Death of a Pet Owner

Sari Reis is owner of Mission Valley Pet Sitting Services, a dog walking service in San Diego.

Last week one of my clients sent me an email with a very special request that has been resonating within me ever since. He asked me if I would be willing to be his dog’s caretaker if something should happen to him. Needless to day, I was touched, honored and thrown a little off kilter. I have never had a client ask that of me before.  After discussing the details of his request and giving the matter a great deal of consideration, I said yes. He thanked me profusely for giving him peace of mind knowing his “best friend” will be looked after.

I was so moved by this request that I started doing some research. What I found out was alarming. Every year in the United States 500,000 dogs and cats are placed in shelters due to their owner’s death or inability to continue caring for their pets. Almost all of these animals are adoptable but due to the trauma of moving from a stable loving home to a crowded and often frightening shelter environment, many of the “orphaned” pets do not adjust very well. They refuse to eat, become despondent or fear – aggressive and are categorized as unadoptable and therefore euthanized; and all because the owner didn’t plan for the possibility of their pets outliving them.

This doesn’t have to happen. By appropriate planning for this contingency, an “orphaned” companion animal can make a fairly smooth transition into a continuing care situation. The planning involves three major steps:

1)   Identifying potential caregivers for the pet and getting their commitment to taking on the responsibility.

Finding the appropriate caretaker can be done several ways. A pet owner can talk to friends and relatives and see if one of them would be willing to accept the responsibility. They can ask the veterinarian for suggestions. Talk to local pet sitters/dog walkers, doggie daycare facilities, dog groomers and boarders, rescue groups and other animal welfare organizations.

Another option besides re-homing the pet, is placing them in a Perpetual Care Facility. Many universities that have Veterinary Colleges offer this type of care. Animal welfare groups, such as Peace of Mind Dog Rescue, are another possibility. These continuing lifetime care programs are especially good for animals that have “special needs” and may be more difficult to place in a private home.

2)   Putting together a list of instructions for the pet’s ongoing care.

This list should include:

  • The pet’s diet – what food he eats, when he eats, how often, the amount of food and how it is prepared
  • The location of leash, harness, crate, carrier, litter box, food and water bowls, bed, toys, etc.
  • Veterinary information – the veterinarian’s name, address, phone number, and location of veterinary records; allergies, medications, immunization history and any other important data regarding the pet’s health.
  • Personality traits – such as likes other dogs/cats, good with children, pulls on leash, loves affection, loves to play fetch, doesn’t like paws touched, commands the dog understands and so on.

3)   Setting up some sort of legal documentation and financial arrangements to pay for the lifetime care of the pet.

Currently there are 38 states that have Pet Trust Statutes. A pet trust is a legal method that ensures that your pet will receive continuing care. There are a couple of different types of pet trusts and it should be determined which is the best for a given situation. In the trust, the pet owner names the caregiver or guardians for the pet, the instructions for his/her ongoing care, and a method of funding that ongoing care. These “pet trusts” can be set up through a lawyer or estate planner or can even be set up online at a couple of different sites including and (Make sure you access the appropriate state information if you do this.)

There is a wealth of information available on this subject on the Internet I suggest you start at: This wonderful organization provides free brochures to dog walkers and pet sitters, which can be distributed to your clients.

Since I received that email from my client and doing my research, I have added assistance in continuing care planning as one of my services to my clients. I urge you to do your planning now…before it is too late.