Pets are such an important part of our lives – we often think of them as family. So it’s natural to worry about how it will affect them when their owner dies. Maybe you’re worried about what might happen to your pets. Or perhaps you need to make arrangements for the pet of someone who’s died. In this article we’ll look at both situations and what you can do.
First, we’ll show you what to do when a pet owner dies. Then we’ll look at ways to protect your own pets in case you die or become too ill to care for them.
Pet care after the death of an owner
Who has responsibility for a pet after its owner dies?
This depends on whether the person who has died made a will or left instructions about their final wishes.
Did the pet owner make a will? Or did they leave a final wishes letter? If they did, it may name someone who they wanted to look after their pet. However, the named person doesn’t have to take the pet if they don’t want to.
If the named person doesn’t want the pet – or there isn’t a named person – the responsibility passes to the pet owner’s executor. An executor is the person who takes care of a person’s affairs and possessions (‘estate’) after they die.
If there isn’t a will, there won’t be an executor. This means friends and relatives will need to decide among themselves who takes responsibility for the pet. This might mean deciding to rehome them if no one is able to take the pet on.
What are the options for rehoming a pet after its owner’s death?
When a cat or dog owner dies, you have 3 options to arrange care for their pet. You can take the pet yourself, rehome it privately or ask an animal shelter for help.
Take the pet yourself
Sometimes, it’s possible to take the pet home or give it to a trusted friend or relative.
The main benefit of this option is that it makes things less stressful for the pet. If a cat or dog already knows the person it will live with, it may find it easier to adjust to its new surroundings.
Rehome the pet privately
If someone you know can’t take the pet, you could try finding it a new home with a new family.
This means you’ll have total control over where the pet goes, so you can be sure it will be happy and well looked after.
However, it can be hard work. Rehoming a pet privately means posting adverts, talking to potential owners and perhaps even visiting their homes. You’ll probably have to look after the pet until a new home is found, too – unless a friend or relative can help.
Ask an animal shelter to rehome the pet
There are lots of animal shelters around the UK that specialise in finding new, loving homes for unwanted pets.
Though you won’t always know where the pet ends up, you shouldn’t have to worry. Most good animal shelters will interview potential owners and visit their homes to make sure they can care for the pet properly.
A downside is that animal shelters are often very busy. This means you may have to wait a while before a shelter can take the pet into its care.
How to rehome a pet after its owner’s death
1. Explain what kind of home the pet needs
All pets have different needs and personalities. For instance, some are nervous and prefer the company of one or two adults. Others love being part of a large family and get on well with children.
It’s important to think about these personality traits and write them down so the new owner knows what to expect. If you’re rehoming the pet privately, include these details in any adverts you post.
Here are some things to think about:
- How much exercise does the pet need?
- Are they happy being left alone?
- Are they crate or litter trained?
- Do they get on well with other animals?
- Are they comfortable around children?
- What activities do they like or dislike?
2. Write down the pet’s history
Keep a record of the pet’s medical history and care needs. This way, its new owner can maintain a routine that the pet is used to.
You may want to include:
- Vet contact details
- Microchip details
- Favourite foods or special dietary needs
- Date of birth
- Any special care requirements
- Whether the pet has been neutered or spayed
You’ll need to pass this list on to the new owner or animal shelter. If you’ve decided to rehome the pet privately, make sure you include any serious medical or dietary needs when you post an advert.
Planning for pet care after your death
What will happen to your pets if you die or become unable to care for them? It can be scary to think about. Thankfully, though, there are steps you can take that will give your pets the best chance of a happy life.
Mention pet care arrangements in your will
If there’s someone you trust to care for your pet after you die, you can mention them in your will. You could also leave them some money to help pay for pet food and vet bills.
You should talk to the person first to make sure they’re willing to look after your pet. If the news takes them by surprise, they might be less likely to take the pet into their care.
You can learn more about writing a will.
Carry an ICE card
If you have to go to hospital because of an accident or health condition, doctors might not know you have a pet at home. That’s why it’s a good idea to carry an ICE (‘in case of emergency’) card. This tells people what to do and who to contact if you can’t tell them yourself.
On the card, you can write what pets you have at home and whether they’re likely to be alone. When doctors or paramedics see the card, they can call your emergency contact and try to arrange for someone to look after your pet.
Ask a charity for help
Several UK charities run free schemes to help protect pets that outlive their owners. When you die, the charity will look after your pet and do its best to find it a new home.
One option is the RSPCA’s Home for Life scheme, which takes most animals. You could also consider Battersea Dogs & Cats Home’s Forever Loved service. This helps cats and dogs, but not other animals.
Are you too ill to care for your pet, but think you might get better? The Cinnamon Trust offers a pet fostering service for elderly owners who are in hospital. The charity will care for your pet until you’re well enough to look after them again. Visit the Cinnamon Trust website for more information.