In mid-September, over 61,000 Texas residents had died from the COVID-19 virus. Many stories have been dedicated to exploring the incredible impact of these deaths including the grief this brings to family and friends and the economic impacts of these deaths. But one area has not been given much focus – the dogs and cats whose lives have also changed forever.
The American Veterinary Medical Association conducts surveys of households with pets in the United States and reports their findings in its Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook. In the 2016 survey, the association reported 58% of households in Texas had pets. The combination of these two facts has incredible implications. It leads one to believe that there have been possibly thousands of pets who will never greet their person again.
At the Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter, we speak with individuals who are suddenly having to make tough decisions for the animals who have suddenly landed in their care due to a family member or friend who have been hospitalized with grave outlooks or who have passed. And, sadly, our shelter has already taken in many animals who had no place to go after their person died or was hospitalized due to COVID-19.
When staff members receive calls about these difficult situations, we always recommend to first ask friends and family if they can welcome these animals into their home. Not only is this wonderful for the animal, but providing love and care for a pet after someone has passed is a beautiful way to honor their memory.
When no family members or friends can help house these animals, the next step is honoring the individual who passed by selecting the right home for their beloved cat or dog. A tool to help with this process is Rehome by Adopt-A-Pet.com. This tool allows an individual to create a listing for the animal they are needing to rehome. This listing is then added to all the others found on Adopt-A-Pet.com, which used to be a catalog of many shelter animals needing adoption, but now includes profiles of animals who need to be rehomed from their current residence. In this system, when a person is interested in adopting the pet in your home, they message the individual who made the profile instead of an animal shelter or rescue organization. Then, the family can choose which potential adopter is best for the cat or dog in their care.
The very last resort for everyone involved is to surrender the animal to the shelter. At most shelters this is done by an appointment, where information is collected about the pet and their lifestyle. The dog or cat then lives in a kennel surrounded by other animals until an outcome is decided for them. At our shelter, staff does everything they possibly can to find a good outcome for each of the animals in our care, but there are never any guarantees.
To avoid all of this incredibly emotional work, individuals can make preparations so that their family, friends and pets are prepared after their death. The first step is to talk with family and friends who you trust to find out who would be willing to open their home to your cat or dog after you pass. Have a candid conversation with the potential individual about their level of commitment and ability to shoulder the expenses associated with your pet. To aid with the financial piece, meet with your estate planner to learn how to leave funds to the caretaker for the purpose of meeting the needs of your pet.
If a trusted family member or friend cannot be found, another option would be to locate an organization that has a program specializing in this type of situation. These programs are typically endowment-based, meaning the individual gives a monetary donation to the organization specifically to hold a space and provide the care needed for their animal in the event of the person’s death or incapacity to care for their pet. Some of these programs include “forever care,” which means the dog or cat will remain in the organization’s care for the animal’s lifetime or some programs guarantee the animal will be placed in the organization’s adoption program.
Death may be one of the topics most avoided between family and friends, but a person’s love for their cat or dog should outshine the discomfort. Knowing you have done everything for your loyal companion creates a peace of mind. And, when the time comes, everyone will be grateful your love carried your pet into their next life after the one you shared together.
Misty Valenta is the animal services director of the Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter.