A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal.
In a little over five months, I’ve coped with two major deaths: my 83-year old mother died on September 3rd and our cat daughter, Zoe, on Christmas day. It has been less than easy undergoing these back-to-back, life-altering losses. Some days I have physically and emotionally ached with grief and momentary feelings of lifelessness. C. S. Lewis wrote that, the measure of love we feel for the person (and animal companion) is the consequent magnitude of the grief and temporary disorientation we feel.
Of all the possible qualities—and there are said to be about one hundred at the highest level, LOVE is the supreme one. According to Rhonda Byrne, “there is no greater power in the Universe than the power of love. The feeling of love is the highest frequency you can emit.”1 When our thoughts, words, and acts are permeated with love, we are invincible!
The Law of Love, a founding principle of life and the ultimate human attainment of the heart, has been the subject of discourse through both the written and spoken word in philosophy, poetry, religion, and science over the millennia. With love, all things are possible. Many of us can inwardly hear and sing the tune from the famous lyrics of the Beatles’ song, “All you need is love, love; love is all you need.” Buckminster Fuller even described love as “metaphysical gravity.”
There is no other word to best describe what the animals in my life have meant to me. Love encapsulates everything. When I think about our five cat kids; Blessing and Joey, both crows; Spirit dog; and our many pond fish, what pours over me instantly is pure love—and a smiley gratefulness for having had the privilege to share life with them. Animals are the mirrors that bring out our highest, most noble qualities and show us who we ultimately are—beings of unconditional love.
Being joined by millions (likely billions) around the globe, I am among the most wonderful, like-hearted crowd who tend to arrange our lives to fit the needs of our animal family, such as the 31% of us who take time off to be with our sick animal! Over a decade ago, more than two-thirds of animal owners treated their pets as valued members of their families.2 They are our “other” significant loved ones.
In U.S. households alone, according to the 2009/2010 National Pet Owners Survey, 62% or 71.4 million homes had a pet in residence.3 This percentage has risen 6% from 1988, which was the first year the survey was conducted. Housed in our homes and hearts are millions upon millions of cats, dogs, birds, fish, reptiles, hamsters, weasels, and rabbits. In the U.S. last year, it was estimated that a staggering $45.4 billion was spent on our pets in 2009.4
Their positive significance in our lives cannot be overestimated in the ways they enhance our mind, emotions, body, and spirit. To name a few of the benefits, there is a growing body of research that indicates our animal companions help to soothe and reduce our daily stress; increase our level of physical activity; lower blood pressure and the risk of heart disease; improve our mental outlook and psychological stability, thereby decreasing depression, loneliness, or a sense of isolation, while increasing our ability to concentrate; as well, pets shorten the recovery time after a hospitalization.5 With so much positive evidence accruing, especially as it relates to our aging population, some insurance companies have lowered their life insurance rates for “seniors” who own pets.
With animals being a vital and vitalizing center of so many of our lives, it is not surprising then that in a number of documented studies, between 12% and 27% of animal owners have been far-sighted enough to include their animal companions in their wills to ensure the continuance of proper and loving care for their pets, should the owners suffer an unforeseen accident, illness, incapacitation, disability, or die. Celebrities, who have in their wills provided for the on-going, secure care of their loved animal companions, have been instrumental in bringing this important issue to the forefront of the general populace, recent examples being Betty White, Leona Helmsley, and Oprah Winfrey who provided millions for the uninterrupted care of their pets. If your will or trust has the best interests of your human children in mind, why wouldn’t it also consider those same loving interests for your animal “children”?
Chris and I were always concerned about the possibility that one or more of our cat kids would outlive us, so we too made provisions for them in our wills that they would be taken care of in a manner that our hearts dictated. We are enormously relieved, however, that we were able to care for our precious ones to the last day of each of their lives while still being in their own home.
But, for those of you who may not yet have taken this critical step of carefully considering who would provide proper care for your animal(s) should you become unable to do so during your lifetime, these ideas may help give you the impetus to attend to this legally recognized and enforceable provision for your animal companions.
Otherwise, there can be very sad and sometimes fatal consequences, according to the Humane Society of the United States, for the loved animals whose owners failed to provide for their life-long care.6 Far too many people are still unaware or uninformed about the very real need to make legal provisions.
My family of origin is a good case in point. In a personal situation that is likely common in many families, my brother had given our mom his heart-felt, well-meaning “promise” to care for her last cat, Silver, until she too died. Through neither fault of his own nor from irresponsibility, my brother’s immediate family vetoed the plan of integrating Silver into their home because, as it turned out, an elderly 19-plus-year-old cat like Silver would not have “blended” into his current family of animals, one of which is a young, very active and hyper dog! Getting her back to Nebraska, where they live, was also part of the impediment.
So, what my brother promised to our mom in good faith did not come to pass, much as he deeply longed to fulfill “his word.” To Silver’s good fortune, my sister, living in the same city as mom, generously stepped in to save the day. In a worst-case scenario, cats like Silver too often end up in the local shelter and are euthanized.7
Protecting Your Animals with a Legal Pet Trust
This can be easily avoided if every person who owns an animal(s) does the required estate planning now to ensure for the short- and long-term quality of care, safety, and well-being for their animal(s). Historically, it was not always so easy to do so, but now we have the legal apparatus available because a great legal advance was made in 1990, when the Uniform Probate Code (UPC) was changed to permit “pet trusts.” This specific section of the Uniform Probate Code was designed to authorize “a trust for the care of a designated domestic or pet animal and the animal’s offspring.” 8
Currently, 39 states have enacted Companion Animal Trust Laws. If you reside in one of these states, ask your attorney to assist you in creating a trust that will function in the event of disabling life experiences or death. To view the map of states with Companion Animal Trust Laws, go to the excellent Animal Legal & Historical Center website of the Michigan State University College of Law.9
There is also something called The Hirschfeld Pet Protection Agreement,™ created by attorney, Rachel Hirschfeld. This document is a legally enforceable written contract between a minimum of two individuals or entities: the pet owner and the pet guardian or pet guardian organization. According to Rachel, “The Hirschfeld Pet Protection Agreement” is a contract between you and anyone you choose. As a low-cost, yet effective, alternative to a pet trust, the document allows you to leave detailed instructions for the care of your pet if you become ill or die.” If you’d like more information about this protection agreement, you can visit Rachel’s website.
Given these excellent legal tools of pet trusts and pet protection agreements, all pet owners can now truly rest their hearts that all will be well for their adored animal companions during the animal’s lifespan should the unexpected occur. Through awareness, action, and legal protection, peace of mind and peace of heart can be yours.
Not to hurt our humble brethren is our first duty to them,
• Fostering What? (our decision to take Silver into our home)
Here’s a touching ABC News Story about “A Dying Man’s Last Wish: To Be Reunited With Dog”
The following is excerpted directly from this heart-warming ABC News story of the truest bond between a dying, homeless man and his dog, Yurt (or you can click here for the full story, posted June 20, 2011, and a video showing the reunion of Kevin and Yurt):
“Brandi Garrett, 28, who looked after Kevin McClain at the Dennis and Donna Oldorf Hospice House of Mercy [he had been diagnosed with lung cancer], said McClain worried about where his dog would go after he died and who would take care of her. But most of all, he wanted to see her one last time. McClain had lived with Yurt [in his car] ever since she was about 6 weeks old, Garrett said.
“He wasn’t very communicative,” Garrett said of McCalin. “The entire time he was there, he only stated his goal was to see his dog. That was really all he was concerned with.”
…The hospice arranged for Yurt to visit McClain, and Erceg drove Yurt over in an ambulance.
“This dog, I swear to God she knew where she was going. She was just freaking out — yipping and shrieking. We got to the hospice house, and she just made a beeline for the front door,” Erceg said.
Yurt headed straight toward McClain’s room.
“She made a right-hand turn and another right-hand turn, and that dog led me down the hall,” Erceg recalled.
When they arrived, Garrett said, McClain was in what appeared to be a deep sleep. Yurt jumped on the bed, and Erceg said it was “like watching her pour herself over his body — she laid completely on top of him.”
Erceg said she took McClain’s hand and put it on top of the dog’s head, repeating the motion over and over again until McClain’s fingers began to move.
“All of a sudden his eyes just opened up — bam. He just looked at her. She started licking his face, his neck, his arms — she got right into his face and looked into his eyes,” Erceg said. “Within a few minutes he had just a complete grab and hold on her.”
Erceg and the other hospice workers in the room could only hear McClain mumble, but he and his dog never lost eye contact.
“Several people had to leave because they were just overcome,” she said. “We all cried a little bit.”
After more than an hour, Erceg gently tried to remove Yurt from the bed, but McClain grabbed his dog’s head and kept stroking it.
Garrett said, “It was heartwarming and heart-wrenching at the same time … knowing Kevin was going to leave us really pulled at your heart.”
McClain died the next day.”
Fortunately, Yurt’s story has a happy ending. She was adopted by a young couple where she will have a loving, stable home for the rest of her life.
Text © by Zane Maser, 2010. All rights reserved worldwide.
My editorial guru and technological wizard is Chris Maser, my delightful husband.
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