My sister-in-law just inherited a pair of 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 had 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, “More 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 cats in case of death.
What Will Happen to Your Cats When You Die?
Many of us chuckle at the notion of folks leaving money and other property to their pets.
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 sane thing to do. For your cats’ sake, 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) says.
HSUS adds: “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 for Your Cats
When drawing up provisions for your cats in case of your death, take into account the following:
- Do you want all your cats to go to one 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 cats has really bonded with a particular family member or friend.
- Also, “when 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. But 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 dislike the cats.
- BigBoy, a healthy 7-year-old cat, 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.
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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 cat pair:
Which brings us back to 2nd Chance 4 Pets. The group was started by Amy Shever in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, 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,” the group notes on its 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,” 2nd Chance 4 Pets says.
Yes, making sure your cats are taken care of in case you die is a lot of work, but look at it this way — it’s one last thing you can do for them.