animals; you can, however, leave money for their long-term care by a person or body selected by either you or your executors.
For long-term or permanent care, you will need to make formal arrangements which will involve the drawing up of a will or a trust that will require the services of a professional. Clearly a will only takes effect after your death and can take some time to reach probate, so a short-term care plan needs to be in place to cover this period. A trust, however, will allow for your wishes to be put into place immediately upon your death or incapacity. Either a trust or a will can be written to provide for the transfer of ownership of your pet into the care of a designated person or body, together with an agreed sum of money to provide for your pets’ care. The bequest of money to pay for the continued care of your dog will provide an incentive for the person to carry out your wishes regarding your pet. It’s a good idea to speak to your solicitor or a professional about the best way to proceed.
However, before you do this, you should agree with the people or organisations that you have selected that they will take on the continuous care of your pets when you die. You can choose a friend or relative, or one of the charities who offer this service. Do your research before selecting, and make sure that the selected person/body is aware of the bequest and happy to take on the duty. It’s also a good idea to have a second option available should the first person be unable or unwilling to act. Also keep in touch with them to ensure that their willingness to take on the pet has not changed over time, or that their circumstances have not changed to the extent that they would be unable to fulfil the role. It’s important to know that the new owner will have absolute discretion on how to care for your pets, what veterinary services to use, and whether to euthanise, so it’s important to choose someone you trust absolutely to use your bequest for the care of the pet.
If you are thinking of entrusting the care of your pet to a charity or other organization, it’s worth noting that most will not have the space or funds to house your pet indefinitely. They will usually try to rehome your pet, but you will have no say in the ultimate placement of your pet. Should they fail to rehome your pet, they will have the discretion to euthanise. Some organisations will offer long-term care in the form of a retirement home. However, as your pet has been a companion animal they may not adjust well to long-term life in this type of environment and may become stressed and anxious. We recommend choosing an organisation with a no euthanise policy.
Try to visit any organisations that you are considering and check that they are committed to finding appropriate and responsible homes quickly. Look at the facilities and try to get a feel for the ethos of the organisation.
Another factor to consider, should you have multiple pets, is whether the pets would be better kept together. Dogs especially, bond with their siblings as well as their human, so to lose you and then a sibling within a short space of time, along with the stress of moving to a new home, may be extremely traumatic and worsen their grieving.
We all tend to think that the unexpected or the unimaginable will not happen to us, and so we fail to prepare. Whilst the thought of leaving your pets alone in the world is something that is difficult to envisage and fills us with grief, putting some simple measures into place now could prevent a great deal of trauma and heartache for your beloved pets, and ensure that they continue to live a happy life after you’ve gone.
Some useful links:
www.cinnamon.org.uk (Cinnamon Trust)
www.dogstrust.org.uk (Dogs’ Trust Canine Care Card)