by Jamie Lutton
- The Capitol Hill Times -
Have you noticed than many people in Capitol Hill, and Seattle in general, have pets instead of children? In fact, there are more dogs than kids in our city. Our streets are filled with dogs and their owners out for walks, and many have pet cats, or both. It becomes second-nature to take care of our pets day-to-day needs, but few have a solid backup plan regarding what will happen to Fluffy if something happens to you first.
Do you trust your nearest of kin? Your friends? How about your roommates or even your spouse? Are you sure? Unfortunately, maybe you shouldn’t be.
A grim story came to my ears a few days ago. A man entered my business with a flyer displaying pictures of an 11-year-old cat that needed a home. He explained that the cat had belonged to a friend of his who died unexpectedly at the age of 57 after suffering a heart attack. Her brother and children came up from California to clean out her apartment, and were going to leave the indoor car to fend for itself in the streets on a cold November day. The man with the flyer, a neighbor, intercepted in time to grab the cat so that he could try to re-home it instead.
The cat was lucky. It might not have made it through the night.
I see this sort of thing happen over and over: elderly or middle-aged cats, which are hard to place since most people want a young animal, end up in the streets or dropped off at a shelter. I see this as I make a bid on the deceased library – the cat sitting off in a corner, often with an overflowing cat-box in the apartment. I see this when I foster cats – last year, a pair of middle-aged cats, siblings, whose owner also died unexpectedly.
I wish that I could take in all of these cats, but I don’t make enough money to feed them all, and they don’t always get along with each other.
People don’t think about death, especially people who are young or middle-aged. Or they just don’t think ahead, or don’t worry because they assume immediate family will do the right thing with their pet. But more often, they do the easy thing.
Family doesn’t look at your pet and think, “This animal is the last living thing that is part of my mother; to honor her, I should take very good care of it.” Pets of a deceased owner are commonly thrown out in the trash along with the rest of the possession that don’t have enough monetary value. Often, relatives feel aggrieved by all of the trouble that they’re going to, “dealing with a mess that isn’t theirs,” when settling a relative’s estate on short-notice. A pet is counted as an additional burden.
Another, more likely, ,possability is being hospitalized for a time without someone to care for your pet. Your caretakers might just decide, “for your own good” to quietly dispose of your pet(s).
Even the hale and hearty can die from an illness or accident. Or you could be out of work, and not be able to keep your apartment. The streets of Los Angles, for example, were suddenly flooded with Chihuahuas and other small dog breeds shortly after the stock market crash of 2008. Suddenly out of work, the owners turned them loose in the streets by the hundreds in 2009, 2010 and later. That’s why you see so many of them in Seattle’s animal shelters and pet adoption festivals. But many times, it was too late. LA was littered with the corpses of tiny dogs that starved to death or were mauled by other animals.
We read in the news about abused and abandoned pets, and think that it will never happen to our own.
I propose that a sort of life insurance be developed where the pet is the recipient. Veterinarians could suggest or even provide it for all their clients, potentially even requiring a “backup plan” in the way that it’s required to license your animal with the city.
Otherwise, or in the mean time, make arrangements for your pets to be cared for or adopted if you get sick or die suddenly. Encourage people who you know with pets to do the same. And, be the person who would take in and give a good home to your friend or family member’s second-hand pet.