Preparing for the Unexpected

Anything can happen at any given time. This idea causes me, a constant worrier, much grief. I have spent many sleepless nights fretting over events that have not happened. However, instead of worrying, I have chosen to plan ahead with things like getting life insurance, having a disaster plan, writing a will, designating a power of attorney, and protecting my pet.

A few years ago, I started to think about who would care for my dog if something was to happen to us. When my husband and I lived in the same area where I had grown up, I had the benefit of my parents and my son who lived close by. They had keys to the house and could take care of our dog for us. I also had dog-loving friends that I trusted to check in on my dog if I took a day trip or went on a proper vacation. I never thought twice about who would take care of my dog if something major occurred.

What changed? I  moved. Once an East Coast girl I am now a West Coast girl. I knew not a single person in this new town. I began to think, what happens if we’re injured in a car accident and no one knows our dog is home alone? What happens if that car accident is fatal? Do I want my dog to wind up at the local rescue, scared in a kennel? What if the shelter where she is sent is a kill-shelter? 

In my years of volunteering at dog shelters and now a dog trainer, I’ve seen many reasons dogs are surrendered, many owners who have died or become incapacitated with no one designated or willing to take their dogs.  I’ve seen owners who boarded their dogs because unexpected health issues necessitated long stays in health care facilities for 4 to 6 weeks, they have no local family or support systems. Friends have called me to help with a neighbor’s dog because the owner is in the hospital and they were identified as dog’s caretaker (unbeknownst to them), and they had no idea how to care for a dog.

Knowing that I cannot control my future, I work on what I can control; for me it’s making a plan. I purchased a key card that say “My Pets are Home Alone” with first-point-of-contact information of willing neighbors listed on the accompanying wallet cards.  These neighbors have our house key and second-point-of-contact if necessary. In case of fire or other disaster, decals on our front and back windows indicate that there are pets in our home. In our will there is a section that details pet expenses and caretaker information; we named a family member as a caretaker (our second point of contact) and allocated money from the estate for the dog’s care through its life.

When you prepare for the unexpected, it’s all about what makes you feel most secure. Even with a great support system in place, I recommend getting the window decals (in case of fire) and the key cards. You can find window decals online for less than 10 dollars by searching for “my pet is home alone” and “pets in the house.” It wouldn’t hurt to brush up on your state pet ownership laws to make sure that your dog will not be placed in a shelter immediately in event of your death and that your caretaker can collect the dog without a legal document.   

Communicate your plan with a neighbor, trusted friends, and family. Make sure whoever you are identifying as your pets caretaker is on board and willing. Check back with them yearly to make sure they are still willing to perform this duty; peoples situations can change.   

Finally, remember to share that you have an emergency contact with any kennels or dog sitters that you use, especially if you are traveling out of the country. In case of emergency, the facility/sitter can communicate with this contact if they cannot reach you, and your emergency contact can contact them your behalf. If an emergency arises that delays your return from travel, you can ask your emergency contact to pick up your dog so that you do not incur nightly charges for which you might not have budgeted for.