We don't like to plan for our own deaths, but it's something that needs to be done.
We've been conditioned to think about making arrangements for any children still young enough to need care and possibly for other family members as well. Our belongings have places they're supposed to go, and maybe we've even thought about what sort of funeral service we would like.
But most of us haven't given a moment's thought to what would happen to our pets if something should happen to us. And yet, our pets are counting on us to do so.
How can you ensure that your pets will be well cared for if something happens to you?
You can't leave money to your pet because, in the eyes of the law, an animal is a piece of property, with little more legal status than a chair. Instead, you must leave your pet (and money to take care of the animal, if you can) to a friend, relative or organization that will look out for your pet's interests.
While you should formalize any arrangements with the help of an attorney, it's essential to discuss your plans with the person you've chosen to handle your affairs, and with anyone you hope will adopt your pet. You might assume a friend or family member will adopt your pet, but that same person, no matter how well-meaning, may not be prepared for the responsibility and might quickly drop off the animal at the nearest shelter.
The time to find this out is now, so you can make other arrangements.
If you have more than one pet, you may need to make a separate arrangement for each one. For example, I have made plans for two of my dogs to go back to their breeders should something happen to me, with the understanding that I trust them to either keep the animals or find them suitable new homes. My two other dogs will each go to friends who have agreed to keep them. My parrot will go to his avian veterinarian, who will place the bird in a new home of his choosing. The pocket pets will go back to the rescue group from which they were adopted. Before any of this happens, I have asked a family member I trust to determine if the animals are young and healthy enough to make the adjustment. Any pet who isn't will be euthanized.
With each pet will go a sum of money, either to offset the cost of handling the adoption (in the case of the parrot and the pocket pets), or to provide for the costs of lifetime care (in the case of the dogs).
Hard to think about? You bet it is! But life is uncertain, and although I prefer not to think of the "what ifs," I know it's my responsibility to the pets I love to be certain they're in good hands if something happens
The Web site of the Association of the Bar of New York City (www.abcny.org) offers information on providing for your pet after your death. You can access the information by clicking on "Reports/Publications," then on "Brochures," and finally by clicking on "Providing for Your Pets in the Event of Your Death or Hospitalization."
Although the information specifically applies to New York state law, it's broad enough to outline all the options. Even better: The association provides sample documents to show how to draw up agreements that will protect your pets.
How many litter boxes do you need if you have more than one cat? Experts say to have as many boxes as you have cats, plus one more. That's because cats can be territorial, claiming one or more boxes as their own and denying access to other cats. What happens next is easy to guess: The cats denied have to find someplace else to go -- and if there's not another box, you'll have a mess on your hands.
Put the boxes in different parts of the home, to make sure each cat is covered in his or her own territory. And as always, keep all boxes scrupulously clean to keep your cat content. You wouldn't want to use a dirty bathroom, and neither does a cat.
PETS ON THE WEB
Want all your animal news in one place? The Pet Hobbyist (www.pethobbyist.com) is the place to go. The site now lists headlines that are linked to animal-related stories from around the world, on subjects as varied as heroic pets and endangered species. The site also offers links to pet-care information and community bulletin boards (for talking with other pet lovers and animal experts), as well as an ambitious chat schedule managed by knowledgeable volunteers. Also available are images, classifieds and a calendar of pet events. The site's a little too text-oriented for my taste, but there's no denying the breadth and depth of the information offered here.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: Who would have ever thought having to give up a 6-ounce cockatiel could reduce a grown man to tears? But that's just what happened to me, and I am writing to you to help spare someone else the heartbreak I am going through now over my beloved cockatiel.
What started as cute bird noises in the beginning began to drive me crazy. I couldn't think about anything else but getting the bird to shut up. I realized I am too nervous to have a bird, and I finally placed him in a new home with the help of the local bird society.
Will you please tell your readers what pet stores fail to mention about parrot-type birds? People need to know that there may be constant bird noises from sunup to sundown, regardless of whether guests are over, or someone is trying to use the phone, think or read a book -- no matter how much attention the bird gets. -- D.S., via e-mail
A: I'm glad you were able to find a home for your bird, because a lot of other unwanted pets are not so lucky. And I'm sorry you miss him so much. You are not alone in your lack of information about the true nature of pet birds, and your story serves not so much as to warn people against birds as pets, but rather to warn against taking on responsibility for pets without educating yourself about what they're like and how they need to be cared for.
A great many people have the impression that birds are quiet, easy-care pets. In fact, these highly intelligent beings demand a great deal of time and energy, and yes, they are a constant source of noise (and mess). Some parrots are worse than others -- the stunningly beautiful sun conure is ear-piercingly loud, and the likewise gorgeous rainbow lorry is beyond-the-pale messy. But all parrots, a category that includes cockatiels and budgies, are constant poop-and-noise machines. You have to know that going in.
While it's easy to blame pet stores for not providing information, the responsibility for education must start with the prospective buyer or adopter. You'll find any number of books, magazines and Web sites on every kind of pet imaginable, and you need to do your research before deciding on a pet. "Love at first sight" too often ends up as "Sorry, but you have to go," as you've found out.
Taking on a pet without understanding what's involved is a recipe for disaster. I hope others will learn from your story.
Q: I have a black Lab-chow mix who has been having problems with his ears lately, scratching at them and whining. Is there a home remedy for this? I've heard about using witch hazel. What do you recommend? -- T.H., via e-mail
A: Your dog needs to see a veterinarian right away. He is telling you in no uncertain terms that he is uncomfortable at the very least, and possibly in a fair amount of pain. You cannot treat an ear problem with "home remedies" because you don't know what you're trying to cure. You need a good veterinarian to determine what the problem is, whether it's bacterial, a yeast infection or even an injury.
Once the problem is properly diagnosed, follow your veterinarian's advice on treatment. Give all medication as prescribed, and don't skip a follow-up office call if recommended. Ear problems can be tenacious, and they may take time and money to resolve.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to writetogina(at)spadafori.com. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.spadafori.com.
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