Pet Connection: Will your pets be safe if you're gone?

09/18/2012 12:00 AM

09/17/2012 2:45 PM

It's a sad fact of modern life that when we think about disasters, our minds now add terrorist attacks and mass shootings to the natural calamities for which we've long been urged to keep our families prepared – pets included, of course.

But the fact remains that we're far more likely to encounter a tragedy that won't make the news. Accidents, illness and even sudden death are regular visitors to our lives, and they commonly don't raise an eyebrow outside our immediate circle of friends and family. If something happens to you today, your pets need to be looked after, whether the situation will be temporary or, sadly, permanent.

Are you prepared?

The first step is to make sure someone (or better yet, a couple of people) know that you have pets, where they are and how to care for them. Trade information with other pet-keeping friends, family or neighbors, along with the keys to each other's homes.

I like to recommend making a folder with all your pet's information. Pictures and a physical description of your pet are a good place to start. Add to the file an overview of your pet's medical records, including proof of altering and dates of vaccinations. Instructions for any medications should include not only the dosage and where to find the bottle, but also whatever method you use to entice your pet to swallow the pill.

Don't forget a copy of your pet's license, as well as the name, address and phone number of the animal's veterinarian. Write down some information about the tricks and commands your pet knows, as well as any unique personality quirks, such as a favorite spot to be petted. Keeping all this information in an electronic file is also a good idea – as long as there are directions on how to find it!

As part of your preparation, talk to your veterinarian about setting up plans for emergency care or boarding. If you're a long-term client who always pays bills promptly, you should have no problem getting your veterinarian to agree to run a tab or charge to your credit card if you cannot be reached immediately. I have an arrangement with my veterinarian that if anyone – absolutely anyone – comes in with one of my animals, the doctor will take the pet in and do what needs to be done. And he knows that either I or my heirs will settle the bill later. If you are able to make such arrangements, put those details in the folder, too, and include any information on pet health insurance policies, as well.

The final bit of information for the folder should concern arrangements for your pet if you never come home again. While no one likes to think about this possibility, you have a responsibility to your pets to provide for them after your death. You cannot leave money directly to an animal, but you can leave the animal and money to cover expenses to a trusted friend or relative. In some states, you can establish a trust in your pet's name. Talk to an attorney about what arrangement is best for you and your pets.

You should keep a copy of the file on hand in case you ever need to be evacuated with your pet. And be sure to trade copies with the person you'll be counting on to rescue your pet should you ever not be able to.

Once you have made all the arrangements, make up a card for your wallet. On it, you should note that you have pets, how many and what kind, and the names and numbers of the people whom you have designated to care for them should you suddenly become unable to do so.

A few years ago, I had major surgery, and although everything turned out well, I didn't take it for granted that I would survive, much less thrive. I put such a folder together for each of my pets, complete with arrangements for the worst-case scenario. I surprised myself in that I didn't find the exercise frightening or depressing. On the contrary, I found great peace in knowing that if something happened to me, my beloved pets would be taken care of.

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