Last weekend while I was attending our annual Wiggle Walk & Run at Brookside Park in Pasadena, I was acquainted with a dog by the name of Marley. We had our Wiggle Waggle Wagon set up with a few of our adoptable dogs enjoying the beautiful morning and hoping to find forever homes. She was hanging out with one our amazing volunteers, Cheryl, who told me how she ended up at Pasadena Humane.
As it turned out, Marley had been at Pasadena Humane before about eight years earlier. Cheryl remembered working with her back then when she was just a pup. She was adopted by someone who loved Marley intensely and gave her a wonderful life. Marley’s sweet and confident nature made it obvious that she has been lovingly cared for for years. So why would she end up back with us?
Well, sadly, Marley’s beloved owner passed away. I’m not sure if it was sudden or not, but in any case, they had not planned for what would happen to Marley under these circumstances. So with no plan in place or someone to care for her, she ended up back in the shelter scared and alone.
Fortunately, Marley ended up finding a home that day after the Wiggle Waggle Walk — so her story had a happy ending. But it got me thinking about all the animals out there who may not be so lucky when disaster strikes.
That sad truth is, in the confusion that accompanies a person’s unexpected illness, accident or death, pets are often overlooked. In some cases, pets are discovered in the person’s home days after the tragedy.
To prevent this from happening to your pet, take these simple precautions:
• Find at least two responsible friends or relatives who agree to serve as temporary emergency caregivers in the event that something unexpected happens to you. Provide them with keys to your home; feeding and care instructions; the name of your veterinarian; and information about the permanent care provisions you have made for your pet.
• Make sure your neighbors, friends and relatives know how many pets you have and the names and contact numbers of the individuals who have agreed to serve as emergency caregivers. Emergency caregivers should also know how to contact each other.
• Carry a wallet “alert card” that lists the names and phone numbers of your emergency pet caregivers.
• Post removable “in case of emergency” notices on your doors or windows specifying how many and what types of pets you have. These notices will alert emergency-response personnel during a fire or other home emergency. Pro tip: Don’t use stickers; hard-to-remove stickers are often left behind by former residents, so firefighters may assume that the sticker is outdated or, worse, they may risk their lives trying to find a pet no longer in the house.
• Affix to the inside of your front and back doors a removable notice listing emergency contact names and phone numbers.
You might also be wondering how to ensure long-term or permanent care for your pet if something happens to you.
The best way to make sure your wishes are fulfilled is by also making formal arrangements that specifically cover the care of your pet. It’s not enough that long ago your friend verbally promised to take in your animal or even that you’ve decided to leave money to your friend for that purpose. Work with an attorney to draw up a special will, trust or other document to provide for the care and ownership of your pet as well as the money necessary to care for her.
So how do you choose a permanent caregiver?
First, decide whether you want all your pets to go to one person or whether different pets should go to different people. If possible, keep pets who have bonded with one another together. When selecting caregivers, consider partners, adult children, parents, brothers, sisters and friends who have met your pet and have successfully cared for pets themselves.
Also, name alternate caregivers in case your first choice becomes unable or unwilling to take your pet. Be sure to discuss your expectations with potential caregivers so they understand the large responsibility of caring for your pet.
Remember, the new owner will have full discretion over the animal’s care — including veterinary treatment and euthanasia — so make sure you choose a person you trust implicitly and who will do what is in the best interests of your pet.
Stay in touch with the designated caregivers and alternates. Over time, people’s circumstances and priorities change, and you want to make sure that the arrangements you have made continue to hold from the designated caregivers’ vantage points.
If all else fails, it is also possible to direct your executor or personal representative, in your will, to place the animal with another individual or family (that is, in a noninstitutionalized setting). Finding a satisfactory new home can take several weeks of searching, so again, it is important to line up temporary care. You also have to know and trust your executor and provide useful, but not unrealistically confining, instructions in your will.
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You should also authorize your executor to expend funds from your estate for the temporary care of your pet as well as for the costs of looking for a new home and transporting the animal to it. The will should also grant broad discretion to your executor in making decisions about the animal and in expending estate funds on the animal’s behalf.
And by the way, if you need help with planning your will or trust, we can help with that. Just visit us at pasadenahumane.giftlegacy.com/
The bottom line is, your pets give you all the unconditional love and support during good times and bad — isn’t it up to us to return that by making sure we’ve planned ahead for their care? They are worth us taking the time…and so much more!
Jack Hagerman is vice president of community engagement at Pasadena Humane.