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Records of the deep affection that human have for their canine companions stretches back through pre-history to when the first wild canids joined us beside the fire. Archeologists have unearthed pet cemeteries in early Greece and Rome full of artifacts bearing poignant tributes to deeply loved dogs, cats, and other animals. In one ancient Roman epitaph, an owner reflects on the loss of their pet dog: “I am in tears while carrying you to your last resting place as much as I rejoiced when bringing you home in my own hands 15 years ago.”

For owners who deeply care for their dogs, things haven’t changed. Our dogs are profoundly a part of our lives and families, and our concern for their lifelong well-being is foremost.

Thinking About the Unthinkable

One of the saddest things to contemplate is the possibility of our being unable to care for our beloved pets. If we die, what will happen to those furry family members who so completely depend on us? Where will they sleep at night? Who will know the day-to-day details—feeding, walking schedules, veterinary care, and little things, like their favorite treats or toys.

For caring pet owners, it’s vital to think about and make preparations if we can.

“I cannot imagine overlooking this planning,” says English Cocker Spaniel owner Martha Guidotti, of Connecticut. She and her husband had discussed the subject years ago, making sure there would be money left to cover the expenses for the care of each of their dogs. After her husband passed away, she adjusted the details of the will, specifying that one of their sons to take responsibility for her current dog, Stella, and allocating those funds to her continuing care.

blind dog
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Will or Trust Fund?

If you’ve had the chance to discuss with a friend or family member the possibility of taking on responsibility for your pets and they’ve agreed, you can name this person in your will and describe the arrangement.

When talking with someone who might take on the commitment to care for your pet, it’s important to be sure they understand all that would be involved. They should be sufficiently knowledgeable in pet care, and their living space suitable. And of course, ideally the person is someone whom you trust without hesitation.
Also important to keep in mind is that there is usually a length of time before a will is executed. With a pet, of course daily care and feeding and a place to live are needed right away, so you might consider specifically noting that the agreed-on care for the pet is to begin immediately.

But can a pet actually be a beneficiary of a will? In many states pets are legally considered personal property, and property can’t “inherit” funds. A type of arrangement developed more recently is a pet trust. A trust both provides for financial support for your pet’s life and also legally designates a person who is authorized to supervise the funds and make sure the pet is well cared for. One advantageous option is a “living trust,” which can be executed while someone is alive but incapacitated, while a will only goes into effect after a person’s death.

Covering All the Details

When you’re thinking about the possibility of someone else taking over your dog’s care, there are all sorts of details you might include to help ensure your dog will be happy and comfortable in a new situation.
Marsha Wallace, a longtime dog rescuer and owner in Virginia, made sure to include in her will detailed descriptions of many aspects of the care of her senior dog, Millie. “I had explicit instructions written out describing everything about her—her favorite food, words she knows, things she doesn’t like, and so on. It said everything I could think of that a new owner would need.”

Chocolate Labrador Retriever ready to fetch a tennis ball about to be thrown by a senior man.
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Wallace also emphasizes the importance of ensuring immediate care for the pet in the event the owner suddenly dies or is disabled. “What people often don’t think of is how to handle the dog in the immediate aftermath of a death or hospitalization. Who will take care of the dog until the dog goes to a permanent home? Fortunately, I have neighbors and friends with keys to my house who would make sure that Millie was fed and medicated while she was still in my home or taken to a friend’s home. My sister and best local friend had all this information also.”

Other Things to Consider in Making Plans:

  • Make provisions for not only the pets you currently own, but also any you might add to your family as time goes on.
  •  Be sure to thoroughly and honestly discuss with designated caretakers or potential trustees the full scope of care you want your pet(s) to receive.
  • How much money should you leave? Try to estimate the cost for care of your pet as accurately as possible. Start with the annual cost of food, treats, and basic supplies such as dog beds, crates, bowls, and leash and collar. Then remember to include regular expenses, such as grooming, if applicable, and routine veterinary care. Finally, it’s best to figure in extra funds for any unforeseen veterinary expenses, including dental procedures and additional medical treatments, or procedures that might be needed as the dog ages. If your pet is on a pet health insurance plan, remember to include the premium for this in your calculations as well.
  • You might also consider designating a specific pet charity or other organization you’d like a donation to be made to should any funds remain after your pet’s life has ended.

Help is available

You can meet with professional to discuss all the possible options and determine what is most suitable for you and your situation. As difficult as it might be to think about all this, we owe it to our beloved companions to ensure that they are not left to fend for themselves.

This article originally appeared in the award-winning AKC Family Dog magazine. Subscribe today!
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This article was originally published in AKC Family Dog magazine. Subscribe today ($12.95 for 6 issues, including digital edition) to get expert tips on training, behavior, health, nutrition, and grooming, and read incredible stories of dogs and their people.
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