We love our animals like they are our children. But, when you’re gone, how do you know they will be taken care of?
Amy Shever used to volunteer for a shelter in Los Gatos, California. “I frequently witnessed cats and dogs brought in after their people had passed away or became too ill to care for them,” she says. “Those animals don’t do well in shelters – they’re not the typical street dog, content to have food and a dry place to sleep. Instead, they just curl into a ball, despondent and unresponsive. They’d be considered unadoptable, and many would be euthanized.”
The situation bothered Amy for some time, but it wasn’t until the terrorist attacks of 9/11 that she took action. “I read that about 800 pets became homeless after that tragedy, and the average owner who died was in their 30s,” she says. “I just couldn’t stop worrying about what might happen to my animals, should something happen to me.”
To help resolve the dilemma, Amy created a non-profit organization called 2nd Chance 4 Pets (2ndchance4pets.org). It’s dedicated to educating people about the need to plan for their animals’ future in case they get sick, disabled or die. Since then, Amy and the other members of her all-volunteer organization have been working throughout the U.S. to spread the word about lifetime planning and care solutions for animals. They attend conferences and visit veterinary offices and shelters, where they distribute literature, talk to people and run workshops.
The response has been overwhelming and Amy and her volunteers regularly receive requests for assistance from individuals as well as animal rescue groups, shelters, hospices and veterinarians. Most recently, 2nd Chance 4 Pets partnered with Meals on Wheels and the Banfield Charitable Trust to help seniors with animals, and participated in the Second International Symposium on Veterinary Hospice Care at the University of California.
Like Amy, the volunteers at 2nd Chance 4 Pets walk their talk. One of the advisory board members is Peggy Hoyt, a lawyer who specializes in estate planning and administration for both people and animals, and the author of All My Children Wear Fur Coats – How to Leave a Legacy for Your Pet. “She assists in helping educate people about their options, such as how to make legal arrangements to leave your home to an animal care panel and have someone selected to live in your home and care for your animals upon your death or disability.”
At the very least, Amy advises people to identify a responsible person to commit to caring for your dog or cat in the event of an emergency, or to adopt him should you pass away. “Don’t just assume your children or family will take him in,” she warns. “Identify a person and put it in writing. Check back with them every few years to make sure they’re still able and willing to do it.”
“Two people come to mind who did the right thing by their animals,” Amy continues. “They each told their children, ‘I don’t care what happens to my house or belongings, but make sure you find a home for my dog’. When these people passed away, their children made sure the dogs were not taken to a shelter, but were adopted.”
Designating a caregiver is the most important step, but it’s also helpful to make a document of your animal’s daily needs. Dogs and cats are adaptable over time, but leaving details about their usual routine will help them through unexpected transitions. Write down your choice of veterinarian, food, exercise and socialization habits. Don’t hesitate to include his “quirks” – special indulgences, favorite foods, or the commands he’s used to.
Marcy Lane of Westford, Massachussetts unexpectedly found out just how important such details can be. “My elderly neighbor, Doris, slipped and fell. As she was taken away by ambulance, I told her I’d take in her dog. For the rest of the afternoon, he’d whine to go out. I’d walk him, but he’d do nothing.” Marcy was at her wit’s end until Doris called from the hospital. “You don’t know Freddie’s secret,” she said. “He won’t do his business near people. Let him off leash.” March did as Doris instructed and it worked perfectly. “The rest of his stay was much smoother.”
Another important step, says Amy, is to consider finances. “If you have a life insurance policy, you can leave instructions for the beneficiary to allocate funds for the animal’s care,” she says. When determining financial allocations, it’s best to seek outside counsel to make sure your wishes are properly documented and executed.
Today’s dog and cat lovers will do anything to ensure the health and well-being of their furry family members. Routine veterinary care, quality food, bedding and recreational activities are standard in the lives of most dogs and cats. But establishing a plan for the animal should the caregiver unexpectedly become unable to care for him is frequently overlooked. For many dogs and cats, this can spell the difference between life and death. “Setting up a plan like this is very simple, and costs nothing,” says Amy. “But it can make a big difference to your animal.”