What happens to your pet when you die?

Believe it or not, every year thousands if not millions of people die without having thought of what will happen to their beloved pet.  It seems hard to believe, but in a society where we do not want to admit WE will die one day, let alone our pets, maybe it’s understandable. 

For many people, their pets are just as much part of the family as their children and grandchildren, and grief over the loss of an animal can hurt just as much as if it were a human. 

If you’re a pet owner, you will probably understand this. If you’re not, it might be more difficult. But even so, it is important to understand that many find it easier to relate to animals than they do to people.

Bearing this in mind, it is only kind to think of who will take care of your pets now, and to arrange it, not just for the animal, or for yourself, but for those who will be doing the looking after. The more they know about your pet’s habits, needs, and preferences, the better. 

Planning ahead for your pet

It’s a lot easier to do this if you use one of my stock phrases when I am working with people to help them create end of life plans.  

Instead of imagining the  situation of what might happen in the future when you die, think instead along the lines of:  

'If I had died yesterday, what would happen to _______? ' 

When you use this statement, you’ll find that naturally a list of things that someone else would need to know will come to mind. 

Just recently, one of the people I was working with realised that if her husband died, she wouldn’t have a clue about the daily routine of their dog;  he was the one who took care of everything – the dog’s walks, his medication, his type of food, when he was fed and so on.

Write it down

So make sure you have identified someone who can take care of your pet. This actually applies even if you are not on death’s door, but if you simply happen to be incapacitated or in hospital unexpectedly for a few days. There needs to be someone who can easily pick things up – and this will not happen unless you have thought about it in advance, and preferably written it all down. 

What is really important to you?

However, when you are fading, and perhaps fast, your last days become very important. 

Even though you are still alive, you may not be in a situation where you can care for your beloved pet. For instance, if you are in hospital or a hospice, or even where, for instance,  a dog could visit, they may be too excitable for the situation, or too disturbed by it, to the extent that it is distressing for you to see them. 

Even if you are at home, you may not have the strength to have the pet in the room with you, like an acquaintance of mine who died at home a couple of years ago and found the presence of her much loved cat very upsetting. The cat would scratch at the door, or interrupt her while sleeping and she was too weak to do anything about it. It gave my friend more comfort knowing the cat was being looked after by her neighbour than it did to have him still in the house. 

So it’s really important to document anything about your pets that is important to you and to them – include their preferences, the vet, the toys they like best – anything that is relevant in your particular situation. Name the person you want to look after them  in your will – although bear in mind that sometimes the will is not found immediately, so better to have it more accessible, such as in another part of your end of life plan.  Remember also that you could leave some money in your will to that person to help them in the care of your pet. (And if you haven’t got your will yet, then click here LINK TO BQ) to make one now!)

It may be that the person who takes care of them in your last days will be different to who will be their new owner after you have died.  All of this is fine so long as it is written down (and of course has been discussed and agreed with beforehand). 

You could also choose a pet care charity or animal trust that would rehome your pet – if you register with this in advance, then you have the peace of mind of knowing your pet will be rehomed suitably when the time comes. 

Plan sooner rather than later

If you don’t attend to this now, a lot of pressure is put on your relatives or friends who will have to solve the problem. It is not unheard of that much-loved household pets get rehomed somewhere you would not want, or even put down. 

Patty in America told me that: "A married friend of mine died just before she could document for her life savings to go to her two children. Her husband didn't ask his late wife's children if they would like her beloved dog; instead he sent it to the dogs rescue home. "

and Suzie in Canada said:  "I'm a volunteer for a cat rescue organization. The number of times we get calls from family members or friends asking us to look after a dying relative's cat is enormous. Often the families don't know anything about the cats, and are at a loose end, which is why they ring us. Trying to sort through what the ill person would want can be really difficult for us, because we don't know and the family members don't know either. I can't tell you how heart-breaking it is sometimes; you know these animals are very loved by these people, but we have no idea what their wishes are.”  

The moral of the story is: think about your pets in advance of anything being needed. Check out local options. Especially if your particular pet has got a lot of medical requirements, it all needs to be in a separate document, so make sure attach a separate file with your end of life plan, addressing your pets. 

Jane Duncan Rogers

 Jane Duncan Rogers’ life was turned upside down when her husband died in 2011.

She now runs Before I Go Solutions, a not for profit social enterprise dedicated to helping people make good end of life plans, much more than just a will or a funeral plan. 

Find out how prepared you are by taking her free quiz ‘How Prepared Are You?’

A will is one of the foundation stones of a good end of life plan.  If you haven’t yet got a will in place you can do yours for free at Bequeathed