Today the Montgomery County Animal Shelter received a call to pick up EIGHT beautiful purebred boxers. Not from a hoarder. Not from an abuse case. From the home of a woman who died.

These poor dogs had apparently been alone with their human’s body for at least a week. Each was locked in a crate, and thus had no access to food or water. And now, because they have nowhere else to go, they are in the shelter, where we are trying hard to get them placed with rescues.

I wish I could say that it’s unusual for the pets of the deceased to wind up in shelters. It isn’t.

In Montgomery County alone, this is the second case of dogs being found with the dead body of an owner who died unnoticed and alone to come to my attention in less than a month. We also get a truly depressing number of pets dumped at shelters by the heirs and families of people who die or go into nursing homes.

I cannot imagine what kind of heartless people can cavalierly dump the beloved pets of their deceased parents or grandparents at a shelter, knowing the likelihood that the animal will end up being euthanized. But it happens every day – not just in Montgomery County, but everywhere.

So to my animal loving readers: make plans for your pets just as you would for your children. If something happens to you, who gets the dogs? Are you sure the person you choose can and will take on the responsibility? Can they afford to keep your pets if they develop veterinary needs later in life?

One good friend of mine adopted a middle aged corgi after he was dumped at MCAS. The nasty woman who turned him in had agreed to keep him for the rest of his life when his original owner – a woman in her nineties – went into a nursing home. This woman – such a devoted friend – kept this poor dog barely six months and then dumped him at the shelter. The shelter explained to her that an eleven year old corgi with some minor medical issues was not highly adoptable and did not stand a good chance of getting out alive. She didn’t care. As she explained it, no one told her how much responsibility owning a dog entailed, or she would never have agreed to take him. And this is a low maintenance nice little dog! Mercifully, we were able to place him with a friend of mine who will give him a good home for the rest of his life.

This corgi’s original owner thought she had provided for her beloved pet. Unfortunately, she put her trust in the wrong person. The little guy was lucky enough to end up in a much better situation, but how many pets like him die in shelters because of poor planning by their original families? It is especially bad when the pets are older or have some veterinary issues, because they become much harder to place.

Every pet owner who reads this, please:

  • I don’t care how old you are. Designate in writing who should get your pets if something happens to you. Please be sure that you have discussed it with the people in question so that you are sure they are willing to accept that responsibility
  • Make sure there is more than one notarized copy of the document specifying who gets your pets, and under what conditions. Your attorney should have this on file with your will and other estate planning documents. If you don’t have an attorney, keep it with your other important personal papers where it can be readily found, and make sure someone else has a copy.
  • If at all possible, make financial provisions so that the person inheriting custody of your pets will be able to afford their care. You can set up a trust that pays the vet bills, or dispenses a set amount per year for the remainder of your pet’s natural life.
  • If your pet has any special needs or quirks, make sure that information is always written down somewhere, along with the name and phone number for your vet. I keep that information on my refrigerator. I use it for my petsitter, but it’s handy to have in case someone had to assume responsibility for my furkids.

They are completely dependent on us for everything. We commit to them for the rest of their lives – not the rest of ours. Please, make sure they are taken care of, no matter what.

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