More Than a Petsitter, Not Ready For Your Will: Who Will Care for Your Pets When You Can’t

Giuseppe models with the books.
Giuseppe models with the books.

We all know we should prepare instructions for care for our pets in the event of our death, even if it’s not imminent. But what about when we’re still quite alive but temporarily disabled by an accident and are in short- or long-term care, even at home? Even if you have a directive for your pets in your will, no one’s going to act on it when you’re still alive, leaving your pets without instructions for their care. Or if you have chemotherapy, or even the need to travel to care for someone else, or to visit a distant clinic for treatments? How do you know, and how do others know, what to do for your pets?

Getting ready for my hip replacement

My considerations before my hip surgery included not only my own needs but those of my 10 cats as well. That’s a lot of litterboxes, and while no one is on a special diet or has any special needs several are former ferals and tend to hide when strangers are here, even strangers who want to feed them. And we do have a few specific routines that help to keep the peace and make sure everyone eats well and feels safe.

Several people offered to help with my cats and I took them up on it on the contingency that I actually needed it. A few days of basic feeding and cleaning would be fine, but would anyone know how to rotate their foods, or hand out their individual treats just before their mealtime to settle them down and encourage them to take their places where they wanted to eat? That Mimi eats her portion of each meal in about three sittings, and not to let Bella eat what Mimi’s planning to save for later? Those are just a few of the things I do to peacefully feed 10 cats at the same time with basically the same diet when they range in age from two to 16 and temperament from relaxed to fearful or food-motivated. Without those routines, some don’t eat, some don’t eat enough, some eat too much, and some are fearful because the routines have changed, little scuffles break out, and all of it affects everyone’s health.

I felt I would really only need someone to feed them while I was in the hospital, and that I’d be mobile enough when I got home to take care of things, including walking my steps, and that was how it worked out. Within the first minutes of arriving home I carefully walked down the steps to the basement to see Mariposa, Hamlet and even Bella who had had about enough of strange occurrences in our house; all the rest had come running to the door when I came in. We were all glad to get back to normal.

A friend on months of chemotherapy

A friend with two adopted cats and two former feral rescues with some special needs came through breast cancer surgery just fine, but after her surgery her doctors determined she needed six chemotherapy treatments over six months. Chemotherapy doesn’t treat anyone very nice and can be completely debilitating, leaving some people unable to even walk and care for themselves. My friend prepared for this with a schedule of her husband and volunteers and tasks that would care for both her and her cats until she felt well enough to undertake it again.

And many of us rescuers have faced the circumstances of picking up the pieces with someone’s pets, be they friend or family or total strangers, without knowing anything about them, and without being able to ask the person who cared for them.

How to make a plan, and what to do with it

While researching ways to set up instructions that would legally be followed in case I was disabled without an ability to communicate (I always think the worst, that way when it doesn’t happen I feel lucky), I found lots of tips on wills but nothing on just “instructions until I get back”.

Recently I saw a link to an attorney’s presentation on just this information. I read through her information and watched her video that gave clear instructions on how to organize and publish your directives so that they are seen by those who need to see them. I was so impressed that I decided I had to share her presentation; I’m just reviewing the information and not receiving any compensation.

Debra Hamilton is the owner of Hamilton Law & Mediation, in practice “fostering peaceful solutions in conflicts over animals” (and that’s a fascinating topic in and of itself). When she broke her ankle and couldn’t care for her dogs and found herself without a plan, she worked her way through how to arrange for their care and decided someone needed to write up the program, which she titled “The MAAP Pet Care Planning Blueprint”. The video of her webinar explains the basics, and you can also hire her to help you actually do this, because we all know things like this often end up in the good intentions pile.

Make a plan

Outline what people are involved, what they will do, where your pets will go, and how any costs will be covered.

Appoint a caregiver

Actually, appoint several caregivers who are in place so that if your first choice can’t follow through, there’s another person who has agreed to be part of your plan, and what their roles are.

Address the needs of your pet(s)

Detail what foods they eat and what they can’t eat, what medical needs they have, behavioral issues, and any other details anyone would need to know who will handle and care for them.

Make sure people know

After all your planning, this might just be the most important point—who you tell to be certain that, if you are incapacitated and can’t communicate, they will know you have a plan and where to find it, such as your family and friends, your veterinarian, and your attorney, and also to update annually to be sure all are still able to follow through, and to add and remove pets as your household changes.

For now, I’ve started with the instructions and descriptions I’ve written up in the past and plan on putting a big note on the refrigerator along with telling a few people who now interact with my cats, but I know I need to up my game on that. I’m getting older and next time may not go so smoothly. I’d better practice what I preach. I hope to follow up on this.

Read more articles about Health and Safety and Veterinary Medicine.

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Each month features one of my commissioned portraits of a feline or felines and their rescue story along with a kitty quote on the left page, and on the right page the month name with enough lines for all possible dates, with standard holidays and animal-themed observances and events. Great Rescues also includes a mini cat-care book illustrated with my drawings including information on finding strays or orphaned kittens, adopting for the first time or caring for a geriatric cat, a list of household toxins and toxic plants, or helping stray and feral cats and beginning with TNR.

Each book includes also 10 sheets of my “22 Cats” decorative notepaper with a collage of all the portraits in black and white so you can make your own notes or write special notes to friends.

The portraits in this book, collected as a series, won both a Certificate of Excellence and a Muse Medallion in the 2011 Cat Writers’ Association Annual Communication Contest, as well as the 22 Cats Notepaper mentioned below.

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Weekly schedule of features:

Sunday: Essays, Pet Loss, Poetry, The Artist’s Life Monday: Adoptable Cats, TNR & Shelters Tuesday: Rescue Stories Wednesday: Commissioned Portrait or Featured Artwork Thursday: New Merchandise Friday: Book Review, Health and Welfare, Advocacy Saturday: Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat, Living Green With Pets, Creating With Cats And sometimes, I just throw my hands in the air and have fun!




From health and welfare to rescue and adoption stories, advocacy and art, factual articles and fictional stories, "The Creative Cat" offers both visual and verbal education and entertainment about cats for people who love cats, pets and animals of all species.

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