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What Will Happen to Your Pets When You Die?

Guest post by Susan (last name withheld by request)

Every dog and cat should have a Pet Directive. Here’s why.

This past month I was devastated to learn that a dear friend died suddenly and his dog was sent out of state to live with the first guy who stepped up to the plate to volunteer to be her caregiver.

Our friend, Craig, took Prissy everywhere. He was single with no children or large assets to speak of. But he did have a lovely spayed female Rottweiler/Pitt he adopted as a puppy. The two were rarely apart and she came along on visits to our home for close to a decade. Prissy was with him when he passed away at the age of 56. She is almost 13 years old, an aging senior dog. I know this because I wrote her resume in 2014, at Craig’s request. They are great to have if you have to rent a property and you want the landlord to feel confident that your dog is well-mannered.

When I got the call that Craig had passed away just hours earlier, I mentioned to his parents that we had a verbal pact with Craig. He would care for our dog Franklin if we died and left him behind. Anatolian Shepherds are suspicious dogs who bond with few people.

We agreed to be there for him, too. The main reason? Prissy and Franklin (my dog who has few friends) were nuts about each other. Besties. Plus, I also already had Prissy’s vet info, chip number, breed information, and tolerance to loud noises. And Franklin also adored Craig. Anatolian Shepherds rarely let anyone touch them unless you are close with the family. Craig passed that test. When he would call to let us know that he was on his way over, Franklin recognized his voice over the phone, would get super excited, and wait outside for his arrival. Then he’d pee on Craig’s shoe because he literally couldn’t contain himself. (That finally stopped a few years ago, thankfully.)

I was heartbroken to learn that the family already arranged that Prissy would be moving out of state to a friend of Craig’s who is “good with dogs.” I have every faith in the world this guy knows dogs, and even Prissy. But had Prissy met his dog? Were they already friends? Had she been to his new home in Tennessee? She would be subjected to a 2.5-hour drive to a new and unfamiliar place, after she just lost her main man.

Because our agreement with Craig was only verbal, we didn’t have a leg to stand on, but we did express sincere interest if Prissy’s new home doesn’t work out. It prompted me to help those plan for their pet’s care after death. Dog’s shouldn’t be subjected to a lot of change after a traumatic loss. Yet, it’s something that we rarely think about.

What to include

Therefore, I recommend a Pet Directive for anyone with pets. Start with a list, or resume of your pet. Include a photo. If you use a pet-sitter, keep a copy of the form you filled out, listing your pet’s breed, traits, schedule, vet name and contact information, vaccination records, favorite food, allergies, medication, exercise routines, and phrases s/he responds to.

Next, evaluate who you would think your dog or cat would be happy with. Someone with patience. Someone whose home is familiar to the dog, and bonus points if they have pet friends. They will help the pet grieve. They know that something happened. We brought Prissy home for two nights to spend time with Franklin. He, and our two cats, who normally shun any company, were very gracious and put on no drama while she was here. Prissy was panting and full of anxiety when she first arrived. She was missing Craig, and had no idea where he went. She went room to room hoping he was here.

Since Prissy is a senior dog, with arthritis, bad teeth, and claws in need of a serious trim, she had trouble getting up and walking, but short walks around the yard perked her up, while Franklin stayed close by as her protector. We were hopeful we could keep her, but that didn’t happen.

We had to hand her back when her new adoptive dad showed up to pick her up. We did not meet him, as he was never told we existed. We are grateful we got to spend time with her, make her feel comfortable, cook a meal for her, and play with her squeaky toys. But now Franklin is missing Prissy and Craig.

Craig had been a caregiver to his elderly parents who were unable to keep Prissy after his death. That’s understandable. She did weigh close to 75 pounds, and they couldn’t handle her. And even though we had mentioned 5 years ago to them that we would be Prissy’s caregiver, they didn’t remember and handed her off to the first person who volunteered. Nor would they change their mind.

We learned a valuable lesson. First, we need to have a pet directive should Franklin and our two kitties outlive us. Someone who knows him and he’s comfortable with. Next, we need to keep a paper file on him, with pertinent information about his care and feeding that is easy to locate. Here is a form to get you started.

It’s important to list people who know and love your pets. Be sure to ask their permission to care for him should you suddenly pass away. Include contact information and mention if they have other pets or children. Update this often, as people tend to move out of state. Or die without warning.

Help your pets adjust to a new life. They will always miss you. However, they shouldn’t have to suffer further in a strange environment if someone they already know and love is willing to take over. As any shelter attendant will tell you, it happens far too often.


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