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When Your Pet Outlives You:
Protecting Animal Companions After You Die
By David Congalton and Charlotte Alexander
Award Winner
2002 Muse Medallion,
Cat Writers’ Association

This is a book pet lovers will want to keep handy and consult time and again!

When Your Pet Outlives You is an easy-to-use resource guide designed to help pet owners deal with one of their major, overriding fears: If they die tomorrow, what will happen to their beloved companion animals? This is the first book to address this issue at length, combining personal stories with step-by-step information on how to prepare today, along with examples of legal documents, resources, and an index.

The unfortunate result after the death of a pet owner, documented throughout this book, is often abandonment, even destruction of beloved companion dogs, cats, horses, parrots and reptiles by family or friends who did not know what else to do.

This book is brimming with heartbreaking stories about what happens when people fail to plan for their pets. However, the primary focus of this book is to provide helpful, detailed information on fundamental steps any pet owner can taketoday, including creating a pet identification system, choosing an emergency caretaker, and putting together a legal pet trust.

The authors have researched this subject thoroughly, providing up-to-date information. This book also offers a complete report on relevant state statutes and important court decisions affecting people and their pets.

In addition, readers will appreciate the extensive Resource section, which includes sample legal forms, pet law specialists, and complete addresses for pet retirement homes and animal sanctuaries across the country.


Praise for When Your Pet Outlives You

Finally! Two gifted writers have tackled the subject no one wants to face — what’s to become of our pets if they outlive us. Without ponderous legalese, Congalton and Alexander provide the definitive word on specific ways to protect your pet from becoming a sad statistic. Compelling case histories send home the powerful message: Pet owners must plan ahead for that eventuality. To do so, caring pet owners must own this valuable book.”

—Joan Lowell Smith, Pet Columnist, The Newark Star-Ledger

Every pet lover should read this book. This is the best how-to book on planning for the care of animal companions I have found. It really puts
into perspective how much our non-human family members depend on us to ensure their safety and well-being even after our deaths. Planning for the care and love of our pets in the event of our death is just a small return for all the unconditional love they give us.

—Barbara Baker Omerod, Estate Planning Attorney and Pet Trust Specialist

When Your Pet Outlives You shines a bright, positive light on a subject most of us rarely think about— what happens to our pets if we should die first. Whether you share your life with a cat, dog, parrot, or gecko, you’ll learn that where there is a “will,” there is a way to protect your beloved pet long after you’re gone. Packed with practical guidelines and fascinating true tales, this groundbreaking book is destined to be an important, inspiring reference tool for years to come.

—Susan Easterly, Columnist and Contributing Editor, Cat Fancy Magazine

This book is written with both compassion and wisdom. The authors finally address a long overdue and neglected issue—what happens to our beloved pets if we die first? In acknowledging that “bad things happen to good people with pets,” and with a soulfully stirring narrative, Congalton and Alexander tenderly show the reader, step-by-step, on how to protect their beloved pets after they are gone. Far from being depressing, When Your Pet Outlives You reflects the immutable grace and resiliency that is the hallmark of the human/ animal companion bond. This is one book that I highly recommend!

—Dr. Larry Lachman, Animal Behavior Consultant, Author of Dogs on the Couch and Cats on the Counter

You never know what is going to happen when you leave for work or play on any given day. We never think about death, but are your pets taken care of if that happens to you? Well, after reading this book, mine are! When Your Pet Outlives You is a book that all pet lovers need to read, young or old!

—Bob Vella, Host of Pet Talk America

A forthright, thought-provoking book that encourages a pro-active approach to a subject we may prefer to avoid.

—Sue Jeffries, Columnist, Dog World

This is a book that every pet owner needs to read and heed. Listing actual case histories, the husband and wife team of authors offers options for protecting pets in case of the incapacitation or death of an owner.

—Suzanne Hively, Columnist, The Plain Dealer, Ohio

This book is a wake-up call for all pet owners who love their pets. There is only so much you can do to keep your animals safe and healthy. However, taking the time now to work through important decisions regarding their well being if you were to die first, allows for peace of mind. The authors’ message: You need to start planning today.

When Your Pet Outlives You fills a gap that needed to be filled. This book will surely help cement your decision to make kind and appropriate plans now.

—Deborah Straw, Yankee Dog

This easy-to-follow resource guide— complete with some sample agreements/ will provisions— is the first volume to address this important issue at length. Included is a complete report on relevant state statutes and court decisions related to people and their pets, as well as information about long-term-care programs and animal sanctuaries.

—Bark: The Modern Dog Culture Magazine



David Congalton and Charlotte Alexander

David Congalton is an award-winning radio talk show host, author and animal welfare advocate. His first book, Three Cats, Two Dogs, One Journey Through Multiple Pet Loss was published by NewSage Press in 2000. This book won the 2001 Merial Human-Animal Bond Award for Best Writing from the Dog Writers Association of America. Congalton has a popular radio talk show, which airs daily in Central California. He also writes for several national publications on veterinary health care and the human-animal bond. He lives in San Luis Obispo area with his wife, Charlotte Alexander.

Charlotte Alexander is a freelance writer, editor and animal welfare advocate. She currently is serving her third term as president of the North County Humane Society in San Luis Obispo County, CA. In 1998, Alexander was selected as Woman of the Year from her California State Senate District. Her feature articles appear monthly in the San Luis Obispo County Journal. Alexander has taught public relations and broadcast writing at the college level and is an award-winning publications, editing, marketing and public relations specialist with more than twenty years experience.

Visit the author’s web site:



  • Prologue:
    I Fear Them Losing Me
  • Chapter One:
    Animals in Our Lives
  • Chapter Two:
    Why Our Pets Need Protection
  • Chapter Three:
    Establishing a Pet ID System
  • Chapter Four:
    Appointing a Pet Caretaker
  • Chapter Five:
    Pet Trusts: What the Law Allows
  • Chapter Six:
    The Courts: Friend or Foe?
  • Chapter Seven:
    Setting Up a Pet Trust
  • Chapter Eight:
    Veterinarians and Veterinary Schools
  • Chapter Nine:
    Animal Shelters and Humane Societies
  • Chapter Ten:
    Pet Retirement Homes and Sanctuaries
  • Chapter Eleven:
    New York: September 11, 2001
  • Resources:
    Professional Resources
    List of Pet Retirement Homes

All book excerpts from When Your Pet Outlives You by David Congalton and Charlotte Alexander are copyrighted by NewSage Press and the authors. Reproduction of this material without the publisher’s permission is prohibited.


"I Fear Them Losing Me"

What happens when your pet outlives you?

Consider a few recent examples:
In California, a young man died in a tragic boating accident. He left behind a four-year-old dog, a beloved, beautiful Queensland mix named Esther. Family and friends discussed what to do with Esther, but nobody wanted her and the young man had left no written instructions. A friend ended up dropping the dog off at the county pound where she spent the next eight days overlooked by people looking to adopt a younger dog. The day before she was to be euthanized, Esther was adopted by a local dog rescue group.

In Vermont, an elderly farmer died after leaving specific instructions in his will about what should happen to his four horses. Concerned that no one else would be able to match his love and respect for the animals, the farmer instructed that all four horses, considered by state law to be personal property, be put down. A young woman, enraged by the news, organized a statewide campaign to save the horses and challenged the will in court.

In Arizona, a five-year-old Himalayan cat was trapped inside a house for an entire month after her owner suddenly died. No one knew the man had a cat and family members came and went without knowing to look for the animal. By the time the cat was finally discovered and taken to the local humane society, it was too late. The cat died shortly afterwards.

In New York City, visitation was held at a funeral home for an elderly woman who had just died. Her adult grandchildren arrived, carrying the grandmother’s two cherished parakeets. Grandma had left no instructions about caring for the birds, leaving others to do what they thought best. The grandchildren couldn’t care for the birds properly and had no idea what else to do with them. So right there in front of the casket, the adult grandchildren broke the necks of the two birds and placed their bodies inside next to the grandmother.

Our book is based on the premise that anyone who adopts a dog, a cat, a parrot, a fish, a snake, a horse--any companion animal--does so with a great deal of love and hope and good intentions and just a little bit of nagging fear. That fear is the result of two concerns: (1) Pet owners are afraid that their animals are going to die suddenly and traumatically--hit by a car, attacked by another animal, trapped in a fire, or beset by some type of freak, totally unexpected accident; or (2) Pet owners are afraid that they are going to die suddenly and traumatically in some type of freak, totally unexpected accident, and that no one will be around to care for their animals. Their pets then will outlive them.

We have experienced the first scenario, and that made us want to be better prepared for the second. On Sunday evening, December 14, 1997, we left our home in San Luis Obispo, California to attend a holiday office party. Three hours later, we returned to find the inside of our house engulfed in smoke and flames. Our three cats, Triptych, Tripper, and Trio, and our two dogs, Topper and Tess, were dead inside. That horrific night was our introduction to sudden, multiple pet loss, and became the basis for David’s award-winning first book, Three Cats, Two Dogs, One Journey Through Multiple Pet Loss.

Today, more than four years after the fire, there’s a new pack of cats and dogs in our lives. It is fair to say that you can’t walk through our house without being in arm’s length of at least one of our animals. One of the ways we dealt with the 1997 tragedy was to immerse ourselves in animal rescue work. Charlotte now serves as president of the North County Humane Society in Atascadero. David co-founded Pound Pirates, a small rescue group that plucks dogs and cats out of the county pound and places them in permanent, loving homes.

The work is rewarding, but we plead guilty to often bringing our work home--to stay. Our small house has become a refuge for more than a few pound rescues, animals no one else wanted. We are blessed with great cats like Hannah, the one-eyed wonder, and Catalina who has been blind since birth. Ginger, our little runt dog, suffered extensive burns down her back as a puppy, but you’d never know it to see her happily romp with the others today.

Which brings us back to the very real fear of what happens if our pets outlive us. Less than a year after our fire, we were involved in a major accident when our SUV lost control on a major interstate highway and flipped several times before sliding into a tree. Fortunately, we were able to walk away with only minor injuries. Our friends Jeff and Ann Fairbanks were not so lucky; they were killed in a horrible head-on collision in November 1995. In June 2001, Ross and Judi Becker, the highly-respected editors of Good Dog! magazine, both died in an automobile accident. Bad things happen to good people, even good people with pets.

Talking things over, we realized how woefully unprepared we were in case of an unfortunate accident. True, Charlotte has maintained very detailed medical records on each of our pets, but that was pretty much it. If we died tomorrow, what
would happen to our animals? Who would come to our house? How would someone know which pet was which? Where would the animals go to live and who would pay their expenses? How would someone know, for example, that Simon and Ginger are two dogs who are figuratively joined at the hip and shouldn’t be separated? How would they know that power-hungry Tiberius needs his daily medication so that he doesn’t beat up the other cats? Who would explain about Tanner’s sensitive skin condition and the regular treatment he requires? And perhaps the greatest nagging question of all--what steps had we taken to guarantee that if something happened to us, our pets would not end up back on death row at the county pound?

It soon became obvious that others share our concern. A fellow cat-lover from Pennsylvania recently wrote to us about her fear:

Outliving my cats is the one thing in the world I wish for, even more than winning the lottery. It terrifies me to think that they would be left by themselves. I’ve given the subject a lot of thought but have not come to any conclusions about what I want to have done. I have no heirs and wouldn’t subject them to a friend or my sister. I’m thinking of contacting a local no-kill shelter to ask what amount of money I could leave them if they would take my “kids.” Of my twelve, eight are over the age of ten, so hopefully by the time I go, most will have gone too. That’s a funny way of looking at it, but more than losing them, I fear them losing me.

Our purpose is neither to provide a detailed legal tome nor a complete estate planning primer, though we certainly address important legal and financial issues regarding how best to provide for your companion animals. What we offer first and foremost is a wake-up call for the average pet owner. There is only so much you can do to keep your animals from being hit by a car or suddenly running off. However, taking the time to work through some important decisions now could allow you to rest in peace about what will happen to your animals after you’re gone. Our message is that you need to start planning today.


All book excerpts from When Your Pet Outlives You by David Congalton and Charlotte Alexander are copyrighted by NewSage Press and the authors. Reproduction of this material without the publisher’s permission is prohibited.


Appointing a Pet Caretaker

In Chapter Three, we discussed the establishment of a pet identification system to help friends, relatives or neighbors who come forward in an emergency situation to care for your pets.

It is comforting to know such people are around and available at a moment’s notice, but you also need to take a much longer view. If something were to happen to you, who would you want to take your pets for the next five, ten, fifteen, or twenty years? Your neighbors might be glad to come over for a week and feed your cats, but perhaps they already have four or five of their own. They certainly can’t be expected to let your gang move in permanently.

You also need to ensure that your wishes regarding your animal companions are carried out. Consider the case of an elderly San Diego couple who loved their two parrots. They wanted to know more about proper care and feeding of their birds so the couple began attending free seminars offered by a local parrot rescue and education organization. They never missed a meeting and always sat in the front row.

After the first year, the couple appeared in class less and less frequently. Then one day the organization’s executive director received a phone call from the wife, who had been diagnosed with lung cancer. Her husband’s health was also declining due to Alzheimer’s, so the couple wanted the rescue group to take their two parrots when the time came. The executive director agreed.

However, the wife’s health deteriorated faster than expected and nothing was ever formalized. Shortly thereafter, the executive director received a phone call from the woman’s daughter. The wife had died that morning and the family was already making arrangements to place the husband in a home. The daughter was calling to see if the executive director could come and clip the birds’ wings so that they could be sold through a newspaper ad.

The daughter admitted knowing about her mother’s request that both parrots go to the rescue group, but the family members had decided otherwise. The parrots were so expensive, the family reasoned; they needed to sell them and recoup the money in order to pay for the funeral.

The elderly couple had not wanted their beloved parrots to be sold and incorrectly assumed that family members would honor their wishes. Is there anything the couple could have done to protect their parrots in advance?

Yes, you need a pet caretaker, someone whom you trust beyond words, a person you feel will be responsible enough to care for your companion animals should something unfortunate happen to you. That makes the selection of a caretaker one of the most important decisions you will make regarding the future well-being of your animals. It all comes down to choosing someone dependable and trustworthy, and obviously someone who shares your dedication to animals. Cases of abuse and fraud are legendary; it is imperative that you choose wisely.

Leaving Money for the Dog

There once was a woman named Mrs. Brown, who owned a beautiful black Labrador named Clancy. As she advanced in years, Mrs. Brown became concerned that Clancy would outlive her; she wanted to make sure the dog would be happy and comfortable for the rest of his days. Her estate planner outlined several options, but Mrs. Brown dismissed them all. When Mrs. Brown died, she insisted, Clancy must continue to live in her home.

For this plan to work, someone had to be willing to live in her house and dog sit Clancy until he died. The sixty-four-year-old widower who lived next door agreed to Mrs. Brown’s terms: a free place to live, plus $1,200 per month as salary.

The will was set up accordingly: When Mrs. Brown died, the trust department of her local bank would control her cash assets for the rest of Clancy’s life. From these assets, the bank trustee would pay the neighbor his monthly salary. Also, the trust department agreed to send someone out twice a year to check on Clancy and make sure the dog was still alive. Once Clancy died, according to the will, the bank would stop the salary, sell the home, and deliver the proceeds and other assets to several pet charities.

Clancy was nine years old when Mrs. Brown died. About a year later, the bank trustee assigned to Mrs. Brown’s estate left the bank and the work was assigned to a new trust officer. As called for in the will, twice-yearly visits were made to check on the dog and the neighbor received his monthly stipend. This pattern repeated itself over the years with various trust officers coming and going; during a twelve-year period, six different staff people were involved. But the neighbor kept receiving his money and Clancy seemed to have turned into a canine Jack LaLane.

Unfortunately, the bank did not do the math. A dog who was nine when his owner died is still alive twelve years later and bouncing around at the age of twenty-one? Actually, it turns out that Clancy died of natural causes at the age of fourteen, but the neighbor didn’t bother to tell anyone. Instead, he bought another black Labrador and named him Clancy. When that dog died, a third Clancy appeared--and the neighbor continued to get his stipend, plus a free place to live.

Selecting a Pet Caretaker

A pet caretaker is needed because the law does not allow you to leave money directly to animal companions, a judicial doctrine we will explore more fully in Chapter Six. Legally, you can leave money only to other “persons,” so an animal, by law, cannot do anything with a money bequest without the assistance of a “person."

The good news is that the concept of a pet caretaker is evolving rapidly as more legal options are created. Pet owners increasingly are recognizing the need to plan for either an individual or organization to assume a caretaking role. As we will discuss in future chapters, that, in turn, has spawned a wave of new alternatives, including retirement homes for your pets, planned giving to humane societies and veterinary schools, plus an impressive rise in the number of states legalizing pet trusts. Despite the richness of options, however, our own sense is that the average pet owner today is most likely to designate a single individual as caretaker.

We also recognize that there are many hardcore devoted animal lovers who don’t need a will or any legal mumbo-jumbo to spell out what to do should something unfortunate befall a human friend or loved one. We know that some people would automatically step in, assume responsibility for a loved one’s pets, and care for them forever. That’s wonderful, but it is still a good idea for pet owners to put affairs of the heart in writing, just in case there is confusion later on.

So how do you designate a pet caretaker? Here are some basic guidelines.

Find a Good Candidate

All this comes down to one basic question: “Who do you trust?” There is nothing legally binding in a caretaker arrangement. You are turning your animal companions over to someone, and by law, the pets now become their property; they can do with those animals as they wish. The best you can do is “request” that the caretaker provide your pets a certain level of care. That is why choosing a trustworthy individual is so important.

Gerald Condon and Jeffrey Condon, co-authors of Beyond the Grave: The Right Way and the Wrong Way to Leave Money to Your Children (and Others), devised an interesting formula a few years back:

Caretaker = Compatibility plus Capability.

You want someone whose lifestyle is compatible with that of your pets. If your cats are indoor cats, for example, you don’t want them going with someone who will let them outside. If your dog is used to regular companionship, do not put him in a home where he’ll be alone much of the time.

There is also the issue of capability. Your neighbors may be swell people, but are they able to handle your loud, messy parrot or two aggressive dogs? The road to the animal pound, unfortunately, is paved with good intentions. People often step forward and agree to take in animals, only to find later they can’t handle it. It is crucial that you fully explain your expectations in advance so that there is no doubt about what will happen to your pets when you die.

We suggest a third “C” for your consideration: compassion. You can sense a true pet lover, a devoted animal person, by the way he or she behaves around your animals. Compatibility and capability are necessary in a caretaker, but you should also feel the love in the room when your prospective caretaker is with your pets. If you don’t sense that bond immediately, find another person.

Therefore, Caretaker = Compatibility plus Capability plus Compassion.

Introduce Your Pets

Ideally, the first time your caretaker meets your pets should not be after you are gone. The more time everyone can spend together now, the easier the transition will be for all concerned later. We are not suggesting that the caretaker become a house guest. Yet there are obvious advantages to letting the caretaker observe how you and your animals interact and what daily routines you follow together. At the same time, the caretaker’s presence allows him or her to bond with your pets. That makes it so much easier for the caretaker when it becomes necessary to relocate the animals. The more time all of you can spend together, the better.

Prepare Your Pet Caretaker

The same principle we discussed about preparing pet documents for emergency use applies to working with a long-term caretaker, except now you have an opportunity for one-on-one interaction. What is it that you want known about your pet? What does the caretaker need to know in order to assure that Tristan or Charlie is set for life?

Spend whatever time you feel is needed to prepare your pet caretaker--it will be too late once you are gone. He or she will have to know everything related to medical histories, personalities and habits--yet another argument in favor of maintaining an up-to-date pet identification system. Putting background information on paper is always an excellent idea.

(This chapter continues discussing topics such as mentioning the pet caretaker in your will, deciding in advance what will happen when your pets die, arranging for short-term pet care in the immediate aftermath of your death, selecting a secondary pet caretaker, and more.)



Copyright © 1998