Make provisions for your pets' care so they don't end up at a shelter
We are told we shouldn't ascribe to animals our own human emotions, but I don't think we need to. Years of working alongside animals have taught me that they have their own very real emotions. Working in an animal shelter, we see more than our share of joys and sadness. The saddest moments I can remember are on the faces of lost and confused dogs who came to the shelter because their owners had died and there was no one to care for them. I have seen worry and fear and sadness in their eyes, and never more so than when they have lost their owner. Their faces seem to ask, "Where is my person? Who will love me now?"
I believe it is our duty to answer this question before our animals have to ask it.
My wife Angela has a friend who is very courageously fighting a battle with cancer. Among the many realities her friend has had to contend with is what will happen to Baby, her beloved dog. Baby is a very important member of her family, and she has wisely been worried about what will happen to Baby if she isn't able to take care of her anymore. Since Angela has worked in animal shelters as long as I have, she has been able to help her friend to make sure Baby will be taken care of and loved.
But other animals aren't so lucky. It might surprise you that many of these animals who come to the shelter as a result of their owner's hospitalization or death are brought by relatives. I often wonder if the owner just assumed that because their pet meant so much to them, their family would take care of them. I never hold it against the family; after all, the Yavapai Humane Society's mission is to be there for just such situations. But did these owners ever talk to their relatives about who would care for their pets? Did they ever make their wishes known and make sure their family knew that the pet was family, too?
I'm sure that most people are like Angela and me. Until recently, we rarely thought about what would happen to our pets if we were suddenly taken from this world. But I have learned through some very poignant lessons to start making plans now. Now that our children are grown and living on their own, we tend to assume our responsibilities to others have been met. But who in our family would take our four dogs? And then there's our rescue horse, Tuff, who is living out the remainder of his life on a ranch in Santa Fe. I doubt that any of our children would even know where to send Tuff's supplements and vitamins. It's not that they don't care - but we haven't told them.
Some of YHS's donors and others have made arrangements in their wills for their pets. They have not only decided who will care for their pets, they've also made sure there will be sufficient resources for the caretaker. Remember, the cost of caring for a pet can be high, especially if your pets are elderly or require ongoing treatment (or is a very picky eater - right, Squirt?). Will your caregiver have the funds necessary to cover any veterinary costs your pet may need? I highly recommend when making your estate plans and consulting with an attorney or planner that you remember your animals.
One of the greatest responsibilities we have to our animals is providing for them even after we're gone. They are ill-prepared for life alone, and if we have loved them well, our absence will be a huge hole in their lives. Making sure there is someone to fill that void with love and care is often the last great gift we can give them. Ask the person whom you would like to care for your furry family if they will do you this tremendous favor. Be understanding if some people decline. It is a great responsibility, and our best hope for our animals will rely on those who understand the gravity of the request. Once you know who will be your pets' guardian, talk openly about what you would hope for them, and how you might provide for their care. As we share our days with one another, we can do so unburdened by the worry of what will come later, enjoying the happiness of each moment together.
Duane Adams, executive director of the Yavapai Humane Society, can be reached at email@example.com or at the shelter at 445-2666.