Last month, the Animal Services of the Mesilla Valley, ACTion Programs for Animals and Cat’s Meow were burdened with cats abandoned because their owners had died or become seriously ill. In some instances, the owners simply didn’t have a plan beyond their own lives or the people who were stuck with the animals abandoned them.
This always is a difficult situation for the animals because all the rescue facilities and the shelter are filled with cats who need homes. So when an animal is abandoned for any reason, the animal is quite likely to die from being dumped in an unfamiliar environment or from euthanasia at the shelter. This disastrous outcome for the pet could have been prevented with advance planning by its human companion. If the owners had set up a pet trust, which is legal in New Mexico, the animals would have been protected from such a cruel outcome.
While the concept of a pet trust is recent, it is not only for the wealthy, but for anyone who wants to protect their loving companion animal. Since pets still are considered property, they cannot own property or money. However, a designated trustee is legally required to oversee the care of the pet. An estate planner and lawyer can set up the arrangement in your will.
Cats — and dogs — caught in these dreadful situations are often elderly. They may have health issues, such as kidney failure or diabetes, that require medication. They may be timid, if their owner has been ill or absent for a long time. All of these problems push these loving animals into the no-rescue column. It is extremely difficult to find homes for senior cats — even when they are healthy and loving.
Furrever Homes, managed by ACTion Programs for Animals, has three such unlucky cats at this time. Amy, an eight-year-old Siamese; Morris, a four-year-old red tabby; and Molly, a two-year-old black and white were lucky they landed in a safe place for adoption. This no-kill organization does not believe it should be a death sentence just because an animal needs care and time to adjust to its change in circumstances. With patience and luck, they will find a new home — even if not together.
In their instance, the owner died, but had designated caretakers. However, the caretakers acted irresponsibly and dumped the cats at the Animal Services Center of the Mesilla Valley. Since there was no trustee to oversee the cats’ care, the caretakers were able to act as they pleased. To the cats benefit, APA found a space for all three cats — even the oldest one. After some surgery on her teeth, she will be ready for adoption.
Currently, rescuers are trying to find a space for several cats that were tossed out of a house after the owner died. The owner’s family simply put the cats outside and moved away. Neighbors are trying to find a space in a rescue organization for them, but the rescue organizations don’t have space at this time.
As a rescuer, I run across this problem regularly. The owner dies, is hospitalized, or is moved into an assisted living situation — often without a lot of time to prepare. These people may believe that someone in their family will adopt or care for their pets, or friends will rescue them, or they have made some similar plan. However, when that time comes, these people may not have the time, space, money, or desire to take in another person’s pets. The animals’ pay the price.
I would like to see a different scenario. If you love your animals, then put them in your will. Assign enough funds for their temporary care and name a pet trustee to oversee the care of your pet. Ask your lawyer to do this. A pet trustee will make sure the pets are cared for until they can be adopted, placed in a safe environment or supervise a caretaker.
The concept of a pet trustee is a recent development and there are few in New Mexico. If you would like more information on this concept, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll be happy to talk to you about this concept. Plan a better life for your dearest companion, the one who has no voice and no champion.
Jackye Meinecke is a freelance writer, garden consultant and designer, and pet trustee. To contact her, e-mail email@example.com.