I have long believed that there are two kinds of people who share their lives with companion animals. The first type of people have pets because they like them and it's nice to have them around. They may say that they love them, but the relationship is not really one of commitment. Animals run away, animals get hit by cars, life happens and when times get tough, it's really not a big deal to either place the animal with someone else, give the animal away or take them to an animal shelter. The second type of people share deeper bonds with their animals who are true members of the family. These people see their relationship with their animals as one of long-term commitment and they are prepared to live up to that commitment no matter what life brings. These people would no sooner give away or surrender a pet than they would give away a child.
Because our animals are childlike in their dependence on us and their needs, I feel pretty strongly about our responsibilities toward them. I think that anyone who brings an animal into their life must take that decision seriously and be prepared to care for that animal for the duration of his or her life. I am pretty much zero tolerance when it comes to people who tell me that their dog or cat is precious to them, but they have to give them up because of ___________ (fill in the blank). The excuses range from I don’t have time or the dog won’t listen or the cat refuses to use the litter box or we’re having a baby or some other reason. I was in a pet supply store once and saw a flyer for a gorgeous dog which read “New home needed immediately! Moving to Minnesota!” I grunted and asked the woman at the counter, “what? Do they not allow dogs in Minnesota?” I just think that having pets equates to making a promise. You don’t give away your relatives, you don’t give away your children and you don’t give away your pets or, worse yet, surrender them to an animal shelter where they may be summarily destroyed. If they mean so little to you, please. Just don't get a pet or become a foster for a homeless pet instead.
In spite of my zero tolerance for people who treat pets like an old lamp or a used sofa, I am well aware that there are times when people simply cannot keep their pets even though they do love them deeply. People get sick. People die. People lose jobs. Houses burn down. In those instances, my personal hope is that some family member or friend will step up to take that beloved pet (or pets) so that the person giving them away doesn’t lose all contact with them. It could be that they get well or get a new job or get a new place to live, after which their animal can be given back to them. In cases there that cannot happen or does not happen, my secondary hope is that the community in which that desperate person lives is a no kill community so that a local animal shelter or rescue group can help re-home the animal and the person can be assured that their pet’s life is not at risk. People who are going through hard times have enough to think about without worrying about whether their dog or cat will live or die. I also recognize that animals often are incompatible with other animals in a household and need to be re-homed for their own well-being. I have no issue with this at all. I would much prefer that a pet be placed into a new and more compatible home for the benefit of everyone, human and animal.
If you consider yourself someone who has a true, committed relationship with your pets, I think that there is one more thing you can do for them which you may not have done already. I'm talking about finding a Petparent.
Even if you have the best of intentions for your animals, life does happen and events are often entirely unexpected. Do you know what would happen to your pets if you ended up in the hospital for an extended period of time? What if you died? What about if your house burned down or you lost your job? How about if you ended up in a dire financial situation either due to overwhelming medical bills or some act of fraud? We hear all the time of animals needing homes because someone died or got cancer or became so incapacitated that they were simply not able to care for their animals at all.
Much like people may have a Godparent for their children, I want you to consider doing the same for your companion animals. As much as your family and friends love you, you simply cannot assume that they will willingly take in your pets if the unexpected happens. This can’t just be some wishy-washy assumption that someone you are related to or someone you know will step in and help. It has to be a direct conversation with someone in your life to get them to commit to taking your animals and keeping your promise to those animals in the event you no longer can. I’m not suggesting you have anyone sign a contract. I am suggesting that you have a face-to-face chat or serious telephone conversation in which you get a commitment from at least one person that they will care for your pets if you die or become so ill you cannot keep them. Ideally this person will be someone very close to you whom you can trust. Make sure that person knows about the health condition of your animals, who your veterinarian is (in order to get copies of records if needed) and that you tell them about your pet's needs and personality. If something happens to you unexpectedly, it is up to you to minimize the trauma to the animals you love. You do that by making solid plans for their care so that they can transition into a new home as easily as possible.
I know that planning for the worst is uncomfortable for us. The idea of having a will or an advanced directive for our own health care is difficult for us.
But if you love your companion animals, you'll make a plan and you will have a true Petparent. You'll sleep better at night knowing you have kept your promise.
(images courtesy of Digna Oliveras, Becky Lynn Tegze and Peace & Paws Rescue)
I am an animal welfare advocate. My goal is to help people understand some basic issues related to companion animals in America. Awareness leads to education leads to action leads to change.
image courtesy of Terrah Johnson