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When Pets Lose Their Owners: Five Things You Must Do

When Pets Lose Their Owners: Five Things You Must Do

By Bart Astor  

I recently read a wonderful article by Kathy Santo in the American Kennel Club’s magazine, Family Dog.

The title was “Wheelchairs, Walkers, and More” and addressed how you can help your dog adapt when someone in your household has a disability.

I was pleased to read how Ms. Santo stressed training to deal with the new situation, whether it meant new pieces of equipment in the house that your dog (or cat, for that matter) must now navigate around (wheelchairs, oxygen tanks, etc.) or strangers visiting to help care for the person with the disability.

Imagine the fright your pet must feel as he sees his beloved companion surrounded by all kinds of terrifying machines, some of which make noises that would scare the spots off a leopard.

Of course, with gentle training and caring, most pets will learn to adapt and will be as devoted as they ever have been. Possibly more, as I know my two wonderful border collies are infinitely more patient when I am under the weather. Although an errant ball thrown their way will distract them, most times when I am bedridden they lie patiently at my feet, warding away any evil spirits that may threaten me. 

But let’s, for the moment, extend this situation to one where the pet actually loses his owner.

Imagine yourself losing your spouse or parent. That’s what your faithful dog or cat will face. If they’re lucky they got to experience a gradual decline and can probably absorb the change over time. Probably—and here I’m assuming your pet is as aware as my two are. I think they are, but that’s a subject for another blog. 

DogI imagine my poor pups devastated when I’m not around to throw a ball to them. Or take them to the dog park. Or rub their bellies. Sure, they’ll eventually get over it, just as we eventually get over the loss of our loved ones. But oh, the horror. Isn’t there something we can do?

Isn’t there something we should do? 

The short answer is “yes!”

First, and always first, love them now. Treat them the way you think you should treat anyone you love as dearly. And how you think you should treat anyone who loves you as much as they do. 

Second, imagine you are your pet and all of a sudden are faced with the loss of your loved one. Close your eyes, take yourself out of the scene, reach out your paw, and find there’s no one there. And you have no idea of how or why this happened. Terrifying. Depressing, in fact. 

Third, do something. That something is “create a plan.” If you have a will, write an additional paragraph telling your surviviors Kittenwhat they should do with your pet. Find someone who will agree to take in that sweet, wonderful pup (or that ornery old curmudgeon of a cat). The alternative is not so great for unless you make plans for him, he may wind up in a shelter. 

Fourth, after you find someone who will take your pet in after you’re gone, be sure you specify that in your will. Or  if not in writing in a will, at least make it known to your other heirs. Tell your daughter or son that you’ve made arrangements. 

And fifth, in addition to putting all of this in writing in a will, make sure you also include some money to take care of your pet. It doesn’t have to be much. But certainly enough for a year’s care (preferably enough for your pet’s life expectancy). That’s the least you can do. 

Hopefully I’ll outlive my two dogs. That’s the natural order. But if I don’t, I sure don’t want them to suffer. It doesn’t take much. It just means thinking of their needs and what you can do to ensure that the loss they experience isn’t made much, much worse simply because you didn’t take the time to plan for them. 

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Bart Astor

Bart Astor at Bart Astor
Bart Astor is a recognized expert in life’s transitions and eldercare. His book, AARP Roadmap for the Rest of Your Life: Smart Choices about Money, Health, Work, Lifestyle, and Pursuing Your Dreams, was released in May, 2013 and was #1 in Amazon’s retirement planning category for 6 consecutive weeks and a Washington Post best seller. His unexpected personal journey led him to write his best-selling book, Baby Boomer’s Guide to Caring for Aging Parents, now in its second printing and critically regarded for being today’s must-have healthcare resource. Bart has appeared on numerous TV and radio shows, including ABC’s “Good Morning America,” PBS’s “MarketPlace,” Ric Edelman’s “The Truth About Money,” AARP Radio, and Boomer’s Rock radio. His perspective comes from personal experience, both good and bad, and sometimes that’s what matters most.