Most of us have wills providing for our significant others and children in the event something happened to us. But what about our animals?

If you were in an accident, or delayed from getting home from a trip, or you suddenly died, what would happen to your animals? Do you have a plan in place? Do you have people lined up and willing to step in and help? Have you set aside the resources to pay for food, vet care, etc.? Do you have a legal document outlining your wishes?

Never a happy subject, but also never a good time to think about it. So let’s think about it here and talk about it now. Especially if you live alone. Because if you don’t make a plan and something happens, you should know that in all probability your animals will be taken to a shelter (and if not adopted quickly, probably euthanized), or, worse, left stranded in your house to die.

There are a few quick and simple things you could do right now that could spell the difference between life and death for your pets, should something unexpected happen to you.

Contact three people you know (and hopefully that your animals know) who would accept responsibility for your animals in case something should happen to you. Make sure they have a copy of what your animals eat and when, which animals need to be kept together vs. which animals would do okay being rehomed by themselves, your vet’s phone #, and any other pertinent information.

Create a simple card that goes in your wallet near your license that says: “I have animals at home that depend on me. In case of emergency, please contact

[person/phone #]”

Have these same cards attached to animal crates with dog’s photos, name, microchip info, contact info (2 friends and your vet), and instructions to take your animals directly to the vet and not a to shelter for care until the people listed can be contacted.

Make an ICE (in case of emergency) entry in your PDA and/or cell phone contact list. Police and firefighters responding to an accident will check whatever electronic devices you have, looking for ICE information.

And, if you’re open to such things, consider leaving arrangements for an animal communicator to talk to your animals about what’s happened to you and what will be happening to them. Assuring them that arrangements have been made can be very helpful and calming to distressed pets.

I have a list containing the following in my wallet, car glove compartment, and in a folder on my desk at home :

  • My dogs’ and cat’s names, photos, breed and description, and dates of birth
  • The ID on their collars
  • Information that Kiera and Graidy are wary of strangers, and how they should be approached.
  • My vet’s name and phone
  • My husband’s and sister’s name and phone
  • A nearby friend’s name and phone
  • Instructions that I will be financially responsible for food and vet bills in the event that I’m unable to express these wishes due to incapacitation or death.

I update this list annually.

When making arrangements for your animals, you should know that a regular will isn’t the way to go. Not only could your animals be dispersed and/or euthanized before the will is read, heirs can easily contest your wishes. You need a legal contract that appoints someone to assume guardianship of the animals and the funds/property set aside for their care, along with your instructions. The guardian you select then needs to sign the contract.

Such a contract also works much better in the event you don’t die, but are incapacitated, and arrangements and money for animals are still needed. That means you should spell out immediate as well as longer term wishes in the documents. You also have the option of setting up a trust for your animals, but it’s not cheap to do.

As with wills, you need to make sure these documents (contracts, trusts) are kept updated. A lapse in doing so could nullify your arrangements and leave your animals unprotected. For example, if you were to make a rescue/shelter program the guardian (lacking a family member or available friend), and the personnel and philosophy change, your wishes could be in jeopardy.

Because states differ considerably on what legal protections are allowed for animals, at some point it would be worth contacting a lawyer to assure that your wishes can be legally upheld. Here’s a helpful article full of tips on Providing for Your Dogs If You are Gone

Taking an hour to get this all in place now will give you peace of mind and could save your animals’ lives later.