Who Will Care for Your Pet When You Can’t?

When Stacy Karafotis opened Lucky Dog Luxury Day Care and Boarding in Garden City, Michigan, the idea was to provide “day care.” She had no idea so much of her time would be spent finding homes for pets whose owners can no longer care for them.

“We place thousands of pets,” says Karafotis. “Often the pet owner is in hospice and their kids bring the pet in. Sometimes it’s the police who found the animal in a home where the owner passed away.”

There are all sorts of reasons besides dying that people can no longer care for their pets, including financial circumstances, pet behavior, and owners relocating to facilities that don’t allow pets. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, approximately 6.5 million pets enter U.S. shelters annually ¬— about 3.3 million dogs and 3.2 million cats.

Though no one can foresee how their circumstances may change, having a plan in place can ensure your pet will continue to have a safe, caring home if the time comes when you can no longer provide one.

“The time to begin planning for your pet’s future is the day you adopt it,” counsels Karafotis.

Creating a plan for your pet

Many pet adoption organizations and breeders tell new pet owners to contact them first if they ever need to give up the animal. Karafotis notes that this is often written into the sales or adoption contract.

If returning a pet to the place it came from is not an option, you can take these steps to ensure your pet will be cared for if you become unable:

  • Identify a designated guardian for your pet, whether it’s a family member, friend, neighbor, or a pet adoption agency you trust. If you plan to use an adoption agency, try local organizations first, as well as your veterinarian. There might also be local rescue organizations that will help.
  • Talk with your chosen caregiver beforehand to be sure they’re willing to help when necessary.
  • Put your plan in writing. Many veterinarians offer advance veterinary directive forms that designate the caregiver. This information can also be included in your will.
  • If you’re able, consider a pet trust fund. This can help cover food and veterinary care and lessens the burden on your chosen caregiver.

“Keep your pet’s veterinary paperwork up-to-date,” Karafotis adds. “Make sure the pet’s records are in your name and the caregiver knows which veterinarian you see, so they can access medical history.”

If you just need a helping hand

The health benefits of pet companionship are well documented. But if it’s difficult to keep your pet physically active, consider having a grandchild or young neighbor exercise your pet, or hire a pet walker or pet-sitting service. Caregiving agencies for seniors will often include help with pets. If you plan to move to an assisted living facility but haven’t chosen one yet, consider one that allows pets.

Caring for a pet when you’re on a fixed income can be a financial challenge. A number of national and local organizations, such as The Mosby Foundation and the Riedel & Cody Fund, offer financial aid for veterinary care and medications. You can find a larger list on this Humane Society website.

When physical and financial help aren’t enough, the succession plan you’ve developed will ensure your pet will get the care it needs. For pet owners, having a documented plan for care is the ultimate act of love.