By Emily Martin, Esq.
For many Americans, owning a pet – whether it’s a dog, cat, bird, or other type of animal – is a major part of a fulfilled and happy life. In fact, sixty-eight percent of U.S. households, or about 85 million families, own a pet, according to the 2017-2018 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA). Pets can provide companionship and often protection for someone who is elderly or living alone. Unfortunately, however, pets can’t take care of themselves after you are gone. So what can be done to provide for your pets if you pass away before they do?
There are a variety of ways in which people make arrangements for their pets after they pass away. Some people may have a discussion with friends or family members who have agreed to take on their pets upon their passing. Still others may have made arrangements for a shelter or other organization to care for their pets when they are no longer able to. Additionally, some people take the step of providing for their pets through their estate plan.
A controversial story was recently reported out of Chesterfield, Virginia, where an owner specified in her estate plan that she wished for her dog to be euthanized and laid to rest with her upon her passing. Although the dog was perfectly healthy and had been in the care of an animal shelter, it was euthanized and taken to a pet cremation center upon the death of its owner (source: https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/22/us/dog-buried-with-owner-trnd/index.html). The animal shelter was unable to keep the dog despite the fact that they felt confident that they would be able to find a new owner for it.
Disturbing stories like this are rare, but it may be that the owner of the dog in Chesterfield did not feel that anyone would be able to care for her dog after she passed away. Perhaps she felt that euthanizing the dog immediately was more humane than having it sent to a shelter where it may be euthanized anyway. Regardless of the reasoning for this plan, there are many ways to avoid uncertainty as to what will happen to your pets after you pass away.
While you can’t leave property directly to a pet, Virginia Code Section 64.2 726 allows you to provide for your pets in your will or trust by creating a “pet trust.” Pet trusts allow you to leave a certain amount of money to someone who will care for your pets until the pets pass away.
For example, you may leave $10,000 to your granddaughter for the care of your dog Rusty. Additionally, if you have multiple pets, you can leave an amount to be used for all of your pets (or the pets you own upon your passing) until they pass away. It is possible to create multiple pet trusts for different pets – say, if you want your sister to have your cat, but you want your niece to have your dog. It is important to name an alternative caretaker as well who can continue to care for your pets, if the original person you named is unable or unwilling to care for the pets.
Perhaps the most important thing to do when deciding how to provide for your pets is to have a conversation with the person to whom you will be entrusting their care. Make sure the people you are naming in your pet trust are aware that they will be caring for your pets after you pass away and that they are willing and able to do so.
Although it is difficult to imagine that our pets may someday be living in a world without us, one of the best gifts we can give them is to make sure that they are provided for once we are gone.
Ask Kit Kat: Spayathon™
Hook Law Center: Kit Kat, what can you tell us about the Spayathon™ which the HSUS organized for Puerto Rico recently?
Kit Kat: Well, this was quite an effort! The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) organized a spayathon in Puerto Rico, utilizing help from more than two dozen organizations. So far, nearly 25,000 animals have been sterilized and vaccinated since the project began last summer. By the time the effort finishes this month (May 2019), they hope to have helped 30,000 animals. To make this happen, teams of veterinarians, vet technicians, and volunteers were organized to treat the pets in sports arenas and other large venues on the island. In addition to spaying/neutering, pets were vaccinated and received pet food, leashes, toys, etc.—all at no cost to the owner. The impact will be tremendous. According to the ASPCA, “Sterilizing 30,000 cats and dogs will prevent the births of approximately 200,000 puppies and kittens in the first year alone.”
One might think it would not be possible to maintain a high level of quality in volume procedures such as this, but that is not the case. According to Tara Loller, HSUS senior director of strategic campaigns and the creator of Spayathon, “This is the first time high-quality, high-volume spay/neuter of this magnitude has ever been done anywhere in the world.” By following strict procedures for safety and cleanliness, the Spayathon had a tremendous success rate with a low-level of complications. Quality was never sacrificed for quantity. An added benefit was that local veterinarians received training in the latest veterinary care techniques.
There were many heart-warming stories to emerge from the effort. Mary Ann Lopez rescued 5 community cats and had them spayed/neutered. She was given a free play tower. Luis Rosario’s Milagros, a female dog, had been found on the streets, and had obviously recently birthed a litter of puppies. She was spayed at the event. Now she has a home and plenty of food. Her name “Milagros” means miracles in Spanish, and she indeed receive a miracle. There are so many other stories, but there is not room to share all of them here. However, we can thank the HSUS for organizing this fantastic effort! It has helped so many animals who cannot voice their thanks. (Emily Smith, “All In,” All Animals, March/April/May 2019, p. 19-21)