Elfie's return after his relatively young owner died of cancer, reminded us of the importance of making arrangements for our pets after we're gone. Responsible pet ownership is about more than looking after your dogs now, it's also asking the question, "What would happen to my furbabies if something happened to me?"
The question might be a difficult one. but it's not that complicated to set up arrangements for your pets in the event you're no longer able to care for them. As Elfie's owner and her family proved, the peace of mind you receive from deciding these things ahead of time is well worth the effort.
Who will look after your dogs when you can't?
The first and most important step is to decide who will be the Guardian of your pets when you can no longer care for them.
You may already have the perfect person in mind — but you need to confirm it with them, before you formalise the arrangement. You might think your bestie, who seems to love your dogs as much as you do, would welcome becoming the new owner of your pack.
But - and we can't stress this enough - YOU NEED TO ASK THEM FIRST!!!.
Your chosen Guardian may love visiting your furbabies — like grandparents who visit so they can spoil the grand-kids, fill them up with junk food and then hand them back and let mum and dad deal with the sugar high — but owning your dogs, taking on the cost of their care and the burden of loving them as you do, may be more than they are prepared to shoulder. They may love the idea but have a partner who wants nothing to do with it. Or their living arrangement isn't as settled as yours (if they're renting, that a big problem, right there!).
Or worse, they nod and smile, so as not to worry you, knowing full well they are making a promise they cannot keep.
So step one is an honest and frank discussion with your preferred Guardian to make certain they are willing and able to take on the responsibility. This means going into specifics. Do you want them to continue eating a raw diet? What medications are they taking? Who is their vet? Will they be happy for your dogs to sleep on their bed, as they do with you? There are so many questions you need to answer before you decide on who is the best choice for all concerned.
You need to be clear about the amount of time, effort and money that will be required to care for your dogs — especially if the person you have in mind has never been a Chihuahua owner. The goal here is to avoid surprising anyone with a responsibility they are not prepared for, either because you haven't spoken with them about it, or haven't made clear what it will entail.
If your dogs end up with someone who isn't prepared or becomes overwhelmed by the responsibility of it all, even though they may feel really bad about it, they could be forced to relinquish your beloved furbabies to an animal rescue or the SPCA.
And even then, after you have confirmed everything with your preferred Guardian, it's a good idea to arrange for a backup caretaker in case something happens to you (they're away on holiday, in hospital, stuck in a COVID lockdown, etc) and your first choice is unable to take your babies immediately, when the time comes.
You and your Guardian(s) should discuss your plans in detail, and then you need to put the Guardian's name, contact information and your care plan in writing. Make sure copies of this information are with the Guardians, close family members, regular visitors to your home and neighbours you're friendly with. It's also a good idea to leave a copy of the document in a conspicuous place in your home and with your lawyer or whoever has a copy of your will.
If you think that's a bit of overkill, imagine you are home alone and suffer a medical event or an accident. The paramedics arrive, load you into the ambulance and then realise there are dogs with no carer in the home. They know you're on your way to hospital and likely to be there for a long time, or perhaps never come home. Unless someone is there to inform them that you have a plan in place for the care of your pets (like one of those aforementioned friendly neighbours, perhaps), or they spot your "conspicuous document" the well-meaning paramedics will simply call the Local Council or the SPCA to come and collect them, and your dogs may never find their way to your designated carer.
Did your breeder offer a re-homing guarantee when you purchased your dog?
Reputable breeders offer a re-homing guarantee and this will be written into your purchase contract.
This guarantee will apply whether you have contacted them in advance or not, and you can be certain they will care for your dogs as much as you do.
All you need to do, if you were smart enough to get your dog from a breeder who offers a re-homing guarantee, is to make sure the Breeder's details are with family members and neighbours, in the document you've placed in a conspicuous place and with your lawyer or whomever has a copy of your will.
Once contacted, the Breeder should take care of the rest.
What if you simply don't know anyone willing to take on your pets?
If you're in NZ and there is no one you feel would be appropriate to care for your Chihuahuas, the New Zealand Chihuahua Rescue is happy to take on any dogs for owners who do not have a suitable Guardian available and no cost to them.
They will take in the dogs of ANY age and condition, ensure they receive vet care if required and then, when they are ready, adopt them to a loving new family, de-sexed, registered, vaccinated and micro-chipped.
Again, if this if your plan, make sure the NZCR details are with family members and neighbours, in that document you've placed in a conspicuous place and with your lawyer or whomever has a copy of your will.
If you are not in NZ, then do your research to find a similar local organisation who can help you. There are plenty of them out there.
What happens if you don't make provisions for your pets?
If you don't assign ownership of your dogs (or any pets) in a care plan, your will or a trust, all pets (assuming they have not already been surrendered long before the will is settled) will automatically go to your "residuary beneficiary" (the person or persons who'll receive everything not assigned in your final legal documents).
If you die "intestate" (just means you have no will) your pets will go to your next of kin, which may or may not be what you want, particularly if your next of kin doesn't live nearby.
A will is the most legally binding tool you can use to arrange for where your dogs will go in the event of your death. If you name the Guardian (or Breeder) who has agreed to take responsibility for your animals in the document, you can also leave them with any assets you want them to have to help with expenses.
If you decide the NZCR is the best place for your dogs to find a new life once you've passed, a gift to them in your will would be greatly appreciated by the Trust and all the dogs they care for.
If you wish to do this, please pass on these details to your solicitor to include in your will:
New Zealand Chihuahua Rescue Trust (Charity no. CC55119)
The downside of relying only on what is specified in your will, though, is that wills are not sorted immediately upon a person's death. Final settlement can drag on for years, particularly if there are other matters in the will that your beneficiaries decide to contest. Your poor dogs may end up crossing the Rainbow Bridge, themselves, long before Cousin Biff and Uncle Boo finally settle who has the better claim on the beach house in the Sounds or the ski lodge in Queenstown.
Bear in mind, that specific instructions for a pet's care contained in a will are unenforceable (you can't insist the new owner dresses them up every year as elves for Christmas photos, for example), nor does a will allow for disbursement of monies over the remaining lifetime of the animal. The only way to do that is to set up a trust, but we're not offering legal advice here, so if that's something you have the resources and inclination to do, then the best person to talk to is your lawyer.
Funding Future Pet Care
If you have the means and can provide financially for your pets after you are gone, there are lots of ways to do this. You can use cash, life insurance, stocks, bonds, annuities, and assets like your home to provide funding and there are various legal instruments you can set up to make the funds accessible to your chosen Guardians after your death.
All of these methods require sound legal advice, however, so if that's your plan, then you need to talk to you lawyer about the best way to manage this.
It's never easy to ponder one's own mortality, and we tend to expect that we'll outlive our pets, and maybe we will, but we also might wind up in a Residential Care Home where pets are not permitted, or an accident happens, or in the case of Elfie's beloved owner, who was only in her early 40s, illness strikes unexpectedly, changing everything.
It's a hard discussion to have but it comes with a great deal of peace of mind once it's settled, and you are satisfied that whatever life may throw at you, at least your furbabies will be well taken care of after you're gone.