Recently a reader sent me a sweet and (frankly) heart-wrenching note about a situation I also worry about all the time – what will happen to her beloved pet after she passes.
She asked me for guidance. I was honored….and daunted.
I mean, the optimal situation is to have family who will welcome our non-human loves with open arms after we pass and give them the same level of love and care we have shown them all their lives.
But neither my dear reader nor I myself have this as an option, at least not right at this moment.
Truly, I don’t even like to think about it – them without me – and yet I must.
Consider this: Pearl and I have been together since he was five weeks old. He is now nearly 21. Malti and I have been together since she was five weeks old. She is now five. Bruce and I have been together for a little over four years now. His vet thinks he is about 10 years old.
I am about to turn 49. So both Malti and Bruce are on track to outlive me – each species can easily live for 50+ years with good captive care and both are still quite young at the moment. (And no I didn’t think about this fact when I added them to our flock and yes I should have….but even I admit it’s a little later for that now.)
So when I am not here, who will take care of them? Who will make sure they have their favorite foods, spacious and secure roaming space, a warm place to sleep each night, great veterinary care and enrichment, love?
All I can say is, if Pearl, Malti and Bruce don’t get good (heck, great, ideal, sublime) captive care after I depart this planet, I will relentlessly haunt whoever is doing the slacking!
But back to the reality of today, which is that I am still here and so I can still do something to alleviate my own fears. Ergo, the one deeply practical suggestion I had to offer this sweet reader is the same suggestion I have followed myself: she should make a will.
You might justifiably be thinking to yourself, “Is that all? A will?” If so, please know I hear you.
But here’s the totally sucky real deal, at least as of the date I am typing this out. Here in the USA where I live, animals are currently still considered “legal property” in all 50 states.
It is true that awesome organizations like the Animal Legal Defense Fund (please sign their #notproperty pledge with me!) are trying to change this, but we are waaaay behind Europe and many other places in the world in this arena and I don’t expect us to catch up anytime soon.
Here is why: animals are simply too many things to us – food, companionship, revenue, entertainment, lab rats (literally) – if we give them status beyond that of property, it is easy to see how the blowback will be potentially everlasting.
I am fine with this, by the way.
But that is not the country my trio and I live in at this particular moment. And so I recommend….make a will.
When you make a will, you can outline exactly what must happen with each thing you own, including your animals. You can even designate some things you own to take care of other things you own, such as designating some or all of your cash to take care of your animals.
If you want to do this and (unlike me) have a sizable estate and surviving people family members who are already eyeing it with delight, a word of caution: you would be amazed how grumpy some people get when passed over in the will in favor of the avian, canine or feline family members. Sad but true.
So if you expect to have lots of extra green paper left over after you are gone, be sure to work with a very good attorney to create a will your people survivors cannot successfully contest.
For anyone reading this who doesn’t have any surviving family members who might contest your will, it is still vital to designate someone or some entity who will care for your pets after you pass. For me, what this looks like is finding a charity who will take in my loves and receive funds to look after them for the duration of their lives.
Here is what I recommend if you decide to pursue this option:
- Find a charity with years – ideally, decades – of longevity doing what they do. You don’t want the charity to expire before your pets do!
- Talk with the owner of the charity directly and be sure they are good with receiving your loves and the funds to care for them. Then write all of this up in your will.
- Check back at least annually with the charity for a status update. Do this continually right up until, well, you know….if necessary, change the charity in your will.
There have been some amazing stories on social media lately about people who are suddenly given a terminal diagnosis and find someone to care for their animal loved ones just in the nick of time.
Most of these stories revolve around the affected people reaching out to their social networks, local charities and local news sources to ask for volunteers to take in their animals. In the stories I’ve read, the local community has responded with huge open hearts and the animals have found new homes in record time.
But this isn’t the approach I would recommend for both your stress levels and your animals’ safety levels.
I guess my point here is that none of us knows when we will get that kind of news.
And in our regular day to day, life can get oh-so-busy and it is easy to forget all about what is absolutely waiting for each of us at the end of our journey. (In fact, even as I type this I am aware that I need to update my will because I made it before Bruce joined our flock!)
All that to say, I truly believe that miracles happen and it doesn’t take hardly any searching at all to find plentiful evidence of this. But why leave it to chance? When you create your will, you can offer yourself and your loves peace of mind that will also pass muster in a court of law when you are no longer around to speak up on their behalf.
Just my two cents for whatever it may be worth. And if you have other ideas I would love to hear them!
With great love & respect,