My sister-in-law just inherited 2 cats, Star and Tiger. They belonged to her aunt, who died after a brief and brutal battle with pancreatic cancer.
Selene, my son Zeke’s Siamese, came to him in a similar fashion. A friend’s elderly relative died, and there was no one to take the young female cat in. Selene now rules Zeke’s household. (His other cats have differing opinions on that subject.)
We’re accustomed to thinking that we will outlive our pets. But according to 2nd Chance 4 Pets in Los Gatos, California, “[m]ore than 500,000 companion animals are surrendered to U.S. animal shelters every year due to the death or disability of their humans.”
We don’t plan on accidents, strokes, heart attacks and debilitating illnesses, but they happen. So it’s a good idea to make provisions for your felines.
Many of us laugh at the notion of folks leaving money and other property to their pets. It’s the stuff of movies, and even Designing Women did an episode on the subject. The people who make such bequests are usually thought of as being eccentric or “not all there.”
In reality, making legal arrangements for your cats’ upkeep is a very sane thing. For Tigger and Puff’s sakes, you can’t assume that someone else will take them in should you become incapacitated or die.
“It’s not enough that long ago your friend verbally promised to take in your animal or even that you’ve decided to leave money to your friend for that purpose,” the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) observes. “Work with an attorney to draw up a special will, trust or other document to provide for the care and ownership of your pet as well as the money to care for her.”
Wills and Trusts
When drawing up provisions for your beloved pets, you need to take into account the following:
- Do you want all your cats to go to 1 person, or are you more inclined to split them up among several trustworthy souls? The latter might be a good idea if one of your felines has really bonded with a particular family member or friend.
- Also, “[w]hen selecting caregivers, consider partners, adult children, parents, brothers, sisters and friends who have met your pet and have successfully cared for pets themselves,” the HSUS suggests.
- Make sure that bonded feline pairs are kept together. The loss of their person and home will be difficult enough for them, but they’ll weather the transition better if they have each other.
- Have alternate caregivers in place. Keep in touch with your primary and secondary people. Many years ago, I made arrangements for my gang at a no-kill shelter. The woman running it became seriously ill; when I next wrote to her, there was no response.
- Last, but not least, consider setting up a trust. Wills take a while to probate; even a small estate can take weeks or months to settle. A trust can kick in immediately so your cat’s needs are taken care of. Discuss with your lawyer what’s legal in your state and what will work best.
To the Rescue
Sometimes, nobody in the family wants the cats; maybe they’re highly allergic or just plain dislikes them.
BigBoy, a healthy 7-year-old Aby, was dumped in a kill shelter when his first human was terminally ill. Fredonia, a still-beautiful senior cat, was a few days away from being euthanized because her deceased human’s spouse wanted nothing to do with her. Thankfully, both cats were rescued.
This is where the cat-saving cavalry comes in.
The cavalry takes many forms. Sometimes it’s a breed-specific rescue group. Sometimes, as in Fredonia’s case, it’s a shelter or sanctuary.
Some of the latter are actually feline retirement communities. Here’s a sampling of them:
- Blue Bell Foundation for Cats, Laguna Beach, California.
- BrightHaven, Santa Rosa, California.
- The Last Post Retirement Home for Cats, Falls Village, Connecticut.
- Cats Cradle Cat Sanctuary and Hospice, Lutz, Florida.
- Tabby’s Place, Ringoes, New Jersey. Tabby’s Place offers a Guardian Angel Program for cats who have lost their humans. As Angela Elizabeth Hartley, the organization’s development director, explains, “The Guardian Angel Program specifically was inspired by the number of heartbreaking calls we received in our early years, from grieving families faced with the need to find a haven for their late loved ones’ cats.”
- Kent Animal Shelter, Calverton, New York.
- The Sunshine Home at This Old Cat, Honeoye, New York.
- Free to Live Animal Sanctuary, Edmond, Oklahoma.
Each of these facilities requires a certain sum of money to guarantee your cat’s lifetime care after you’re gone. Do your homework on them, same as you would if you were looking into a facility for a human family member.
Check out this bonded pair:
Which brings us back to 2nd Chance 4 Pets. It was started by Amy Shever in the wake of 9/11, when hundreds of animals lost their people.
“As an advocacy group, we don’t provide a ‘place’ for pets to be rehomed, but we do provide free resources to help pet parents for the possibility that their pets might outlive them,” they note on their Facebook page. “Over 700.000 of our materials are distributed by veterinarians all across the U.S. to help pet parents ensure that their pets will always have someone to care for them.”
Contact them and find out everything they can tell you. Then you’ll have a better idea of what you need to do for Puff and Tigger.
It’s a lot of work, but look at it this way: It’s one last thing you can do for them. And that should earn you a few stars in your crown.