Nobody wants to think about dying, especially when they’re young and in good health; but, as a responsible pet owner, it’s your duty to ensure that if you were to pass away, your pets would be cared for. Even if you anticipate outliving all of your pets, accidents can happen, and it’s necessary to make arrangements for that possibility.
One way to make sure your pets will be cared for if they outlive you is to choose a close friend or family member who you trust completely, and who knows your pets and wouldn’t be burdened by their care, and to name that person as a “Godpawrent” to your pets. Ask them if they are willing to take on that responsibility, and if so, have a frank discussion about things that are important to you regarding your pets’ care. If you want to know that your dog will remain a house dog or that your cat will not be declawed, specify that, both verbally and in writing. Make sure to thank the new Godpawrent for their contribution to your peace of mind. A nice gift basket with things for their own pets wouldn’t be amiss.
If you’ve selected a Godpawrent, make sure that you provide for your pets’ care in your will. Get the advice of an attorney (preferably one who appreciates the importance of providing for your pets in a will), and write compensation for the Godpawrent into your will, whether in the form of a cash bequest to be awarded on the condition that this person accept ownership of your pets, or by leaving property to be sold to pay the pets’ expenses, or in some other manner suggested by your lawyer. Particularly if you will be leaving a large amount for your pets’ care, ask your attorney about appointing a person charged with regularly checking up on your pets and ensuring that they are receiving good care in order for payments from your estate to continue.
A Worthy Cause
Some pet parents have found that they do not personally know someone willing and able to act as a Godpawrent, and have instead chosen to work together with an animal rescue organization to provide for their pets’ future. Some rescues have accepted a contractual agreement by which a large donation is provided in a person’s will, contingent upon the rescue’s acceptance and caretaking of the deceased’s pets.
Some rescues with large, cage-free facilities would care for these pets in a sanctuary arrangement, where they would no be available for adoption; others might agree to offer them for adoption only to families who meet certain requirements. Sometimes a board member or director of the organization might even offer to agree to adopt your pets in the event of your death.
Again, if you choose to provide for the care of your pets by this method, seek the advice of an attorney in drawing up your will and your agreement with the rescue organization. In addition, make a point of keeping abreast of the organization’s affairs, and be sure that your written agreement allows you to change your mind if you feel that the rescue is no longer an organization with which you would trust your pets. A lot can change in a few years in the animal rescue world, and unfortunately, the changes aren’t always for the better.
Return to Sender
If your pet came from a breeder or a no-kill rescue, you may have signed a contract stating that in the event you are no longer able to care for the animal, it must be returned to the breeder/rescue or placed in a home preapproved by that person or organization. Even if this is not specified in your adoption contract, if you trust the breeder or rescue from which you acquired your pet, it’s a good idea to call up and discuss matters with them.
Explain that you’re making arrangements to ensure that your pets will be provided for should you predecease them, and ask if the breeder or rescue has a standing policy on the death of an adopter. Most or all responsible, reputable breeders make a lifetime committment to the animals they sell, and will take in an animal of their breeding left homeless after its owner’s death. Most no-kill rescues have a similar policy.
You will want to inquire about how your pet would be treated, should you stipulate in your will that it be returned to the breeder or rescue. Make sure that your dog won’t find herself outdoors in a kennel while the breeder focuses on show dogs, or living out her life in a cage at a shelter. However, if you are confident that your breeder or rescue would provide for lifelong care that meets your standards, consider awarding your pet and a some of money for his or her care to the breeder/rescue in your will. As always, seek the advice of an attorney when making any changes to your will.
A Smooth Transition
Of course, all the planning and changes to your will in the world won’t help your pet if she becomes so stressed by the transfer to a new home that she bites her new family or runs away from their house. A person who, years ago, agreed to be Godpawrent to a wiggly puppy may not feel the same sense of duty to an unpleasant adult dog who growls at children, barks all day, and urinates indoors. If your own comfort and desire for a harmonious household isn’t incentive enough to train and socialize a pet properly, perhaps his future prospects, should you die or become unable to care for him, will be motivation enough.
Accustom your pets to travel and to exploring new environments. Take day trips with your pet to friends’ houses or even to motels. Encourage relaxation and curiousity in a new place; discourage fearfulness or aggression. Make sure that any person appointed Godpawrent has regular interactions with the pet– a walk together at the park or a dinner at your home once a month gives the humans a chance to catch up, while reminding the pets that the Godpawrent is a familiar friend. If your chosen caretaker has children and you don’t, make sure to socialize your pets with kids, either the Godpawrent’s brood or children of about the same age.
Train your pets to eliminate in an acceptable area (outdoors for dogs, litterboxes for cats), greet strangers in a friendly way, chew and scratch appropriately, and, in general, to be pleasant to live with. Your life will be enriched by a well-behaved pet, and you won’t have to wonder, “Will Aunt Susie understand Fido’s ‘quirks,’ like biting the mailman and gnawing table legs, if I pass away?”