Do You Know What Will Happen to Your Pet if Something Happens to You?

Most of us don’t plan for the unexpected. We don’t leave the house every morning thinking it possibly could be our last time doing so or that we should make preparations if it were. That lack of planning, however, could leave our pets not only mourning us, but living the rest of their lives in a shelter cage — if they’re lucky.

“We recommend that you have one person who knows you and your pets who’s reachable if something happened to you so they can go get your pets —a neighbor, a family member, a friend,” explains KC Theisen, director of pet care issues at the Humane Society of the United States. “If nobody knows that there’s a pet to be taken care of, it could be tragic.”

If the person lives alone, for example, got into an accident and went into a coma, and nobody knows there’s a pet to be fed or walked, they could be left alone in the house and die of starvation. If someone was to die unexpectedly and leave a pet behind, if no friend or family member claims the pet as their own, they are surrendered into the shelter system and may not ever come out.

“If the police or fire departments take someone to the hospital from their home, they’ll call animal control and they’ll take the animal,” says Theisen. “Depending on the state of the person, either they can or family members can go and get [the pets] and if not, they’ll get surrendered into the shelter system.”

The HSUS estimates between 100,000 and 500,000 animals end up in shelters each year because they outlived their owners. Considering that 56 percent of dogs and 71 percent of cats that enter animal shelters each year are euthanized, a surviving pet’s odds aren’t great.

To ensure that pets have a happy life after their guardians are gone, precautions then must be made.

The ASPCA suggests carrying a wallet alert card that will be seen by authorities or medical personnel when looking for an ID. It warns the reader that the person carrying it has pets who need care and gives the contact information for possible emergency caregivers.

For a more permanent solution, however, a legal document is recommended.

“You need a document that’s going to be valid in all states regardless of the owner’s condition so the pet is taken care of,” explains Rachel Hirschfeld, an attorney specializing in estate planning and a passionate animal advocate. “So many people have a will but a will does the pet no good if you don’t die.”

A will also costs money since it needs to be done by a lawyer, something that deters many from ever getting one, Hirschfeld noticed in her experience. Another problem she often saw was documents done by lawyers who weren’t up to date with the latest developments in animal law, which still considers pets property even though new laws are slowly changing that .

“In the eyes of the law, they look at [a pet] like they look at a couch,” says Hirschfeld who says the outlook dates back to when people owned farm animals, crucial for trade and survival. “Now animals are more like family but you need to treat it within the law so you need an animal lawyer who knows the laws that are coming into effect.”

Seeing those issues over the years, Hirschfeld then created the Hirschfeld Pet Trust, a “fill in the blanks” type of legal document available for download on LegalZoom that covers all the bases regarding pet care if the owner is for some reason unable to. She recommends people get one and once it arrives in the mail, give a copy of it to anyone who could help make sure their pets are safe.

“Make copies and send one to everyone —the vet, the dog walker, the maid, the neighbor, everyone,” she says noting she’s not exaggerating. “It’s better than putting it in a vault because who knows when they’ll find it there.”

The HSUS also recommends specifying in those types of documents not just who will take care of one’s pets, but also how, and then leaving them the financial means to do so.

“You might think, ‘uncle Joe really loves my dog, he could take care of my dog,’ but in reality uncle Joe might not be able to afford taking care of your dog,” says Theisen. “So it’s important to have those conversations and write it down that whoever gains responsibility of your pets doesn’t have a financial burden and how you will help them.”

Photo Credit: ThinkStock Photos


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Melania Padilla
Melania P2 years ago

People should take care of this; I have all set for Lucy.

Ivana D.
Ivana D2 years ago

It is worrying to think about my pets ending up dead because no one would want them :-( there aren't many friends in my life who would care for them :-(

Monica R.
Monica R2 years ago

All taken care off, I hope.

Barbara P.
Barbara P2 years ago

I've been trying to work this out and it worries me a little, because I really don't know. I used to have a bunch of yes's, but things have changed and I don't know if those would still apply. I will have to ask and see if I can count on anyone. Hopefully nothing happens to me, because I should be able to outlive many more animals to come!

Manuela C.
Manuela C2 years ago

It's something we shouldn't forget.

Esmi Johnson
Esmi Johnson2 years ago

Well the pet owner should mention the name of pet in will if he or she wants a good future to the pet. But except all these if you take agood care of pet and give them training of social etiquette then it might help them to understand the needs.

Marie W.
Marie W2 years ago

Wallet card good- pet trust better.

Elisabeth Hansson
Elisabeth H2 years ago


D.E.A. C.
D.E.A. C2 years ago

If the provisions in my will are carried out as directed, the answer is "yes".