Monday, November 24, 2008

"Til Death Do Us Part...

Although our wills need some serious updating, as in we no longer live in the same house, our assets have dwindled, and we’re down to one dog instead of three, the codicil that remains written in stone is the one about pets.

In our case, my sister has graciously and fully accepted to “inherit” any animal we have. Therefore - barring anything weird - we can rest easy knowing they will never be homeless. Can you say the same about yours?

During the course of writing this column, I’ve heard from many shelter and rescue personnel about the staggering number of pets that have been relinquished because the owners had died and left no provisions for taking care of their beloved animals.

Hey, no one likes to think about their mortality so it’s understandable that any action concerning this inevitable occurrence can usually be found on the back burner. Young or middle-aged people, especially, believe that life will go on like it has for quite awhile, so why worry?

Unfortunately, accidents do happen and some illnesses can turn catastrophic quickly, leaving behind a bewildered and grieving animal that will no doubt go to the local shelter if a permanent caretaker is not designated. And, as we age, the tip of this iceberg requires more pointed attention for many reasons.

For example, what if you had to go into an assisted living facility or a nursing home? Will the dog or cat that has been by your side for many loving years be naturally folded into your family’s life?

Or, if you have no family, will a dear and trusted friend be willing to take on the responsibility of giving your pet another forever home? These are hard facts that we really need to think about and plan for, however unpleasant they may be.

While we’re on this morbid subject, I need to go a step further and address the issue of your lifespan vs. your pets.

Just a few month’s ago and despite my suggestions that he get an older dog from the shelter, a 76-year-old acquaintance of mine (who is not in the greatest of health either) bought an eight-week-old puppy of a breed that usually lives an average of 16-18 years.

As I was basically told to mind my own business, one can only wonder if any thought at all was given to the statistics of this situation.

Don’t get me wrong for, believe me, I am totally on the side of pets being placed in loving, responsible homes, no matter how old anyone is. In addition, I think pets are crucial to the elderly as it has been proven that animals alleviate stress, sickness, loneliness, and that dogs can be far better protectors of property than an electrical security system.

Yet one must still take into account that adopting an animal should, under any and all circumstances, mean that it is for the entire life of that animal.

Of course, I realize I’m talking about an ideal world here but, nevertheless, for those of you who belong to the “good group” of committed pet owners, don’t delay in taking your commitment down to the wire.

None of us will let our pets suffer, humanely putting them to sleep when their time comes. On the flip side of that sad coin, please don’t let them flounder through the rest of their lives in what could be the chaotic aftermath of your incapacitation or death. Before it’s too late, take care of that crummy little detail… now.