When Luna’s owner entered hospice care at The Villages in Florida, the future was uncertain for the lonesome-eyed Staffordshire terrier-boxer mix. She was boarded at a local veterinary clinic and, when her owner died, put up for adoption. Luna found a new home with Peggy Maina, a 69-year-old retired special education teacher, who had searched through dozens of web listings for a dog to keep her company.
“She looked like an animal I could bond with,” recalls Maina, who lives at The Villages.
Cornerstone Hospice and Palliative Care, a local health care organization, arranged the adoption through its pet program, which is affiliated with Pet Peace of Mind, a national organization.
“Our goal is actually for all our patients to have a plan for their pet,” says Lisa Gray, the coordinator of the Cornerstone program. But when a plan isn’t in place, the program will try to find a new home for a dog or cat, sometimes by posting pet pictures on its Facebook page.
While there aren’t reliable statistics available, Luna’s story is all too common, according to animal welfare organizations.
“It happens almost every day. People contact me and say, my parent has gone into hospice, and the dogs have to go somewhere,” says Amy Shever, founder and director of 2nd Chance 4 Pets, a Sacramento, California-based nonprofit that helps people plan for the possibility that their pets may outlive them. “That’s the hard thing — when it becomes a desperate situation.”
Help is out there
It doesn’t have to be that way. Animal advocates advise all pet owners, especially older adults, to take advantage of the numerous websites and organizations that can assist in preparing for the time when they may no longer be able to care for a pet at home.
Vicki Stevens, director of program management and communications for companion animals at the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), says that people unable to care for their pets have options besides leaving them at shelters, which can be stressful for the animals.
- Adopt-a-Pet.com’s Rehome website enables a pet owner to advertise that a pet is available for adoption. Rehome’s staff can help select the best potential adopters and arrange meetups.
- Home to Home similarly can assist pet owners who need to give up their pets and offer new homes to them.
Prepare for the unexpected
“Everyone should have a plan in place for pet care,” Stevens says. HSUS recommends pet owners take the following steps to protect their pet in case of death or if a sudden illness or accident leaves them incapacitated:
- Find two responsible friends or relatives willing to serve as temporary emergency caregivers. Give them keys to your home, care and feeding instructions, and your veterinarian’s contact information. Inform them about any behavioral or health issues, as well as any permanent care provisions. You can write a contract to reimburse them for whatever costs they incur.
- Make sure your neighbors, friends and relatives know how many pets you have, and give them your designated caregivers’ contact information.
- Write your emergency caregivers’ contact information on an alert card that you can carry in your wallet.
- Post “in case of emergency” signs about your pets on your doors or windows for first responders, and post designated caregivers’ contact info inside your doors.