Whether you have a goldfish, dogs or cats, you should know how fragile and unpredictable life can be. That is why it is important to provide for the future of our beloved pets in the event of tragedy.

Tragedy can strike at any time. If it does, who would know that you have pets at home waiting for you? If someone knew that you had pets, would they know their basic needs? Who would they call for help?

Close your eyes, push all thoughts from your mind, and picture this:

The busy holiday season has come to an end. You enjoyed many good times with family and friends. Your two dogs were happy to have you home all day to snuggle, play, or even go for walks. You still have a few days before returning to work and/or school. You and your family prepare to leave the house for just one last time.

It is a bitterly cold day. You start the car to let it warm up as you prepare your beloved dogs for their alone time together. You turn on the radio or television to provide soft background music for comfort; give them each a treat, pat them each on their heads and hug them. You tell them that you love them and that you will be home soon. You and your family leave the house, lock the door, get in your car and drive away.

Your dogs are very familiar with your routine for leaving the house. They love the treats and the hugs. The background music is comfort and masks the outdoor street noises or sudden ring of the telephone or doorbell. They have had a brisk morning walk, they follow consistent house rules and daily structure. From the very beginning, they are very content and well behaved because of all of your hard work. They trust you unequivocally as their benevolent Pack Leader. They lie contentedly on their beds, or on YOUR bed, or couch and await your inevitable return.

The day passes peacefully for your beloved pets. As the daylight transitions to dusk, they get restless as they anticipate your return home, eagerly expecting your entrance through the door at your usual time…and they wait…and wait…and wait…

How could they know? Only minutes from home, a sudden twist of fate, wrong decision, lapse of judgement and tragedy strikes…you and your entire family are gone without warning…never to return…ever!

What happens next…to your pets? How long will it be before someone comes through the door to rescue them? How will your pets respond to this intruder? Does anyone know you have pets? Do they even know how to care for them? Is there someone who knows your wishes for their future?

This exact scenario recently became reality in my area – an entire family of four, tragically killed in a car accident. Their two beloved dogs waiting patiently for them to return home. There was no immediate family to provide a permanent home for these two orphaned senior dogs (age 8 and 12 years). Friends and extended family were grief stricken. They were unable or unwilling to open their homes for these dogs nor did they know where to turn for help. They were steps away from surrendering the dogs to the local shelter when a ‘chance’ conversation by an extended family member with his co-worker (my client) brought the plight of these dogs to the forefront. She reached out to me for help and I in turn, reached out to my network. Within 24 hours the dogs were safe and comfortable in loving, forever homes.

This is a wake up call for all! What would happen to your pets if tragedy strikes and you failed to return home?

What arrangements have you made to ensure that your pets’ will not be stranded at home, alone if you leave one day, and through no fault or plan of yours, never return home?

Is it even comprehensible to think that someone, perhaps a total stranger could safely enter your home and tend to your dogs’ needs without risk of harm to them or to your pets? Would they be able to safely walk your dogs out of their comfortable home…to another life? Can you picture it? Or is it difficult to get your head around that thought? Yet, when there is no plan, this scenario becomes reality.

Your beloved pets would quickly be re-homed to a loving family if they are lucky enough. If not, they could fall into the black hole of a crowded shelter and an unknown fate…or worse…much worse.

How can you ensure the safety and well-being of your pets in the event that tragedy strikes?

Here are ten suggestions that are intended to provide for your pets’ future. It will also minimize stress for your surviving friends and family members and ease your mind:

  1. Tell someone your wishes for your pets immediate and future care. Be sure that they are trustworthy and willing or able to follow through.
  2. Provide a neighbour, close friend, relative or co-worker with a key to your house for immediate access and care for your pets until your longer term, permanent wishes can be carried out.
  3. Have written instructions for your pet’s immediate needs (e.g. type and amount of daily food, medications, veterinarian name and location).
  4. Advise your veterinarian of the name of the person who will be responsible for your pet’s temporary or permanent care.
  5. If possible, be sure that your pets are familiar and comfortable with anyone who has access to your house. This will make it much easier for them to leash or crate your pets for a stress-free exit.
  6. Keep your pets’ food, vet records and important walking and training tools, coats, toys, and beds in a visible, accessible place. The sudden transition to a new location may be much easier when your pet has their own food and is accompanied by as many familiar reminders of ‘home’ as possible.
  7. Identify someone who is trusting, capable and willing to provide a permanent, loving home for your pets. Be absolutely certain that they agree and are aware of your wishes. Give them a written copy of your wishes for your pets, including contact information for your veterinarian and the person responsible for re-homing, if different from the adopter.
  8. Have a backup plan, especially if there is no one in your immediate or extended family who is willing or able to accept your pets into their family. A back up plan can be as simple as sharing your wishes and your pet’s status (age, health, special needs, behaviour, etc.) with your veterinarian, a friend or co-worker who is connected to a reliable network of pet professionals including rescue organizations, trainers, boarding kennels, groomers, walkers or others willing and able to re-home or care for your pets if needed.
  9. Contact a reliable pet rescue organization, boarding kennel or canine professional in your area to seek their guidance for your pets’ future. Rescue organizations and canine professionals represent a network of trustworthy people who are ready to respond when needed. If desired, they may agree to be named in your Will as part of your longer term plan for care and re-homing of your pets.
  10. Put your wishes for your pets’ immediate and future care in writing as part of your current Will and/or in a note taped to your refrigerator or in some other highly obvious, or visible place. Your surviving human family members or friends will be under enough stress as they deal with their grief, in addition to the responsibilities of working with police, insurance companies, and others to wrap up your estate – yes, as cold as it sounds, there will be other business to attend to after you are gone.

Regardless of your age, marital or family status, if you have pets, you have a family. The best way to ensure that your family is cared for according to your wishes, is to have a plan. Specify your wishes in detail, preferably in a legal written document, such as a Will, or in a letter kept with someone you trust. Re-visit and update your plan annually or as things change (additional pets, etc.). It will ease your mind and if tragedy strikes, the immediate and future needs of your pets will be met with minimal burden for those left behind.

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