Who gets the cat, dog or other animal if a relative dies or can no longer keep a pet?
By Kim Campbell Thornton
When Jen Engevik's mother died after a two-year battle with ovarian cancer, her young pets could have been left homeless. Fortunately for them, Jen and her sister Ann had already decided that the pets would have a home with them. Jen took George, an 18-month-old black-and-white Maine coon, and Ann took Sadie, a 3-year-old white toy poodle.
Not every pet is as lucky. We see their pictures posted on social media: animals who are in need of a home or have been left at a shelter because their owner went into a nursing home or hospice or died of an accident or disease.
For Jen and Ann, the idea of not keeping their mother's pets never crossed their minds. George and Sadie stayed in their mother's home until her death, and then went home with the women that day.
During their mother's illness, Jen and Ann had already been building relationships with George and Sadie. That was important not only because the animals would eventually be living with them, but also because their mother became less able to care for and connect with them as her illness progressed. Even though she loved them, their antics -- chasing each other around the house and jumping on the sofa or bed where she was sitting -- often disturbed her.
"As my mom was getting sick, my sister ended up taking a bigger role in the dog's life," Jen says. "My mom didn't really want the dog around her that much because she felt so horrible. So the dog started to naturally gravitate toward my sister. It was kind of an interesting process to watch."
Jen already had two senior cats, and it seemed natural that George would go home with her. She had been spending a lot of time at her mother's home, so by the time she took him home, George knew her well.
"I think it would have been a bigger impact on the animals if my mom had had them for 10 years or so," she says. "I do think it was a little hard on the poodle. My mom had had her since she was a teeny little thing."
Engevik believes that George and Sadie's youth and playfulness helped them adjust to their new homes. Sadie went to a home where she was the only pet, but George had some adjustments to make when it came to living with 15- and 16-year-old cats, neither of which was wild about his presence.
At first, Engevik kept them separated. George wanted to play with the other cats, and his efforts alienated them. There have never been any fights, Engevik says, and George connects with them more appropriately now, but her older female still gives a warning growl if George gets too close.
Not everyone is able to adopt a family member's pets, so it's important to know that a plan is in place for an animal's future. Talk to family members now about whether they've set up a pet trust, or find out how to contact the breeder or an appropriate rescue group for placement.
Taking in their mother's animals seemed like having a gift from her, Engevik says. Her advice to others in the same situation is to embrace the animals, give them plenty of love and don't be afraid.
"Just knowing my mom is the one who brought this cat into the family makes him all the more precious to me," she says. "And my sister is so protective of Sadie. I did get stressed when I thought about bringing George into my home. It did stir things up and it wasn't easy. But to me, it was worth it."
Q: I have a 3-year-old cat, and I'm wondering if I should get him a friend. I work all day, and I'm worried that maybe he gets lonely. Is getting a second cat a good idea? -- via email
A: Cats have a well-deserved reputation for being loners, but there are some exceptions. Lions, of course, live in groups called prides, and mountain lion researchers are discovering that these American big cats have more social interactions than was previously thought. Feral cats live in groups, but they have plenty of space to avoid each other if they prefer, and the option to leave the group entirely if they aren't getting along with other cats.
It's different for indoor cats. They are stuck with each other in a smaller space and may have "time-sharing" arrangements to facilitate use of particular areas without conflict.
Most cats are perfectly happy to live with only their person as company, especially if that's what they're used to. The addition of another cat definitely has the potential to create issues with personality and territory clashes. Experts usually recommend that if you want more than one cat, you should acquire two kittens, not necessarily from the same litter, so they grow up together and bond at an early age.
If you'd like to add a second cat, though, it can be done successfully. Your cat is still young enough that he may enjoy tussling with a kitten or accept the presence of a cat his own age or older. The following tips may help:
-- Choose a cat with a laid-back temperament.
-- Provide plenty of resources for both cats: multiple beds and food dishes, and duplicate toys, all placed throughout the house
-- Have one litter box per cat, plus one extra, and place them in different areas. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
Cat and dog
looking for love
-- Romeo and Juliet have a chance for a happy ending. Not the Shakespearean characters, but a cat and dog found together huddling beneath a car. They were separated at Chula Vista Animal Care Facility in Chula Vista, California, but shelter employees soon paired them up again when the cat, Romeo, became depressed. Now the bonded orange tabby and miniature schnauzer are up for adoption -- as a couple.
-- Iris is the FBI's first dog trained to sniff out electronic devices such as flash drives and hard drives that may contain data hidden by criminals and terrorists. She joins a select group: Only six other dogs in the world have her ability to sniff out a specific chemical found in digital media. The 2-year-old black Labrador retriever works with handler Jeff Calandra, who says, "She's able to be used in any investigative means, from a post-blast scene to a drug case, terrorism case, or counterintelligence cases, which she's worked on multiple times."
-- Nicknamed the American gentleman, the Boston terrier rocks a tuxedo coat and has a lively, intelligent temperament. He is one of the few breeds that can claim to be born and bred in the USA, and he takes his name from the great American melting pot that is Boston, home to multitudes of immigrants seeking a better life. The Boston originated from a mixed heritage and as such is a perfect representative of all that made Boston his birthplace. Boston terriers range in size from less than 15 pounds to 25 pounds, with most weighing 13 to 16 pounds. The Boston's short, smooth coat in black, seal or brindle with white markings doesn't shed heavily if owners use a grooming glove to remove dead hair regularly. Potential health concerns include juvenile cataracts, luxating patellas and brachycephalic syndrome. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.