Precautions you can take to ensure your pets are cared for if you are involved in a sudden accident or illness.
One of the most important things you can do for your pet is seeking out good people to take care of them if you cannot. This may take some thought, as you want to choose people who are responsible, enjoy animals, and have the time and resources to care for them. Your best friend may love cats, for example, but if she already has twelve of them, she may not be able to provide the most comfortable home for your shy feline. If you have more than one pet, decide whether all the pets should go to one person, or if they should be divided among two or more people. Talk to the friends and family you choose: discuss the care your pets require and the environment you would like them to have. Tell them how often you would like your animals to be exercised, how often they need to go to the veterinarian, and how much day-to-day attention they require. People may surprise you by being much more or much less willing to care for your animals than you expect.
You should select both emergency and long-term caregivers for your animals. Emergency caregivers will make sure your animals are safe, healthy, and comfortable for a few hours or days after an emergency, until a long-term care provider can come to get them. They should live nearby and have access to transportation to pick up your pets if necessary. Neighbors are often a good choice to care for your pets in an emergency. Long-term caregivers should have room to care for your pets for an extended period and be capable of making decisions about their health and future. You should have more than one of each type of caregiver, in case someone is unavailable. Both types of caregivers should have keys to your home, feeding and care instructions, the name of your veterinarian, lists of any health problems your pets may have, information about your pets’ diets and medication, the contact information for the other caregivers, and information about who you have chosen to care for your pets permanently.
Be ready for the unexpected
Once you have chosen caregivers, make sure that they can be located and contacted in the event of an emergency. It’s important to remember that animals need constant care. Should something happen to you, your pets need to be attended to quickly. You do not want them to wait for days until a friend or family member remembers they are home alone. There are precautions you can take to ensure your pets are cared for if you are involved in a sudden accident or illness:
- Carry a card in your wallet listing what pets you have, where they are, and the names and phone numbers of their emergency caregivers.
- Inform your friends and family members of what they should do for your pets in case of an emergency. Give them the contact information of your emergency caregivers.
- Tape signs or post stickers in your windows at home informing emergency-response personnel of what pets you have inside. This can save your pets’ lives in case of a fire or natural disaster. It will also warn entering paramedics to watch out for animals and not to leave doors open.
- Post information in a visible place inside your house informing people how to care for your pets in an emergency. Include your emergency contacts’ names and phone numbers, the name and phone number of your veterinarian, and any important health problems your pets might have.
These informal arrangements are an important way to make sure your pets are safe, should you temporarily be unable to care for them. In the case that your pets need permanent care, however, verbal agreements will not guarantee that your wishes are followed. You may want to consider taking legal steps to ensure your pets’ care in the event of your death or incapacitation.
Including your pets in your will
A will is one durable and relatively secure way to make sure your pet is cared for in the event of your death. Your will can both specify a guardian for your animals and earmark a certain amount of your estate to provide for their feeding and medical care. It is not a good idea to make an extremely specific will, detailing exactly what should be done for your pets on a day-to-day basis. Circumstances can change, and these precise instructions could actually limit the caretakers’ abilities to care for your animals in some instances. For example, someone who would make an excellent guardian today could become ill and might not be able to care for your pets five years from now. Also, an animal who is very healthy now could require a larger amount of money for veterinary care in the coming years. You should provide the executor of your will with some discretion as to who takes custody of your pets and how estate funds are spent. You should therefore choose an executor whom you know and trust. Family members can make excellent executors, as they know your pets and know how important they are to you, though lawyers and other paid representatives can do just as well if informed of your wishes.
Regardless of whom you choose as your executor, talk with him about how you envision the rest of your pets’ lives. If your animals are ill, at what point should he consider euthanasia? Do you expect him to check on your pets at regular intervals? Is there a limit on the procedures you would like performed on an ill pet? If you have these issues decided ahead of time, you are more likely to have your pets cared for in the way you prefer.