Facing the Future : Afterlife Plans for your Animal Companion

Driving toward my husband’s home town in Nebraska one summer, my cell phone began to ring. My son answered and we heard the voice of my dear friend Beverly, who lives where my horse was boarded. “Hi Sharon, we’re having an emergency with Katie. The vet is on her way.” She explained the dire situation to me, “Katie will have to be put down.” The gravity of it all grabbed me. My breathing changed, my heartbeat sped up, my body began to tingle as tears started to flow…I sobbed. Beverly still had me on the phone. “Here, I’m taking the phone to Katie, you can say good bye to her now.”

So, I said goodbye to my equine partner of sixteen years over the phone, through sobbing tears. Katie was the first horse that I had started from scratch, the one who partnered with me to earn my USDF Bronze Medal, the horse who introduced my children to riding; my sweet, sensitive friend, Katie, was leaving me. There I was on the side of the road in Madrid, Nebraska, so far removed from what was transpiring at home, and yet I was connected to it at the same time.

My Only Plan Was To Call and Ask for Her Forelock and Tail

We stayed there for a while as I cried. My son waited patiently as my daughter cried with me. I turned to my son, Michael, and had him call Beverly back. “Will you save her forelock and her tail?” he asked on my behalf. That was the only afterlife care plan I had, and that thought came into my mind only because I had interviewed Christine Johnson, General Manager of Eden Memorial Pet Care, just a week earlier. Of course not expecting Katie’s end to come so soon after.

The truth is that I had no afterlife care plan for Katie and I never considered that I wouldn’t even be there.

Beverly handled the situation with my best interests in mind, but things would have been easier for all involved if I had done some pre-planning for this fateful day.

Pre-Planning Makes The Sad Day Easier on Everyone

In contrast with my own situation, Christine shared with me the story of a forward-thinking young man who, before he went off to serve in Iraq, made afterlife care plans for his beloved dog being cared for by his mom while he was away. His dog had been his companion since he was a teen and now time was marching towards the end. “This young man knew that not only would he be gone, but that he would also most likely be unreachable when his beloved dog passed. So, he spent time researching the available options. He wrote out his wishes, and even bought the urn for his pet’s ashes,” Christine said. “He did this so that his mom wouldn’t have to deal with it.” Pre-planning the afterlife care of his dog made things much easier when the time did come.

Afterlife Care Plans for your Pets

Do you have a plan for the afterlife care of your beloved pet? Christine Johnson, General Manager of Eden Memorial Pet Care has some suggestions to help you develop one:

First – Research is the place to begin. Find an Equine Veterinarian who you are comfortable working with, and who is on board with your plans. Ask questions, and be sure to get all the answers you are looking for. Research the options: Cremation, Tallow and Burial – know what happens to the horse in these situations. Think through what you might want saved; the forelock, the tail, a braid from the mane, a shoe, etc.

Second – Plan A vs. Plan B.  Always have a Plan A and Plan B.  You can “what if” situations until you’re blue in the face; but have two solid plans.  Plan A – Beloved “Blacky” passes on his own.  Plan B – “Blacky” needs euthanasia. Understand how both situations will be handled, and be prepared for either one.

Third – What Aftercare service is best for you emotionally and financially?  Know your options – burial, tallow, cremation – and know the costs.  Save and budget for the inevitable. Ask questions.  What’s best for “Blacky”?  What will I want to remember about “Blacky”?  If we cremate, what companies offer these services, and how do they handle the horses in the process?

Last – Ask more questions.  Learn by meeting with professionals.  Talk to others who have already been through the process.  These people will be your best and most honest resource.

Ultimately, this is your decision.  You can have what you desire.  The keys are planning, research, and writing down your decision and contact numbers.  Finally, have a support person.  Communicate with your support person what your plans are and how you want things orchestrated.  We plan our own aftercare, why not plan for our animal companions?  They are a part of our family and deserve to be cared for in death as they were in life.  The resources are there, you just have to find them.

Saying goodbye doesn’t have to be final.  Being able to commemorate our companion can help ease the passing. Understanding your options and being prepared before the day comes, will help you get through this heart shattering experience.  Make a plan and let the important people know that you have the plan – your emergency contacts, barn manager, etc.

Pet Protection Plans and Pet Trusts

Sometimes we need to secure the care of our animals when we, or a loved one, are not around to do so. Christine shares a few ways to go about this, where the Afterlife Care Plan can be added to your own living will:

There are two types of legal documents that can by drawn up by yourself or an attorney.  These plans can be added to your own living will and aftercare planning – The Pet Protection Agreement or a Pet Trust.

The first is the Pet Protection Agreement.  You can acquire one as simple as going online to Legalzoom.com.  They offer documents starting at $39 and will walk you through the process online.  A Pet Protection Agreement (PPA) is a legal document, but does not require the assistance of an attorney.  A PPA is also recognized in all states, and is more of a set of instructions of who is responsible for the care of your pet, special medications/food, veterinary care, and aftercare wishes for your pet—i.e. –cremation services/wishes and what company to use.

The second plan is the Pet Trust.  A Pet Trust is drawn up with the help of an attorney who specializes in estate planning.  This type of trust in not recognized in all states (but is recognized in the state of California).  A Pet Trust is more expensive, but can provide a more detailed plan for your pet’s care and aftercare wishes.  It also provides you a “Trust” to set up and name a beneficiary to be in charge.  The trust would allow funds to be available to your pet for veterinary care, medications, and in the case of death – monies to be allotted for cremation/etc.

For more detailed information on Pet Protection Agreements and Pet Trusts please visit the ASPCA website—under Pet Care and Planning for your Pets Future.

There are also organizations that can help with the grieving process and in placing animals when the owner can no longer care for the pet.  Locally, we are lucky enough to have a non-profit organization, Pet Peace of Mind, associated with the San Luis Obispo Hospice.

Pre-Planning Helps You Enjoy Life With Your Pet

We don’t want to think about death when we are enjoying the life of our beloved pet, yet we all have an expiration date; pre-planning for that event will make things easier for all people involved including your special animal friend.

Rainbow in Nebraska
A rainbow in Nebraska : The promise of better days.

How will you communicate for your animals when you leave town? The Horse and Pet Care Communication Checklist enables you to gather all the vital information you need to communicate all the elements of all your animals’ care to your pet sitter. What if you suddenly had to leave town? Would you be ready for someone to quickly step in and take care of your animals? What if something happened to your horse or pet while you were away? Would your pet sitter know your wishes? This checklist will help you prepare your pet sitter to care for your animals the way you do. Get your Horse and Pet Care Free Checklist here >.

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