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Reality check: Making Arrangements for your Pets for After you are Gone (this just got real)

As many of you know, the Cat Connection is currently trying to find suitable homes for more than 25 feral and semi-feral cats. These cats were cared for by a long-time customer of the store, who literally opened her door up to a large feral population of needy cats around her home. Unfortunately, due to a recent accident, she is no longer able to look after her feline charges. At present, all 25 cats are being held at a local shelter, but they are in desperate need of a permanent place to call home. If you or anyone you know is interested in a fully vetted, fixed, professional mouser for your barn or outdoor space, please let us know!

Not our customer, but you get the idea. Image source: catster.
Not our customer, but you get the idea. Image source: catster.

To make matters more complicated, the Cat Connection is simultaneously trying to find homes for a few other felines for whom we’ve taken responsibility. For these cats, the stories are all the same: an older owner becomes incapacitated and is no longer able to care for them, but their family is either unable or unwilling to take responsibility for the animal.

OC, one of our unexpected charges, is in need of a new home with his buddy, Sammy.
Look at that face! OC, one of our unexpected charges, is in need of a new home with her buddy, Sammy.
Sammy and OC are in need of a new, loving home after their owner's health declined. Please call the Cat Connection to give these bonded buddies a new life!
Sammy and OC are in need of a new, loving home after their owner’s health declined. Please call the Cat Connection to give this bonded pair a new, wonderful life!

A simple search on PetFinder reveals that these are not unique situations. The pets of incapacitated, or deceased, pet owners are often left to fate or the whims of family and friends, and so many of these stories end in shelters.

Thus, the Cat Connection has decided to spend a few words on the importance of making arrangements for your pets in the event you are suddenly unable to care for them.

Do not wait until a crisis to make arrangements

When a crisis occurs, be it a hospitalization, a death, a significant travel delay, or something else that means you will no longer be able to care for your pets, it is likely your pets will be a secondary thought to the immediate needs of the situation. However, your pets still need to be cared for. Having a clear plan for your pets that has been communicated to willing and trustworthy associates is essential. At the very least, be sure someone knows:

  • Where a spare key to your house is kept if they do not have one already
  • How many pets you have and where they are (e.g., in your home, at a relative’s, at the vet, etc.)
  • What care the animal will require immediately and into the future, including any medical considerations (with veterinary information and records)
  • Any specific instructions for the pet

And delegate, delegate, delegate! If there is more than one person responsible, which is preferable, be sure each party knows their role and has the contact information of the others.

Do not wait until you are elderly to make arrangements

While making arrangements for your pet should be a part of any estate planning, a sudden emergency can occur at any point in your life. Be sure to have these conversations early.

Have a plan for both short-term and long-term care

A sudden travel delay could require something as simple as having a friend come to your home twice a day for feeding. In contrast, a death will mean a life-long commitment to your animals, requiring careful planning in advance. Be sure to consider both scenarios as you plan for your pet’s safety and security.

Have a frank conversation with the chosen caregiver about expectations (and check in often)

Emergencies, estate execution, hospitalization – all of these things are a lot to handle, and unfortunately, can bring out the worst in family and friends. While it may be convenient to assume that your next of kin will willingly take care of your animals, this is often not the case, particularly when there are multiple pets that will require care.

Have a frank conversation with those you have asked (and who have agreed) to take responsibility for your pets. Be honest about your expectations, as well as the needs of your animals. Cost is a consideration, and even the most well-meaning caregiver can become overwhelmed by the sudden burden of caring for multiple animals.

And be sure to check in often. Circumstances change, and while this responsibility may have been possible at one point, you want to be sure that it remains so.

Consider making formal arrangements to protect your pet

The heir apparent.
The heir apparent.

We all hear the news stories about eccentric millionaires leaving their fortunes to their pets, but this is not as outrageous as it sounds. Consider making formal, legally-binding arrangements to protect your pet in the event of your disability or death. Your options include, but are not limited to, a Pet Trust, a Pet Protection Agreement, a provision in your will (not recommended due to the time required for probate), and many others. For more information, see the ASPCA.

Additionally, some shelters offer long-term care plans, wherein they assume responsibility for the animal, either with the intent to rehome or to provide life-long care. In many cases, these plans are quite expensive, but we are of the opinion that if your family is unwilling to care for the companions you loved so dearly, this is as good a place as any to spend their inheritance.

Remember: no one is under any obligation to help your pet. It is up to you to make arrangements.

Unless you make arrangements for your pets, their fate will ultimately be left to chance or the kindness of strangers. And as we all know, once your pet winds up in a high-volume shelter, that is more than likely the end of their story. No one likes to think about their death, but doing so in this one area can save your beloved animals tremendous heartache and the possibility of euthanization.

That said, your plan should not include euthanizing your animal because no one can care for them. There are resources available if you just do your due diligence and make arrangements in advance. If you have any questions or would like to be pointed in the right direction, please call the Cat Connection. And please: do it sooner rather than later.