Making arrangements for your dog should you die

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Recently, my Facebook newsfeed has frequently featured dogs in need of rehoming due to the death of their owner, including a pair of senior labs whose sweet, graying faces bring tears to my eyes.

I have a dog in obedience class right now who was adopted after his owner passed away. The ASPCA estimates that 500,000 dog and cat owners die each year with no provisions made for their pets. If you love your dog, you need to make plans for his care should something happen to you.

Don’t just assume your family members would care for him, as many of these left-behind dogs end up at the pound, and only the fortunate ones manage to escape. There are steps you can take now to help your dog in the future.

A simple step you can take is to place a Pet Alert card in your wallet. Should you become incapacitated through injury or illness, this card will inform authorities that you have animals in your home needing care, and gives two emergency contact persons that can be notified. You can make your own card, or Google “pet wallet alert card” for several examples you can print or purchase.

Another easy thing to do is to prepare a Dog Dossier for each one of your dogs. The Dossier should list the dog’s name, age and description (if you have more than one dog), and give information pertinent to that dog. Important things to include are your dog’s habits, such as the fact that he will dig out from a fence if not supervised; his food preferences, including the name of his food, and his eating habits; medical conditions and any medications taken, including the type and date of heartworm and flea preventatives; veterinary information and records with the name of his vet and a copy of his most recent vaccinations, and behavior around other pets, people and children. Even if you have no other plans in place for your dog, this information will give whomever is placing your dog, more information for potential new homes. If you have a bonded pair of dogs who would not function well apart from one another, make sure you include this information, but remember, it is much more difficult to place two pets together than to find separate homes for them. My girls Dolce and Dazzle are sisters and best friends, but if their only choice was to be placed in different homes or face euthanasia, I would rather they be separated.

Once these simple steps are completed, you should decide whether you want to make formal or informal arrangements for your dogs. Informal arrangements are not legally enforceable, and typically don’t require the assistance of an attorney. Do not just assume that someone will care for your dogs. Talk to the organization or individual you have chosen and make sure they are willing to undertake the task, and put a back-up plan in place. Should the primary guardian you’ve chosen be unable to accept the responsibility when called upon, someone else is already prepared. Always remember than since these arrangements are informal and unenforceable, the integrity of the person or group you select is all you have to depend on, so choose with care.

You can also choose to make formal arrangements for your dogs. These can include setting up a Trust, a Letter of Instruction, A Limited Durable Power of Attorney or a provision in your will, though the latter is not recommended. A will only takes effect when the estate is administered. This can take time, and the provisions you’ve made for your dog might not be implemented until administration is complete. Once the estate is closed, if your plan does not work out for some reason, the court is under no obligation to provide further care for your dog.

The ASPCA has worked with legalzoom to create a Pet Protection Agreement that can provide lasting instructions for your dog. Designed by an animal law attorney, this is a well-thought out, affordable document that will guide you through the planning. Should you do this, list the code ASPCAPPA when checking out, as legalzoom will donate to the ASPCA.

Part of loving your dogs is to make provisions for them in the event that you aren’t around to care for them personally. Please take the time to think this through and make the arrangements your dogs might need. They are dependent on you to care for them throughout their lives.

Karlene Turkington, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, is a lifelong animal lover who has been training dogs for over 20 years. Readers are welcome to send their questions to: info@TrainMyK-9.com. Information provided here is a basic overview of issues. Specific health or behavioral concerns should be discussed with your veterinarian or qualified animal trainer or behaviorist.

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