All Dogs Go to Heaven

Animals at the end of life

Taking Your Pet to the Grave with You

Do you worry about what will happen to your pets if you die?

Some people go to extreme lengths to maintain their bond with a companion animal: they request that upon their death, their pet be euthanized. Sometimes these pets are old or ill, and sometimes they are young and healthy. One of our local vets related an incident when she was asked by a family to euthanize a healthy animal, because it had been written in the will of a deceased.  An MSNBC news report on this issue included the story of Tom Tom, a healthy 2-year old Yorkshire terrier whose owner left instructions in his will that the animal be killed and buried with him. These requests are perfectly legal, although individual veterinarians are not required to comply.  

In some cases, a person wants his or her animal to be buried with them, so that they can be together in perpetuity. Sometimes the motivation is that the animal herself will suffer from devastating grief at the loss of her human "parent" and should be put out of her misery. Sometimes pet owners fear that no other person could love their pet enough or take good enough care of them, and that death is the best form of care available. They worry that their animal might wind up abandoned in a shelter and they cannot bear the thought. And sometimes the concern has to do with burdening family members with the care of an unwanted, uninvited animal.

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I don't want to judge other people's choices, especially when I don't know all the circumstances, but on its face I find this supremely unfair to the animal (even, I might venture, rather disturbing). I can understand the sentiment behind these requests: no one can care for your animal as well as you can; no one knows Fluffy or Spike like you do; and the thought of our beloved animal languishing in a shelter is utterly horrifying. I feel this way about my pets, for sure. But I also think they could go on and live happy lives without me. Would they miss me? I hope so. But surely not so much that they would rather be dead.

There is some interesting information, and a lively discussion on the topic, here

Plan for your pets after you die

Now, assuming that you do not intend to have your animal euthanized when you die, what provisions should you make? Most important: make some provision for your animal. Otherwise he may very well end up in a shelter. If unclaimed, he may be euthanized. Or worse: pets are sometimes left at home to starve, since no one may even know they are there.

It can be as simple as a including your "living property" in your will, dictating who will take possession of your animal if you die. However, some argue that this is not enough, because you cannot force anyone to care for an animal, or to care for them well. Vets report that people frequently come in with a deceased parent's pet, asking for euthanasia. Another option that provides even more security for your pet is a Pet Trust, which sets aside funds for the life-long care of a pet and can include detailed instructions of what kind of care is desired.

If a family member or friend has agreed to care for your animal in the event of your death, make sure they have clear instructions for care, including any special needs such as daily medications, food allergies, and health problems. Include the name and number of your vet, and also perhaps some description of your animal's special pleasures or dislikes so that whoever is caring for her can quickly learn how to make her comfortable and happy.

Especially if you are young and healthy, you may not think about the practical details of what might happen after you die. And too often, people don't make arrangements for their pets. This can be hard on surviving family members, and especially on the animals.

 

Bioethicist and writer Jessica Pierce, Ph.D., is the author of the forthcoming book The Last Walk: Reflecting On Our Pets at Life's End. more...

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