Crisis Care for Companion Animals – Preparing a Plan

Their Hero is YOU

Part of the Crisis Care for Companion Animals Series

by Muriel Lumb, Animal Advocacy
with many thanks to Liza Clancy of Drogheda Animal Rescue for her invaluable input

Pets bring vital energy to our homes and lives. Pets communicate many messages about love and connection. Care tenderly for all pets throughout their precious lives. The interspecies dance of love softens and expands the heart.
Laura Staley

Life is a sexually transmitted, terminal disease.

While the bizarre truth of that statement makes me laugh, COVID-19 has me seriously thinking about the 'terminal' part - and the consequences for those left behind. Most parents will have taken steps to ensure their children are cared for, should something happen to them. But few think to do the same for their companion animals.

It’s incredibly sad to think of our companions without us, and a difficult prospect to face, but there's no more appropriate time than now to make provisions for them.

So, after years of procrastinating, I'm finally writing my will - and putting a Preparedness Plan in place to ensure my companions are protected and cared for when I, inevitably, am no longer here for them.

I hope the information I've gleaned in the process will help you, and give you strength, to do the same - something that's not just relevant during the pandemic, but throughout both our and their lifetimes.

 

If you'd like to find out more about this topic - and about companion animals and the crisis - you'll find lots of useful links concerning our animal companions and the pandemic at the end of the article.

Before I start, I should say my area of expertise is of the feline variety - as a result you may find me talking about domestic & community cats. However, most of the content of these articles are equally applicable to other domestic, and sometimes working and farm, animals - including dogs, rabbits, turtles, canaries, horses, cattle and more.

Preparedness Plan - What it is and Why you should have one

adapted from the Humane Society of the United States

Emergency preparedness refers to the steps taken to be ready to respond to, and survive, during an emergency. A Preparedness Plan for your companion animal(s) is a document of the steps you’ve planned to ensure they are cared for should anything happen to you, including contact details of emergency and long-term caregivers.

We also recommend taking out pet insurance to protect you and your companion against any unforeseen circumstances. In this context, most pet insurances will have an option to cover boarding kennel or cattery fees if you are in hospital.

Why to Plan

Our own hospitalisation, or even death, is not something we like to think about or plan for. 

But, should something happen to you without a Plan in place for your companion animals, their future is uncertain to say the least. In such circumstances, many bereaved companions are simply abandoned – an illegal act, but common nonetheless.

In West Cork:

  • Abandoned dogs are taken in by the pound. This is no guarantee of a happy future – in 2018, 771 dogs died in Irish pounds, 11% of them in Cork City & County.
  • There are no legal provisions for abandoned cats. And domesticated animals cannot look after themselves well on their own.
  • While rescues may step in, they do not always have the space, funding or information to be able to do so.

Even with a plan in place, a friend who agreed to care for your companion may find the job too demanding and not look after them with the care you would like. We’ve encountered numerous instances where family have left their relative’s companion animal in situ, throwing food to them every other day; not keeping them safe in a secure garden so they constantly stray and are left vulnerable to traffic accidents and foul play, or are seized by the dog warden and sent to the pound; and even leaving them shut in a shed for the rest of their lives (though the ISPCA cruelty inspectors will step in if that type of situation is reported).

And so, in the event of a crisis or disaster – and not just COVID-19 – we urge everyone to have a Preparedness Plan, not just in place, but written down and kept accessible, to ensure the long-term safety and comfort of your companion animals. 

Get the word out! Remind community members that having a Plan for companion animals is critical. Tell your neighbours, friends and family. Share this article. And keep in mind, individuals who become sick or require hospitalization will need to have someone to take care of their companions during their stay. 

What to Plan

Who will care for your companion?

Identify a family member, neighbour, friend or animal welfare organisation who can, and is able AND willing, to care for your companion animals if someone in the household becomes too ill to care for them. Keep in mind there are several levels of care that might be needed. You might consider different people to approach for the different situations – and let them know who to contact if the situation changes:

  • For a few days – a neighbour may be willing to look after your animals in your absence, without the need to relocate them.
  • Weeks or longer – short-term foster care, or boarding facilites, would need to be arranged with someone you trust.
  • If you will not be able to look after your companions at all in the future, a reliable home will need to be found for them.

Talk to the people you want to care for your companions to make sure they’re willing and able to do it. Walk them through What Potential Caregivers Should Think About before they make their decision.

What if you have no potential caregiver?

Discuss the situation with your veterinarian, local pet sitters and local animal welfare organizations. They may be able to help you find the right people who are capable of caring for your companions.

If you are unable to identify a caregiver for your companions, you might consider appointing several individuals, such as veterinarians, family members, and friends, to an “animal care panel” which would be charged with the responsibility of locating a suitable caregiver. The panel could use various means to locate a proper caregiver such as advertising in a local newspaper and consulting with local animal welfare organizations. The panel would interview the prospective caregivers and select the person it felt would provide the best care for your companions.

What Potential Caregivers Should Think About

If someone asks you to care for their companion if something happens to them, you need to be absolutely clear what they are asking of you, and seriously consider if you can commit to all that’s involved. Think about:

  • The level of emotional, financial and daily commitment needed 
  • The longevity of the bereaved companion
  • The needs of your friend’s companion – do they need regular walks; medications; any special needs; etc.
  • How the rest of your family might feel about taking on the responsiibility – including how your own companions might react
  • Who you could contact if you have problems

You might feel pressured to commit, particularly emotionally. But think about the best interests of the companion – it’s kinder to say No if you’re not going to be able to care for them one hundred percent.

Useful Resources

Supplies

  • Have enough supplies for your companion to be cared for for a short time in your own home.
  • Prepare a list of preferred products and their suppliers.
  • Prepare an emergency fund should the emergency caregiver run out of supplies, or your companion needs veterinary care while you are gone.
  • Sturdy leashes, harnesses and carriers to transport companion animals safely, and to ensure that they can’t escape. Carriers should be large enough to allow your companion to stand comfortably, turn around and lie down. (Your companion may have to stay in the carrier for hours at a time.) Be sure to have a secure cage with no loose objects inside it to accommodate smaller companions — who may also need blankets or towels for bedding and warmth as well as special items, depending on their species.

Health & Behaviour

  • Keep all animal vaccines and pet passports up to date and have copies of those records available in the event that boarding or rehoming becomes necessary. 
  • Ensure that all medications & health issues are documented with dosages and administering directions. It’s a good idea to include your vet’s contact details for medical records and a prescription from your vet with the medications.
  • Detail what, how and how often you feed your companion; how and how often they are exercised. Make notes of their daily routines and other information that might be useful to caregivers.
  • Note if your companion might exhibit any behaviour issues. Keep in mind they may be scared without you, and will certainly be missing you.

Identification

  • Companions should have proper identification: a collar with ID tag and a microchip with current, up-to date contact information.
  • Include current photos of you with your companions, and descriptions of them, in your pack. They can also be useful in helping others identify them – and to prove that they are yours.
  • Photos are especially useful if you care for community cats or a feral colony. Include individual photos with names, health details, etc.

Have Clear, Accessible Instructions

Making decisions without leaving clear instructions about them, is practically the same as not making the decisions at all. 

Obviously a will gives the clearest guidelines of all (see next section). But it’s also important to have guidelines in place in the home and on your person, in case of emergency.

Write down or type up your Preparedness Plan using the headers here for guidance. Gather all the recommended documents and pictures together with the Plan, and keep it in a safe place. Make sure your emergency contact knows where it is.

A variety of Pet Home APet Home Alone Cardlone cards and key tags are available online to fill in with care-taker numbers. And it’s easy enough to make one yourself. These are great for carrying on your person or in your wallet.

At home, if you live alone, an eye-catching poster with details of where your companion’s Preparedness Plan is kept, can be posted on your fridge, or in a prominent place by the front door. Back this up by giving not only your emergency contact, but also a friend, neighbour or relative, the same information.

If you don’t live alone, it’s best for your household to prepare the Plan together – and make sure everyone knows where the details are kept.

Making a Will

Provisions can be made for your companion in your will, including nominating a permanent caregiver or Animal Charity of your choice and/or setting up a pet trust.

Some Animal Rescues already have a programme in place for this, with detailed instructions and wording for inclusion in Will documents. See Sources of Help below for more information on options from Irish rescues.

A pet trust is legal technique you may use to be sure your companion receives proper care after your death or disability. You choose a trusted person or bank (“the trustee”) and provide them with enough money or property to financially care for your companion according to your instructions. The trustee is bound by duty to oversee the expenses for the care of your companion by a designated caregiver.

It is possible to draw up a will yourself, or you can hire a solicitor to help you. Find out more about making a will from Citizen’s Information (though note they don’t mention companion animals!)

If you want to change your will after you make it, you can add a codicil (amendment or change).

It is still possible to make or amend your Will during this COVID-19 crisis and the Law Society has issued guidance to solicitors about how to assist clients who wish to do so. Both the giving of instructions and the execution of your Will can be done remotely; that is, without leaving your home or visiting your solicitor’s office. Your solicitor has been given clear and detailed guidance from the Law Society on the protocols to be followed at this time of crisis to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their clients and anyone else involved.

Please consider leaving a gift in your Will to a favourite charity to help them in the future.

Sources of Help

We understand not everyone has a personal support system or the financial means to meet the above recommendations. When experiencing difficulty in creating a preparedness response, please reach out to vets, local shelters and animal service agencies to find out what support is available.

During this crisis, in many places there are options of temporary housing for companions, donated supplies, subsidized veterinary services, and more, available to help people care for and stay together with their companions. In rural Ireland these options are thin on the ground, and already over-stretched rescues often will not have facilities or funds to help you.

Very few rescues operate out of West Cork, mostly due to lack of funding – all are stretched to the limit at the best of times. And while the CSPCA, based in Cork city, technically covers the whole of County Cork, it’s an impossibly large area for them to cope with. Please keep this in mind and try and make arrangements yourself, within your social circle.

Having said that, you’ll find listings of rescues in Co Cork and nationwide at the following links:

Some animal welfare organisations have procedures in place to find a home for your companion should anything happen to you, usually also arranging help with making a will. But you have to arrange this ahead of time, and include the details in your Preparednss Plan. For example (this is by no means a complete list):

  • DSPCA – Pet Guardian Programme
  • ISPCA – Home Forever Programme
  • Dogs Trust – Canine Care Card Scheme

Do be aware though, if your companion has medical or other issues, or if a home can’t be found for any reason, they may be killed. Check with the organisation involved for their policies in such matters.

Crisis Care for Companion Animals Series

This is one in a series of articles highlighting animal welfare concerns during the crisis.

There is already a host of information online regarding animals, not just our companions, and COVID-19. But very little of it is Ireland specific.

Rather than repeating information needlessly, my intention is to translate some of the international information into an Irish context, and I’ve included links to more detailed information where appropriate. The Series will include:

Find Out More

Although this is an American site, there is currently no Irish equivalent with this amount of information. Most is translatable to Ireland, and much of it will be of use to Irish rescues, so do check it out:

May 15, 2020: The ASPCA is regularly updating resources in this hub to support you and your important work for animals. Read our newest content, including:

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