While I know the topic of today’s blog post is a bit dark, it is necessary. FACT: We are all going to die at some point, leaving our pets. We owe it to them to have some sort of plan in place for their continued care. Talking about topics like this is not difficult for me – you see, I grew up in a family that had many funeral directors, including my youngest brother. My father’s uncle had his own funeral home for many decades in Chicago. As a whole, the Hennessy’s are very comfortable talking about making plans for the end. After the events of the past few days, with the sudden loss of two very talented people from my generation, who loved their dogs, I was compelled to write this blog to share my feelings and hopefully, inspire some of you to make plans for your four legged family members.
Carrie Fisher’s dog, Gary, went with her everywhere. He was a therapy dog for her, providing comfort while she was working and traveling. Many of us in the pet community followed his adventures on social media and enjoyed watching him on the red carpet with his very famous Mama. So when the terrible news came yesterday about her passing, the first thing I thought of was – what going to happen to Gary? I knew she had a daughter (who the press is now reporting will take custody of Gary) and a few other family members, but had she had the conversation with her family members about Gary’s future should he need to live it without her? I’m happy to see that she did, but many of us have not.
When you have departed this earth for the next plain, who should be the caretaker for your pets? Understanding that your pets will be traumatized by your departure (sudden or otherwise), here are some options:
1. Family and friends- Many of us who have spouses would normally lean towards them for the continued care of our pets. This will allow for some stability of surroundings and routine. Keeping some articles of clothing or blankets with your smell will also help with their coping.
2. No family or friends? Try the rescue or breeder your pup came from – Many reputable rescues and breeders include a clause to this effect in their contracts. They will gladly take back your pet and find her a new home.
3. Someone in your dog community – Perhaps your local groomer, doggy day care, or dog walker? You will have formed bonds with these people and maybe they would be willing to adopt your pet or know someone who would. Pawsitively Heaven Pet Resort in Chicago Ridge helps people in this type of situation regularly. Judi Schur is, in my opinion, an angel on this planet. She will happily board a dog for an owner that may be gravely ill or tragically deceased. She works actively within the rescue community to find a new home for the pet. Her staff is just as caring and generous as she is. Her facility truly is a Heaven on earth!
I’d like to share a personal story about this very topic. My husband and I have lived in our current home for over 18 years. Our next door neighbor moved in about 1 month after we did, so we became fast neighbor friends. We supported her through the loss of her mother and brother over the years. She had a few different dogs over the years. She became ill about 3 years ago. As most of you know, during the winters here in Chicago, you don’t talk much with your neighbors. You might give a quick wave as you scurry into the house to avoid the biting wind. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in January and died in April. We noticed that we didn’t hear the dogs out for their potty one evening and then again in the morning. They always barked right when they came out of the door to let the other dogs in the neighborhood know they were there. I asked my husband if he had heard them and he hadn’t. We said we’d check on her that evening to see if she was alright.
That afternoon, we noticed a man at the house. You see, our neighbor had very little family. I think two cousins and an aunt. We shouted over the fence and asked if everything was ok. He said it was not – our neighbor had died the day before in the house. He then told us about the cancer. My husband and I were in shock. How could she be gone? She just retired from being a first grade teacher for 38 years. She had so many plans for retirement. The loss and the grief were real. We then asked what was going to happen to the dogs. She loved those dogs so much. He said that no one in the family wanted them and that he was going to bring them to pound. We couldn’t let that happen. Knowing they were traumatized by her death, and the fact that they didn’t really know this man who was taking care of them, we said we would take them in and find them homes. Heck, they knew us more than they knew this man (who was a cousin). So the next day he tossed their belongings in large garbage bags over the fence and handed them over. (See why you need a plan?)
We welcomed them into our home and got them acclimated to the new environment. I networked them with some local rescues and was able to find both of them fabulous homes. They were not bonded so they happily went to their new digs with new families to dote on them. I still get photos and updates from their new families. Finding these pups new homes was the least I could do for my good neighbor.
Here are a few ways you can get a plan in place for your beloved pets:
1. Draw up a quick document stating your wishes. Using a simple word document, type up what you want to happen. Sign it and have someone else witness it. Then tell your family about the document so they know it exists. You can run this by your attorney (if you have one) as well. Legal Zoom is a great resource that’s not too expensive for you do create these documents at home.
2. Include a statement in your will. You may also include your wishes for continued funding of your pets like a trust. Many people have the means to provide for their pets after death and should create a plan and process for the successful implementation of this desire. An attorney would be essential in getting this into place.
3. Pet Insurance – Many of us currently have policies in place for our pets. Be sure that your policy is transferable to a new owner.
4. Have a pet health record for each of your pets. This should include documents for their veterinary visits, records of shots or procedures, allergies or food sensitivities, and any other pertinent information. Our neighbor left this information for her dogs and it was very helpful. We were able to contact her vet and get their records transferred to each of the new owner’s veterinary offices.
I hope that this blog has inspired you to at the very minimum, think about a plan for your pets. We welcome them into our homes for their entire lives, even if we’re not there for that time. It’s imperative upon each and every one of us to ensure their well-being for their whole life. Thanks for reading this blog.