What would happen to your pets if something happened to you? For your pet's sake, it's a question you ought to be asking now.
Katherine L. Babson Jr. is in the business of helping people think about a lot of things they'd probably rather not. She is now well-versed in planning for pets, but even from the start, animals have been a part of the estate-planning attorney's career. When she was a new associate, one of her earliest tasks involved handling a deceased client's dog.
"One of our clients, a professor in Massachusetts, had left her dog to a friend in Missouri, but had made no provisions for how that was to be done," she said. Her firm filled in the gap, and Babson was dispatched to collect the dog, make flight arrangements and put the Westie on the plane.
At least the dog's owner had given some thought to her pet. Too often that's not the case, says Babson, now an adviser to a Boston-based financial services firm. But even those who do make some arrangements often handle the situation in ways that aren't legal or don't work well, such as leaving money to a pet (you can't), or making an inheritance conditional on the death of a pet (which too often speeds up the process, sometimes by years).
"I have always told clients they need to think about and plan for their pets," she said, noting the she believes more people are. The reasons? More disposable income, she says, and our increasing belief in pets as "family."
So what works? Babson believes every pet owner should have some form of "durable power of attorney" ready, designating someone to make immediate decisions for your pet should you die or become incapacitated by illness or accident. The second part of the equation is a long-term placement in the case of your death.
A small but growing number of states allow pet trusts, where the pet is given to a person and funds for the animal's care are held by a trustee. Similar arrangements can be worked out in other states, says Babson, who recommends the residual of any such fund be left to charity to remove any financial temptation from the arrangement.
Some veterinary schools offer lifetime care for a pet left to them in exchange for a one-time payment of $25,000. That makes the San Francisco SPCA's Sido Service seem like a bargain. It's free to members, and it guarantees placement of a healthy pet in a new home as well as regular medical care in the society's animal hospital.
If you don't have $25,000 or don't live in the San Francisco area, your pet's life needn't be endangered if something happens to you. Your best bet is to talk about this subject beforehand with friends and family, make arrangements in advance and keep them current. Never assume your family will take your pet. Make sure you have found a willing adopter and that the details you've arranged are known. Also, talk to your attorney about how to structure any money you leave for care.
Nobody likes to think about these issues, as Babson admits. But if you don't look out for your pet, chances are no one will.
PETS ON THE WEB
What do you think of the $2.5 million donation to Texas A&M to fund an effort to clone a wealthy couple's collie? Do you think it's the first dangerous step down a slippery slope toward human cloning, or do you wish you could afford it for your own pet? Whatever your view, you'll want to check out the Web site of what has been dubbed the "Missyplicity Project" (www.missyplicity.com). You'll find a picture of Missy as soon as you get to this well-designed site, which also discusses the goals and ethics of the project.
The project team has thought long and hard about the benefits (almost too hard), which they say potentially may include the ability to clone service dogs and other animals helpful to humankind, as well as help to preserve endangered species. The site also offers a place for comments, which are answered by the project coordinator.
Another opportunity for comment is in the Veterinary Information Network's weekly poll (www.vin.com/poll/pub.html). The poll changes every Sunday, and the "Missyplicity Project" will be the topic the week of Sept. 14.
Guinea pigs are rare among mammals in that they cannot manufacturer their own vitamin C; they rely on outside sources to provide it. This is why although the animals are fairly closely related, a guinea pig will not thrive on rabbit pellets. High-quality commercial pellets manufactured expressly for guinea pigs are formulated to provide them with the extra vitamin C they need.
Even with proper storage in a cool, dry place, however, commercial diets lose vitamin C content rapidly. Keep no more than a month's supply on hand and be sure the food is fresh when you buy it. To ensure that enough ascorbic acid is in the diet, add it to your pig's water: 100 soluble milligrams to a cup of drinking water, made fresh daily.
Fresh kale and cabbage are also high in vitamin C, and small amounts of them make great additions to the diet. To make sure your pet's diet remains well-balanced, though, fresh pellets should always make up the bulk of its rations.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: We got our puppy in May of '98 from the pound, and she is a mix. She is such a joy for our family. We want her to have one litter of puppies and then get her spayed. Is that a good idea or not? How can I tell when she comes in heat, and when is a good time to breed her? Also, how long are dogs pregnant for? Please let me know! -- D.F, via the Internet
A: With no shortage of surplus pets in this country and a situation where even "valuable" purebreds die for the lack of a home, considering such a casual breeding is irresponsible at best. What will you do with the puppies? Keep them all? Drop them at the shelter? Finding homes for a mixed-breed litter is difficult. Are you prepared to deal with the reality that some or even all of the babies you will watch come into the world will be die as unwanted?
Have you considered the expenses and the difficulties of raising a litter properly? Under normal circumstances, raising a litter is a lot of work. Sometimes it can be heartbreaking. A friend of mine recently went through a breeder's nightmare. In a litter of 12 puppies, four were stillborn, and all but two died one-by-one in their first week of life. They could not be saved, and she was absolutely overwhelmed and saddened by the experience. I just saw the two remaining puppies (cleverly named Sur and Viver) and marveled at the effort it took just to keep two puppies clean and socialized.
The health benefits of spaying your dog are also well worth considering. If your pet has not come into her first heat, you can protect her from mammary cancer by spaying her now. Even after her first heat, spaying eliminates the possibility of other reproductive system cancers. The behavior benefits of altering are more pronounced in males, but spaying your female will spare you the drippy mess of her twice-yearly heat as well as the company of persistent suitors.
You'll be able to tell when your dog is coming into season mostly because of an increase in her licking herself in an attempt to keep clean. As the heat progresses, you'll see bleeding (and will likely want to put special britches on her to catch the drips). She'll reject suitors -- sometimes violently -- until she's ready to breed (usually five or six days after bleeding is noticed), and then will flip her tail over if touched near her rump, indicating interest. Pregnancy in dogs runs an average of 63 to 65 days.
Talk to your veterinarian about your plans, or, even better, about scheduling a spay for your dog. If you want another dog, revisit the shelter. Otherwise, please don't add to the problems of overpopulation by breeding your pet.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies" and "Cats for Dummies," and is the editorial director of the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or e-mail to Write2Gina(at)aol.com.
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