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Fri, Oct. 18

What happens to dogs when owners die, enter care facility?

Janet Sims adopted Nala, one of 30 dogs that came out of hoarding situation this past summer when the owner died. Sims has set up a trust to make sure Nala is cared for if something should happen to her..
Photo by Sue Tone.

Janet Sims adopted Nala, one of 30 dogs that came out of hoarding situation this past summer when the owner died. Sims has set up a trust to make sure Nala is cared for if something should happen to her..

Some have arthritis, others take medicine, one or two are on a special diet, and a couple are hard of hearing. I’m not talking about myself or my senior friends -- although those certainly could apply to us.

No, it’s the left-behind canines, the older generation dogs whose homes have been disrupted by circumstances beyond their control.

What happens to senior dogs who have nowhere to go when their owner dies, moves into a senior living facility, or loses mobility? Where do they go? Who takes care of them?

It’s fine to ask a family member or friend to look after your pet, and even leave $10,000 in your will for their care. But maybe after you die, Jim Bob drops the animals off at the local shelter and takes the money and an extended European river cruise.

Jeanne Fletcher, a volunteer who serves on a three-person ad hoc trust committee with United Animal Friends, said wills won’t guarantee the Jim Bobs of the world will keep their promise.

Also, wills are not enforced until the probate process is wrapped up, something that could take months or years.

“You can’t just assume family members will take care of your animals. If they do agree, get it in writing,” suggests Janet Sims, UAF canine courtesy listing coordinator.

Sims adopted Nala, a Pekinese who came from a Wilhoit hoarding situation after the owner died and left 30 dogs with no plan for their care. The woman’s husband had someone stop by occasionally to stock a large tub with food. This went on for four years.

“How she survived, I don’t know,” Sims said, adding that her daughter agreed to take care of Nala should anything happen to Sims. “But if she can’t, Nala will go to UAF for care and with my permission to adopt.”

Setting up a pet trust through an attorney can be expensive, although a paralegal can do the same, Fletcher said. A trust names the caregiver and a trustee who oversees the financial support for proper care. The trustee could be an organization such as UAF, Yavapai Humane Society or Circle L Ranch.

The goal is for the pet to have a good, safe home, medical care, and under certain conditions, a respectful euthanasia and disposal of remains. If money remains in the trust after the death of the pet, the funds revert to the organization.

Sims has a sticker on her front window that says, “If something happens to me, call UAF.” There also are wallet-sized cards available and tags for keyrings.

Fletcher said UAF gets a number of calls from older pet owners or hospice nurses looking to place their animals on short notice. A grandmother in Payson moving into a care facility called about her 13-year-old dog. Her grandchild had four dogs of her own and couldn’t take it.

Another call came from a dog groomer who said she was left with three dogs when the owner passed away. The oldest dog had too many health issues to adopt out, and the groomer agreed to keep it.

Sims finds it discouraging that some seniors in the community will stop by on Adoption Day and consider adopting a puppy.

“Puppies are a trip hazard, for one thing. But these people in their 80s say, ‘I don’t want to deal with another pet passing away.’ What about the dog when they pass away? We won’t adopt to them. They get angry with us but we are there for the animals,” she said.

An older neighbor wanted to adopt a younger dog. Sims said a friend co-signed for joint responsibility of the animal, ensuring its future care.

“You have to commit to 15 years,” Fletcher said. “I’m 66 and my husband is 74. We would certainly outlive our mobility to be able to walk the dog. I could take in a 9-, 10-, 11-year old dog, but not a 10-month-old puppy.”

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