Although it’s not a topic any of us really want to think about, responsible dog parenting requires that we give some thought to what would happen to our dogs if one day we didn’t come home.
Most of us who have two-legged children have gone through the agonizing process of naming guardians to take the kids as a part of drawing up wills. Rarely, however, are the four-legged kids considered.
Hard though it may be, it really is easier if your dog precedes you to the Rainbow Bridge. However, since none of us really knows when we (or the dog, for that matter) will pass, it’s best to have a plan in place that takes into account the fact that you very well may go first. This plan should be in place from the day you bring the dog home, and should be revised as your circumstances change.
The first step is to consider what your dog is likely to need from a caregiver after you go. Do you have a very active dog? Your 97-year old Aunt Mabel, although sweet, may not be the right person to try to keep up with him.
A dog with special medical needs? Perhaps your college roommate – you know, the one who was always too hung-over to find clean matching socks – might not be the one who will pay attention to the details required for her care.
Once you have determined what your dog needs, you will next consider the cost of providing for those needs.
How will you fund your dog’s care after you go? Or will you expect the person who takes the dog to bear the expenses? You might consider setting aside a savings account or even designating a trust fund for the dog.
That’s not as funny as it sounds. You don’t have to be rich to set up a trust fund. You can even set up the trust now and leave it unfunded until your death, designating some of your life insurance proceeds to fund the trust.
Once you have designated someone to take the dog, make sure to put their name on the savings account or trust fund so they have access to the money when you are not around. You can make the account “payable on death” to the person if you’re worried they might “borrow” the money before they actually have the dog.
Once you have determined your dog’s likely needs and established how they will be paid for, it’s time to start thinking about who makes the most sense as a substitute caregiver. Obviously, you are looking for someone who loves dogs as much as you do, preferably someone who is close enough to you that your dog will have some familiarity with the person.
The best way to ask is just to come out with it. You might say something like this, “You know, I was thinking about what would happen to Ajax after I die, and I wondered if you might be willing to take him. Not that I’m expecting it to happen anytime soon, I just want to have a plan for just-in-case.”
If you need a way to begin the conversation, start by telling the person you just read this article and thought it was time for you to come up with a plan.
You might go on to explain that you will set aside some money to help with expenses or to explain your dog’s special needs. You might also want to tell the person why you decided to ask him or her specifically.
Something like, “Honey already loves you, and I know you’ll take good care of her, just like you do with your own dogs.” This lets the person know you have put some serious thought into the matter rather than just asking the first person you happened to run into after deciding that a plan needed to be made.
Don’t expect an answer right away. The person you ask may need some time to think about it. Chances are, you will be asking someone who at least cares about you, and it may be difficult for them to consider the topic of your demise. Don’t pressure them for an immediate answer and explain that you would be happy to answer any questions they come up with while they are considering your request.
You might also explain that if they don’t feel they are up to the task, there’s no shame in saying no. Which means you should also have a Plan B lined up. (And possibly Plans C – Z.)
Once you have a primary person in place, you will also want to designate a secondary person, just in case the primary person dies in the same car wreck you do. That means you go through the same process a second time, but be sure you are clear with the second person that they are your back-up. The last thing your dog needs is a custody fight between your two choices when he is mourning your loss.
Explain that you’ve already spoken to Joe, but in case something happens and Joe falls through, you’d appreciate it if Susan could be his back-up.
Keep in mind that if you are married, you and your spouse should designate the same person(s) to take the dog, just in case you are both in that car as it goes over the cliff. Designating two different primary caregivers can create a real mess.
Although you needn’t involve a lawyer or even a notary public, you should put your plans into writing. Again, this eliminates squabbles when everyone’s emotions are running high. You really don’t want your ex-wife trying to assert her claim to a dog she never liked in the first place when you already have someone ready and waiting to take the dog.
Just write out a simple statement that says you have asked so-and-so to take your dog in the event of your death or incapacitating injury. Include the person’s contact information or other identifying information so your executor doesn’t have to figure out which of the 75 million John Smiths in the world is the one you have designated.
Indicate whatever plans you have made as far as paying for the dog’s care and then sign it. Keep a copy with your will and other important papers, a copy where someone will find it if they come to your house to pick up the dog, and give a copy to the person(s) you have designated to take the dog.
In addition to having a written record, you might also verbally indicate to whomever will be taking care of your affairs that you have a plan in place for your dog. They will likely already have a copy of your will, and should also have a copy of your dog plan.
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