graphic Plan Ahead blog

Note: For the sake of simplicity I’ll be using the generic “him” rather than “him or her.”

What will happen to your dog if you are no longer able to care for him?

Shelters are filled with dogs that ended up there because their people were unable to care for them. It’s important to make plans NOW (never mind how old you are or how secure your home situation seems to be) or your precious friend could end up being passed around from one home to another, confused and lost, only to end up in a shelter where his future is uncertain … especially if he’s a senior dog.

Don’t just presume that your family or friends will assume responsibility for your animal friend if you are no longer able to care for him. People often say they’ll take care of your dog if your life changes or if you die, but I’ve seen far too many situations where the promise isn’t kept and the dog ends up in a shelter.

Here’s what I suggest you do:

  • Think carefully about the needs of your companion animal and make a decision now about who will care for him if your life changes in a way that makes caring for your dog impossible.
  • Talk to family members and friends about whether they might be ready and willing to care for your dog in case you’re unable to do so.
  • Be sure that the person you’ve chosen as your dog’s future guardian is serious about taking on the responsibility of caring for your friend and is willing to make a commitment to you. • Talk to the person you’ve chosen about your animal’s needs, and make sure that this person knows the name of your veterinarian. It’s important that the dog’s health records can be easily located.
  • Give the name and phone number of the guardian to your veterinarian and to your family if this person is not a family member. • Include information about the guardian in your will.
  • Keep a notebook of all of the information about your dog’s habits, needs, likes, dislikes, etc. and tell the guardian where this notebook can be found in your home.
  • Keep a card in your wallet with the name, phone number and address of your guardian so he or she can be notified immediately if you are unable to make contact.
  • Determine whether you’ll need to provide in your will for the costs of caring for your friend. • Socialize your dog. A dog that is well-socialized with other animals and people has a much greater chance of fitting in to a new situation where there will be new people and possibly other animals.
  • Do a little research. There are some organizations that specialize in long-term care of pets of people who have died. For a fee or donation, these “pet retirement homes” or “sanctuaries” may agree to find your pet a new home or care for your pet until he dies. Before making any formal arrangements you need to choose a well-established organization that has a good record of finding responsible homes quickly. You also need to visit the organization to be sure your dog doesn’t end up in a shelter-like situation rather than a home.
  • Finally … and I know you don’t want to hear this … if you really can’t find anyone that you’re absolutely sure will be able to take your dog into his or her home and your dog is a senior in poor health, the kindest option might be for you to consider specifying euthanasia for your dog rather than letting your friend go to a shelter. I’ve spent many years with shelter dogs and I can’t even begin to tell you how heartbreaking it is to watch a dog that came from a loving family try to understand why he’s there. Don’t ask your dog to trade emotional well-being for stress and depression.
  • Don’t allow your dog to end up in a shelter, especially if your friend is a canine senior citizen. Plan Ahead!
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