Pet Loss Frequently Asked Questions
Do pets grieve?
Animals can form very firm attachments with each other. Even pets that seem to barely get along will exhibit intense stress reactions when separated. In fact, grieving pets can show many symptoms identical to those experienced by a grieving pet owner. There may also be much sighing, along with sleep and eating disturbances. Often, grieving pets will search for their dead companions and crave more attention from their human companions.
You can help your grieving pet by considering the following recommendations:
- Keep the surviving pet(s) routines as normal as possible.
- Try not to unintentionally reinforce behavior changes.
- If the pet's appetite is picky, don't keep changing the food. It can create a more finicky pet.
- Be careful to not overdo the attention given to the pet(s) as it can lead to separation anxiety.
- Allow the surviving animals to work out the new dominance hierarchy themselves. There may be scuffles and fights as the animals work out the new pecking order (dogs mostly).
- Do not get a new pet to help the grieving pet(s) unless the owner is ready.
- The owner needs to be emotionally ready for a new pet.
- A grieving owner generally will not have energy for a new pet.
Who will care for your pet if you are unable to?
By Atty. Dan Purtell, Wilson Law Group, Madison, WI
Children are supposed to outlive their parents. This situation is usually reversed in the case of pets and pet owners. Pet owners generally bond with several companion animals over time. But what if you are unable to care for your pet? Just as you need to plan for your children, you need to plan for your pets.
Why is planning for my pets important?
Americans have many animals that they consider to be more than just pets-they are part of the family! The 68 million dogs and 73 million cats living in our homes offer us love, affection, and companionship. It is your duty to return this love and affection by securing their future, if something happens to you. That is why more and more pet owners are including their pets in their estate planning.
What options do I have to protect my pet?
- Gift-You can gift a person money to take care of your pet. But there is no guarantee it will be used for that purpose.
- Power of Attorney-A Power of Attorney can authorize an agent to care for your pet. Examine your Power of Attorney to ensure that it contains this important provision. Unfortunately, a Power of Attorney is not enough because your Agent's authority to care for your pet stops when you die.
- Will-Wills can be used to provide for your pet's care. A major disadvantage of using a will, though, is that your pet needs immediate care, but the Executor has no authority to take possession of your pet or spend money for its care or act until appointed by a judge. This takes several days or even months. Another disadvantage is that while you can leave money to care for your pet, that money must be kept in a special trust called a testamentary trust. Since these trusts are under the probate court's jurisdiction, your caregiver will be forced to file annual reports and accountings with the court for as long as your pet survives.
- Trust-The best solution is to include a "Special Pet Trust" in your revocable living trust. You appoint a Trustee to supervise the care of your pets and manage your money. Your Trustee avoids the delays, reports accountings and costs demanded by the probate court. Your Pet Trusts can authorize the Trustee to pay for housing, veterinary care, and maintenance of the pet. Your pet trust can even require the Trustee to review the living conditions of the pet to ensure that your caretaker treats your pet according to your directions.
What should you consider when planning for your pets?
- The amount of money that is necessary or appropriate to provide for your pet's health and welfare as you direct.
- The type of care your pet needs.
- Who should be the caretaker.
- Should the caretaker and the Trustee be two separate individuals.
- Who should receive any remaining trust funds once your pet has passed away.
For more information visit: www.wilsonlawgroup.com.
What are some meaningful ways to honor a pet's memory?
- Write a letter to your pet expressing your feelings.
- Create a scrapbook, journal or collage about you, your family and your pet.
- Plant a tree, bush, shrub, garden or flower bed as a permanent growing memorial to your pet.
- Place your pet's identification tags on a key ring.
- Create a memory box. Use an old shoe box, decorate it and put special things that remind you of your pet such as collar tags, photos, special toys, leash, etc. You may choose to write a poem or story about your pet and keep it in the box as well.
- Volunteer at a pet grief support service, animal shelter or local humane organization.
- Make a donation in your pet's name to a local veterinary hospital, favorite animal charity or humane organization.
- Have a portrait of your pet drawn from a favorite photo.
- Purchase a book, perhaps a children's book, on coping with the loss of a pet and donate it to your local library or school. Ask the librarian to place a label inside the front cover inscribed "In memory of (your pet's name)."
- Decorate a candle and light it in memory of your cherished pet.
- Observe National Pet Memorial Day on the second Sunday in September.
- Participate in the "Monday Candle Ceremony", a healing ritual begun on the internet that, with a simple lighting of candles at the same time all across the country (9 pm central time) brings grieving pet owners together in love and in spirit.
- Allow yourself to express your grief in whatever creative way comes to mind; whatever feels right to you.