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How to Prepare If Cats & Dogs Outlive You

How to Prepare If Cats & Dogs Outlive You

We adore our aging dogs and cats but often lament the fact that dogs and cats don’t live as long as we do. Sometimes, we get a ghostly visit from a dearly departed pet. But what about the reverse—what if your pets live longer than you do? Cats often live into their late teens or early twenties. Are there legal protections you can take in planning for when your cats outlive you? We loved dogs and cats dearly while alive, and must also care for them when we’re gone with proper plans. And yes, it can happen totally out of the blue.

pet outlives me

The unthinkable happens, even to animal professionals. Back in 2014, in the same week, our pet community felt rocked by the tragic and sudden deaths of two heroes, animal behaviorist Dr. Sophia Yin and Cat Writers Association president Dr. Lorie Huston. Dr. Yin left behind her beloved dog Jonesy, while my friend Lorie left six special needs rescue cats. CWA members networked to re-home Lorie’s cats. More recently, the Cat Writers’ Association again lost a beloved leader when president Paula Gregg passed away suddenly. She had time to make plans for her beloved Persian cats, Truffle and Brulee.

None of these wonderful pet lovers expected to have their pets outlive them. Do you have plans for your special pets? Here are tips for planning for when your pets outlive you.

What to Do If Your Cats or Dogs Outlive You

In the past, elderly readers have contacted me to ask about setting up care options for pets should they die before them. Although healthy and with every intention to stick around for the foreseeable future, people should prepare for the unexpected. But as we’ve seen, even younger people can have the worst happen.

Sadly, orphaned cats and dogs often end up in shelters. Cats get destroyed by the surviving family members, when nobody feels able or willing to care for the left-behind fur-kid. The adult dog or cat hasn’t a clue why she’s suddenly gone from a loving home and lap to a scary metal cage.

how to prepare if pet outlives you

How to Prepare For Cats and Dogs After Your Death

What can caring owners do to prepare for the worst, if death, disability or age takes away a pet’s home? Will family and friends rally to find loving homes for all the orphaned animals?

Your family and friends, veterinarian contacts and church relationships may be eager and willing to offer a place for your pet should you die before them. Many of us share our lives (and pillows) with multiple cats or a few dogs. Do you have folks able or willing to take the whole furry crew? Maybe you have brother-dogs that would pine away if separated, or special needs cats that require extra medical care. Often, a simple promise among friends will be sufficient. Ideally, the animals already know and get along with the new owner—because missing you will be as tough for them as for your human family. If they don’t, make arrangements now to introduce them. While dogs may more easily take to strangers, cats typically take time to accept new people into their lives. You wouldn’t want to live with a stranger, and neither would your cats–so make sure they already know your friends or family.

In today’s changing world, though, good intentions and a promise made years before may go out the window should the person’s own situation change. For instance, maybe your friend has a new cat that won’t accept yours, or living arrangements/finances have changed. Maybe they’ve moved into a small apartment and can take one cat but not a large dog. For peace of mind, it’s best to make formal arrangements in your will and try to address every eventuality.

what to do if pet outlives youLegal Considerations Planning for When Your Pets Outlive You

Legal restrictions won’t allow a beloved pet to inherit from your estate because cats and dogs are themselves defined as property. But you certainly can set up trusts for the care of the pet, and name a specific person who will receive those funds so that they can take the critter into their care for the rest of its life. Once you find persons willing to take your cats and dogs, consult with an attorney about the proper paperwork necessary to make a legal and binding arrangement.

There also are “pet retirement homes” or “sanctuaries” that might take your pets. Organizations that give pets a home for life, though, have limited openings. A fee pays for the care that you set up in your will or other legal document.

Also ensure your neighbors know how many cats and dogs you have and how to contact emergency care givers. Carry a wallet “alert card” with this information and post “in case of emergency” notices on your doors or windows.

More Resources for Preparing for Your Pets’ Care

David Congalton and Charlotte Alexander wrote the book, “When Your Pet Outlives You.” It contains sample legal forms, names of pet law specialists, addresses of pet retirement homes and sanctuaries throughout the U.S., a report on all relevant state statutes, important court decisions affecting people and their pets, and precise details on how to set up a pet trust.

Petfinder offers information on Providing For Your Pet’s Future Without You. It suggests you find at least two responsible friends or relatives and provide them with emergency information for short-term care. Also, refer to this resource for estate planning for pets.

Once these emergency issues are in place, you’ll have peace of mind. That allows you to relax and enjoy making the most of the time you have with your special animal companions.

May you have many more loving years with your special companions. Meanwhile, I’m making my own emergency arrangements — just in case — for my Shadow-Pup and Karma-Kat, while my heart breaks for all the  furry wonders left behind.

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Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!