No one wants to think about saying goodbye to a dog or cat who’s been your friend for years. What’s even harder to imagine is if you go before your pet does.
But anything can happen, and we’re all one mishap away from potentially leaving our pet waiting at home for us to return. Since some 60 percent of people don’t have a will for themselves, even fewer are likely to make written plans for their pets.
Without written plans in place, many dogs and cats who have been lifelong family members end up at shelters, through no fault of their own. Pets who have lived together for years might be split up. In either case, your pet may be confused about why they’re in a strange, noisy environment and you haven’t come to pick them up.
Heartbreaking, right? So why not take steps to make sure your pet continues to be lovingly cared for should something happen to you?
Pet Alert cards
One of the simplest things you can do to help protect your pet, especially if you live alone, is to complete a Pet Alert card and carry it in your wallet. It notifies the authorities that you have a pet at home that needs care and provides contact information for people who are willing to serve as emergency caregivers.
Note that Pet Alerts cards are only effective if you discuss your plans with the caregivers ahead of time and give them access to your house or apartment. Typically, these people only serve as temporary caregivers, providing food and water, potty breaks and company in the short term until you’re able to come home or permanent caregivers can take over.
Select pet parents you trust
Some people assume that their siblings or parents will be happy to take the pet. But in many cases, this isn’t true. Discuss your pet’s future with friends as well as family to choose a primary caregiver and at least one backup. And check in with them periodically to make sure they’re still willing and able to step in should something happen to you.
Put the agreement in writing and notify family and your emergency caregivers so that the transition goes smoothly for your pet.
Set up a pet trust
You can also establish a pet trust, or a formal, legal document that names your chosen caregivers, provides instructions for the care of your pet and includes a fund to support your pet’s needs for the remainder of its life.
How much money should you leave? Consider what you spend on your pet annually, including expenses for food, regular veterinary care, medications, grooming, boarding, toys, treats, bedding and any other regular expenses. Multiply that figure by the number of years your pet may be expected to live. Also consider that, as your pet ages, he or she may require additional medical expenses.
To get a start on creating a pet trust, contact an attorney who specializes in estate planning.
You may want to have a third party manage the money, providing the caregivers with funds on a monthly basis. Some sort of permanent identification on your pet, such as a microchip, can be helpful to prevent fraud. And finally, you can even specify if you want the trust manager to make periodic visits to make sure the caregiver home is still suited for the best care of your pet.
But pet trusts aren’t just about financing your pet’s future. You can also list specifics about how your pet should be cared for, from the number of trips to the veterinarian each year to the amount of exercise and type of food your pet should be fed.
Write your pet’s life story
Only you know how your pet dances in circles for certain treats. Or how he or she hogs the pillow when you’re sleeping. Write down all your pet’s favorite quirky habits so your caregivers know too. Also include details about your pet’s medical conditions and medications (including flea, tick and heartworm preventives), vaccine and medical history, favorite foods and how your pet gets along with other pets and children. Any detail that can help the caregivers make your pet feel more at home is helpful. Then give the pet trust manager and any potential caregivers copies of this information.
With any luck, a pet trust will never need to be set into action. But even if it does, isn’t it comforting to know your pet will always be well cared for?
The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.