Providing for Your Dogs
If You are Gone
by Mary K. Chelton (November, 2000)
Since Vizslas by temperament are full family members, even more than
most other pets, it is incumbent upon those of us who share our lives
with them to make sure that their affection for and devotion to us is
not betrayed when we are no longer around to receive it. There are two
circumstances that need advance planning before they happen: 1)the owner's
death; and 2) the owner's absence or incapacitation through an accident
or extended hospitalization. It is important to note here that the following
information gives general concepts, suggestions and ideas only. Laws vary
widely from location to location, even within a single country, and legal
advice specific to the owner's geographic location should also be obtained.
In the Case of the Owner's Death
Designating a Caretaker If the Owner Dies
Because dogs are legally defined as "possessions," a will outlining
the owner's desires should not be considered optional. A qualified attorney
should be asked to draft a will in which the dogs are left to a caretaker
the owner has selected and with whom the owner has discussed desired provisions
in advance. An alternate caretaker should be named in case the first person
selected is unable or unwilling to take the dogs after the owner dies,
or in case that caretaker dies first. Another method of designating a
potential caretaker is to give the Executor of the will the option to
select from among several people selected and named by the owner in the
will. Whoever is named as caretaker should have a copy of the will and
know where the original is. If the Executor is so designated, that person
may even be given the original of the will, depending on state law.
It cannot be stated strongly enough that wills alone may not be enough
to provide for your dog, although the will is the ultimate legal document.
By the time a will is read several days after the funeral, the dog may
have already been euthanized by well-meaning but uninformed relatives
if they and the designated caretaker does not know that he or she has
been designated to receive the dog, or does not have a copy of the owner's
wishes in writing to go pick up the dog before the will is read. Copies
of a document outlining the owner's wishes might be left with the dog's
veterinarian, family members and close personal friends of the owner,
as well as with the designated caretaker, the executor of the estate and
the owner's lawyer. It is important that the provisions of the will and
of this document be the same, because if they are not, the will will prevail
legally. Wills should be renewed on a regular basis and updated as necessary.
Since a will covers many more items than your dog, it is important to
make the best decisions for the dog even if it means that the beneficiaries
getting the rest of your estate will be unhappy. Otherwise pleasant beneficiaries
can become greedy after the dog owner's death if they mistakenly think
a purebred dog that they are not getting is worth a fortune. However,
they may not be the best people to get your dog, no matter how nice they
have been otherwise. As one lawyer puts it, "Since you will be dead,
you should not care if they are mad at you then."
While co-ownership of potential show dogs is common for evaluating and
breeding purposes, co-ownership also protects a dog if one of the owners
dies before the other. The co-ownership arrangement should also be made
known to the lawyer, executor and all beneficiaries in advance.
If the dog is not already co-owned at the time of death of one of the
co-owners, the Executor or Administrator of the will should send a completed
and notarized copy of the American Kennel Club's "Statement of Legal
Rights" form indicating the new authorized owner, the Letters Testamentary
or Letters of Administration to the American Kennel Club, 5580 Centerview
Drive, Suite 200, Raleigh, N C 27606-3390. (The form may be requested
from the same address.) If no Executor or Administrator has been or will
be appointed, the next of kin authorized to sign for the decedent must
complete the form, stating the relationship to the deceased. Original
copies of this form should be kept with the will and made known to any
Another option within those outlined above is to include the local or
national breed club's Rescue Program as the designated caretaker for the
dog. The rescue workers will be in a position to find an appropriate home.
This is particularly important for dogs whose value is generally not material,
such as non-breeding-quality, previously rescued, neutered, spayed or
Leaving Money for Dog Care
Since the person to whom you are leaving your dogs may not have the money
to care for them when the time comes, leaving a gift of money in your
will to that person is an important part of the planning process. This
is especially so if you are asking for persons involved in breed Rescue
Programs to place your dog. Rescue activities such as evaluating the dog,
foster care and feeding, veterinary expenses and transporting the dog,
cost money. Even if you have not assigned your dog to one of the rescue
programs in the event of your death, many individuals have considered
the inclusion of a grant to their favorite rescue program in their will.
Since veterinary care is probably the largest expense involved in taking
care of a dog, you may arrange to leave money directly to a veterinarian
in your will for this purpose, assuming that the amount and what is expected
of the vet is worked out ahead of time. Dog Law [see resources list] includes
several examples of lifetime care contracts that may be used to discuss
this option with a veterinarian.
If the person to whom you have left your dog with prior consent does
not live close to you, or is otherwise delayed in picking up the dog,
you may want to leave instructions that money from the estate may be used
by the Executor to care for the dog until the designated caretaker can
take over the care. Just because you leave money in your will to the caretaker
does not mean that it may be used for the specified purpose, however.
If, for any reason, you feel that the designated caretaker may not use
the gift money for the dog as intended, you may want to leave the money
in a trust managed by that person with specified conditions to control
the money flow. Trusts usually cannot be left directly to dogs.
The amount of money left for dog care should be reasonable rather than
very large, or the provision may be contested by other beneficiaries.
There are special clauses which can be included in the will to discourage
such challenges, however, and an attorney can advise you on using them.
If the Beneficiary Dies Before You Do
Make sure the will is kept up to date, or name several potential caretakers
of different ages and circumstances at the time the will is drawn up.
Absence, Incapacity or Hospitalization of the Owner
Many dogs come into Rescue or wind up in shelters or undesirable situations
because their owners are away when something happens, or have become incapacitated
through health problems or accidents. Providing for these circumstances
involves having information available in several places, including your
home, your car, in your wallet or purse, on the dog and on its crate.
At the very least, make sure you have something to notify emergency workers
that dogs are present (or nearby) in case something happens when you are
not home or unconscious. Include information on illnesses, needed medications,
how many pets of what type there are, what you would prefer them to do-e.
g. "In Case of Accident, Please Leave Dogs in Kennels if Possible"--and
who to contact to provide for their care in case of an emergency. Also
leave instructions on what to do if the dog is injured or incapacitated
in addition to yourself, including, if possible, information on pet first
aid such as that distributed by Purina, or available in many mail order
pet supply catalogs.
Barbara O'Brien of New Jersey offers an example of a document she carries
on the dashboard of her car which is labeled, "IN CASE OF EMERGENCY":
In the event that I, Barbara O'Brien, am incapacitated and unable to
make my wishes known regarding my dogs, please honor the following requests:
My husband, John T. O'Brien, is to be contacted as soon as possible
at <phone no.> If he cannot be reached, please contact either
<2 names and phone nos.>
If the dogs are not injured, they are to be cared for by t he nearest
reputable boarding kennel and be kept in the best possible manner, until
arrangements can be made to get them home.
If the dogs are injured, they are to be cared for by the nearest reputable
veterinarian. I prefer that my veterinarian <name> be contacted
regarding decisions on the dogs' care and treatment. He can be contacted
at <hospital name and phone no.> If any dog is injured beyond
all hope of recovery, that dog is to be humanely euthanized.
Photographs of the dogs are attached. Mariah is a Vizsla and Gale is
a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. These dogs are tattooed on the
inner right thigh with my Social Security # <SSN>. The welfare
of these dogs is my primary consideration.
<plus address and phone>
A photograph of the dog with the textual information is helpful because
the dog may have escaped from your home or vehicle and be hiding or lingering
around the scene. Beyond critical emergency information, there should
also be something to inform others of your wishes should your incapacitation
Another way to provide for your dogs in case of your hospitalization
or incapacitation is to have a durable power of attorney drawn up by a
lawyer. A power of attorney deals with the desires of a living but incapacitated
adult, whereas a will decides the estate of a deceased person. The power
of attorney transfers authority make decisions concerning the care of
your dogs to someone else, should anything happen to you. One does not
have to be incapacitated to have a power of attorney drawn up. Samples
of power of attorney documents are available in many libraries and banks
for free. Pet care should be specified in the place on the form where
one can enumerate items other than those already specified. A power of
attorney can also refer to other documents, which should be attached or
in a readily identified place.
Regardless of which options you take, the important thing is to make
provisions for your dogs while you are in good health and of sound mind,
because you never know when something unforeseen can happen to you.. Your
dogs depend on you and should not have to suffer because you never got
around to doing this. It is as much an act of love as feeding them.
Besides the printed references consulted below, special thanks go to John
Butler, Barbara O'Brien, Steve Shlyen, VCA National Rescue Coordinator,
William Thompson Esq., Rhoda Ezell and Jeanne Warnke from VIZSLATALK;
Catherine Cargo, Ann Garbarino, Mark Gibboney, Karen Harbert, Mary Jacobs,
Andy Kalamash, and Linda Sallee-Hill from SHOWDOGS-L, Lewis Silverman
Esq. of the Vizsla Club of Greater New York, and Geraldine Hayes, AKC
Historian and Archivist.
Allbright, Jean. Keeping Your Pet Safe: The Pet Owner's Guide to First
Aid for Dogs and Cats. (MC Communications, 1525 W. University, Suite
101, Tempe, AZ 85281, 1993). Distributed by Purina One as part of their
Pet Safety Kit.
Planning for Your Pet's Future Without You (Humane Society of
the United States, 2000). Available free from HSUS or for downloading
Providing for Your Pets in the Event of Your Death or Hospitalization
(New York: Association of the Bar of the City of New York, 1996)
Mary Randolph, Dog Law: A Legal Guide for Dog Owners and Their Neighbors
(Berkeley, CA: Nolo Press, 1997).