Those two kinds of living creatures go together well. Many studies show that sharing life with a dog or cat or other kind of pet increases health and well-being of elders, even lowers blood pressure.
Our pets are our boon companions who help relieve isolation for old people who live alone, and dogs in particular get you out of the house at least a couple of times a day – always a good thing. Most of all, they are precious, loyal, loving, furry friends.
On Monday, when we were discussing the tough decisions elders are faced with, there was this short exchange in the middle of many other comments.
Jim wondered, “what to do after our current dog dies. Would it be irresponsible for us to get another pet, knowing it might outlive us? I don't know what is the right decision.”
Amba followed up right away saying that she faced the problem of what to do about her cats if she dies before them:
”I think it's important,” she wrote, “to find someone who will promise to take them if they outlive you.”
Lauren chimed in then with some good advice:
Get the pet, but leave instructions on which rescue to contact if you become unable to care for it. Find one close...and post the name and phone number right on your fridge, or in your freezer with your directive.
“If you don't make that simple effort, your pet will go to a shelter because that's all emergency personnel know to do unless they have guidelines.”
Important stuff Lauren is saying. I know for certain that without an alert on the refrigerator, emergency workers would never know Ollie the cat is here. He races for the back closet when he hears footfalls on the pavement, even before people knock on the door.
There are a handful of possible choices we can make ahead of time about the care of pets after our death:
• Arrange with a trusted friend or family member to take them in
• Set up a trust including leaving money specifically for their care
• Find a no-kill shelter that will take them
• Have them humanely euthanized and buried with you
That last item seems a bit gruesome but it was mentioned somewhere I found online and some people might choose it.
If no family member or friend is willing to adopt your pet, the Nolo law website has a good guide to options for including pets in your will, a trust and other estate plans. And the ASPCA has an easy-to-understand page on pet trusts.
In U.K., the RSPCA has a Home for Life service:
”...you can rest assured that the RSPCA will be there for your beloved pets after you pass on. All it takes to set up the service is a simple clause in your will instructing that care of your pets is handed over to the RSPCA after your death.”
You can read more about that here.
It's not quite so easy in the United States but there are a variety of possibilities for care. The Nolo website has a page of legacy options that is worth reading.
Lauren mentioned the Petfinder website where you'll find a search page that will list all the animal welfare organizations near you by Zip Code or city and state.
And one more good suggestion (with apologies to the whatever website where I found this. Somehow I lost the URL):
”For your pet's sake, make sure your knowledge survives even if you die. Write a Private Letter to keep with your...will or trust documents, with the name and location of your pet, any pet registration papers and special care instructions.
“Consider including information on any favorite foods, toys or friends and veterinary history, medical conditions, dietary requirements, sleeping and exercise needs.”
And I would never have guessed that there is an entire book on this subject, When Your Pet Outlives You, available at the usual online book outlets.
But let's get back to Jim's original question: Would it be irresponsible for us to get another pet, knowing it might outlive us?
I vote a resounding NO, not irresponsible at all particularly if you prepare for the pet's care when you are no longer here to do it yourself.
My Ollie cat just had his ninth birthday and if my previous cat is any indication, he may have another 11 years to go which means he could easily outlive me.
But if not, I will get another cat and I've decided he or she will definitely be an elder cat. Almost everyone wants a puppy or kitten when they adopt so it is not only a good deed to take in an aging pet, but we old folks – human AND feline or canine – are always a nice fit.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marcy Belson: Hippy Dip