Nobody wants to think about becoming ill, incapacitated, or dying, but as responsible cat parents, we owe it to our cats to think ahead and make arrangements for their care in the event of death or any other emergency. Making arrangements before they’re needed means peace of mind not just for you, but for family and friends who may not know what to.
Choose a caregiver and discuss expectations
Find one or two responsible friends or relatives who will agree to take care of your cat if something unexpected happens to you. Your trusted cat sitter may also be an option, if she is willing to take on the responsibility. Ideally, these will be people who know your cat, and who your cat is familiar with. Provide them with keys to your home, make sure they know your cat’s basic routine when it comes to feeding and care, and that they have your veterinarian’s contact information.
Once you have chosen a caregiver for your cat, thoroughly discuss your expectations with that person. Do you expect them to give your cat a permanent home, or do you want them to care for your cat temporarily while they find a new home for her? Remember that this person will have complete control over your cat’s care, including making decisions about veterinary care, so make sure that you trust them to make the same or similar decisions to what you would choose. Always have an alternate caregiver, and stay in touch with both the primary and alternate caregiver periodically to ensure that the arrangements you made are still valid. Peoples’ lives change, and while someone may have been the ideal caregiver at one point, circumstances may prohibit them from being available if and when the time comes.
Consider a humane organization
If you can’t find an individual to help, you can consider a humane organization, but be aware that most organizations do not have the room or the funds to care for your cat indefinitely, and they certainly can’t guarantee that your pet will find a new home. There are a few organizations that specialize in caring for pets of deceased owners, but it’s probably never an ideal situation. Your cat was used to living in a home, with all the love and attention that comes with that, and ending up even with the best of these organizations will likely be extremely stressful for most cats.
Organizations that will care for pets of a deceased owner:
North Shore Animal League America’s Surviving Pet Care program will provide shelter and medical care for pets until they can be adopted into loving homes.
Bidawee’s Loving Legacy program is committed to making sure that your cat spends the rest of its life in a warm, loving environment.
The San Francisco SPCA’s Sido program takes cats into their adoption program, where they receive loving care and attention while they work to place them in the best possible home.
Legalize the arrangement
Once you have found one or two potential caregivers, legalize the arrangement. There are a number of options, including wills and trusts, and which is right for you will depend on your situation. Requirements will vary by state. Trusts are becoming more popular because they allow you more control over how your pet will be cared for. The goal is to end up with a legal document that provides for continued care for your cat either on a permanent basis or until a new home is found for him. The arrangements should include authorizing sufficient funds from your estate to care for your cat temporarily, as well as cover costs to look for a new home. Keep in mind that it can take weeks or even months to find an appropriate new home for cats, especially if they are older or have special needs, so be sure to allocate sufficient funds.
Even though there are online services available that provide low-cost help to set up standard legal documents, including pet trusts, your best bet is to consult with an attorney. “Any elder law or estate planning attorney can theoretically do a pet trust,” says Evan Farr, a Virginia attorney who specializes in estate planning and elder law, including pet trusts, “but the only way to find out if an attorney is truly experienced in this area is to check out the firm’s web site. If there is a page about pet trusts, then that’s a good indication that he or she is experienced in creating them.”
If you already have legal documents in place to care for your cat, remember to review them periodically to ensure that they will still meet yours and your cat’s needs.
Additional precautions to ensure continued care
There are a few additional precautions you can take to ensure continued care for your cats in the event that something happens to you:
- Carry a wallet alert card with contact information for your emergency care givers.
- Make sure that emergency care givers know how to contact each other.
- Post emergency contact notices inside your front door. Include favorite hiding places for your cats on this notice – depending on your cat’s temperament, he may be scared when a stranger enters your house.
Even though nobody wants to think about the worst case scenario, once you’ve put these arrangements in place, you won’t have to worry about your cats ending up at a shelter, or worse, euthanized, because there were no other options.
Do you have a plan in place for your cats?
This article was previously published in the July 2013 issue of Cat Fancy magazine and is reprinted with permission.