Friday, February 12, 2016

What Would Your Cat's Life Be Like?

One of my goals for this blog is to do awareness posts about subjects I don't feel have been adequately addressed within the pet care community. So far, Watch Out For The Teeth!, (about feline dental care), is the main post in this category, through there was a bit included in Too Close to a Nightmare I Couldn't Handle (about Bear's tumor), The Myth of the Cat Lady??? (exploring the meaning of the word 'cat lady'), and Meowing Up The Wrong Tree? (about cat trees). While dental care is a pressing issue for all cats now, most people ignore arrangements for their pets as part of their estate planning. I'm not going to get into legal detail because I'm not a lawyer, and laws vary widely between states; some states make it easier to provide for pets, while others require more planning. No one wants to think about his death, but most parents of human children recognize the need to state their wishes about care of their children after their deaths. Our fur babies should be no different.


Bear will always be my kitten. Always be my heart.


Ideally, you'll live long enough to provide for your cat as you see fit. All the plans you make "in case of your death," probably won't be completely satisfactory and you'll have to settle for the best for your cat(s) given every thing you know about his personality and needs. I say this not to discourage, but to admit that when one makes plans of this nature, one must manage one's expectations. Not give them up completely . . . but prioritize and weigh which ones matter most to you. In doing my own planning, the feelings and thoughts associated with how Bear might end up are uncomfortable and even discouraging. There are tough choices, a great deal of research required, and as I said, very few people will find a solution that is ideal. But the alternative is a situation you can't control - that likely won't be resolved as well as you would like, because no one knows your cat as well as you. 

One might think that putting one's wishes on paper isn't important if you have an executor in your will who you've shared your wishes with. But what if that person is no longer living or otherwise unavailable to serve when you die? Do you want someone who might not understand your love for cats to make the decisions on your cat(s)' future? Do you want to take the chance that there will be no written instructions of your wishes, in most cases meaning your cat ends up in a shelter? Bear is ten years old, and if something happened to me and I hadn't set out my wishes, he'd likely end up in a shelter and euthanized. Shelters provide a great service, but I've seen statistics that suggest up to 50% of cats that are brought to shelters don't leave alive. And my assumption is that the burden of euthanasia weighs more heavily on older cats because most people want young cats or kittens, so they are the first to be adopted and least likely to be "left." So, at Bear's age, if he ended up in a shelter, there's a good chance he'd never find another home. And I can't think of any less desirable outcome than euthanasia for the feline that's brought me so much love and joy; and euthanasia for no better reason than that no one is willing to give him a home because he's no longer a cute kitten. In many cases, the best scenario for one's feline after one's death, is a family member or friend, that you trust and shares your love of cats, and is familiar with your wishes. For Bear, I have no doubts that this would be best. I can't imagine him living in an institutional setting in a kennel for the rest of his life, or living freely among a ton of other cats. Bear is scared of other cats and he requires personal attention - more than most cats anyway. He craves human affection and interaction - and spending the rest of his life in a kennel would be stressful and inhumane.

While this doesn't apply to me, right now, because I only have Bear, another consideration is whether your cats are kept together if possible or separated. If something had happened to me while Kitty and Bear were both alive, I'm pretty sure it wouldn't have comforted either to stay together. And because of their wide differences in personality, the best solution for one probably wouldn't be the best solution for the other. One thing they shared however, was needing daily medical care. Kitty was diabetic and required daily (or twice daily) insulin shots and pill doses of prednisone for what turned out to be chronic hepatic lipidosis. Bear's issues seem less dire, but are no less important. His teeth require daily brushing just to MINIMIZE tooth loss. Early in his life, he got frequent eye infections, though that hasn't happened for years. Instead, now, he requires daily chin washings for acne.

Additionally, several phases of care should be laid out. Most likely, there will be a lag between the time you die and when the cat is "re-homed;" this time period must be addressed as well. Perhaps you are lucky and have family and friends in the area - otherwise, who will care for your cat until your desired caretaker gets there or a desired situation is worked through? It might take a few days to go through the process of being accepted to a lifetime care facility or to find another home for your cat(s). Also, to help whomever cares for your cat on a temporary or permanent basis, having detailed care instructions will help the process go smoother and be less stressful for everyone. 

As it stands now, my brother will provide Bear a permanent home should something happen to me. My brother doesn't love cats nearly as much as I do, but I am confident that in knowing how much they mean to me, my brother would make every effort to provide a happy home for any cat(s) surviving at my death. However, my brother isn't familiar with Bear's medical conditions beyond a basic "I brush Bear's teeth every day." And he has no clue about how I feed Bear or our other routines. When I started planning for all this over a year ago, I started to write everything down but got distracted when I started this blog. Most likely, my brother would eventually figure everything out, but why put him (and Bear) through the period of uncertainty when I could take the time now to provide that information? I haven't completed my plans - including these care instructions, specifics of organizations and/or individuals (and conditions desired in either case), and the formal, legal documentation. So far, all I have is the basic plan for Bear to live with my brother. And of course, since he's the recipient of my entire estate, the means to pay for Bear's care or re-homing if he's not able to take Bear at the time of my death. Most of the lifetime care facilities require some kind of monetary payment upon acceptance. $25,000 is a number I've seen a lot, though many won't provide a specific number and instead, determine the amount based on the cat(s): age(s), health, and needs at the time they enter the facility. The cost might be surprising, but when you consider end-of-life care and all the little things your cat(s) requires, and knowing they'll be cared for as well as possible, for the rest of their lives, it seems a small price to pay for peace of mind. While it doesn't apply to me, because the person who receives my estate will also either care for Bear or find him a suitable home, if you designate someone to care for your cat, that isn't a beneficiary of your estate, it might be nice to set aside a certain amount for that person or set forth a way for whomever controls your estate to have the discretion to do so. You wouldn't want your preferred caretaker to have to say "no," because of their own financial difficulties, or because your cat requires care they cannot afford.

Even the best laid plans can fail. But the purpose of considering you cat(s) in your estate planning is to do everything within your control to ensure your cat(s) lives in the best way you see fit if something happens to you. Bear's adoption wasn't "planned," yet he's brought me so much love and joy. What better gift than to make sure he has a decent life should I not be able to be there when he takes his last breath?


NOTE: In case of a more immediate emergency, I carry a card in my wallet that requests calling one of my designated caregivers for Bear, should something happen to me. You can find an example from the ASPCA {HERE} (this link is also included under RESOURCES below). Additionally, I affixed stickers to all the windows in my home indicating that a cat is present in the case of emergency. If I'm not home, or unable to communicate that I have pets, I want to be sure rescuers know I have a pet that needs rescuing. You can find an example from the ASPCA {HERE} (this link is also included under RESOURCES below) or go straight to the ASPCA order page (they are free) {HERE}. 


MY LIST OF QUESTIONS WHEN CONTACTING LIFETIME CARE ORGANIZATIONS:
(some of these questions might also assist you in talking to individuals you might designate as caregivers to determine their compatibility with your philosophies and wishes)
  • What is the process (cost, paperwork, legalities, etc), before my death, for arranging for care at your facility? 
    • Note: The process might depend on whether the organization is your "first choice" or "backup;" in this way, disclosing the condition under which the cat(s) would come to the organization might help steer the conversation. I asked about the process in relation to if my chosen individual caretaker is unavailable or unable to care for my cat(s) at the time of my death (where the organization would be a "back-up"). If you don't have a person chosen as your "first choice," and the organization is the preferred/first choice option, the process might be different; this is why it might help to be clear on how you need the organization (primary or back-up)
  • Do you allow visitors to tour your facility in advance to make sure it would be a good fit? 
    • Note: All my research emphasized that one SHOULD visit first. This makes sense to me, even if it's inconvenient because the organizations might be in a different state or part of the country. If the organization is not local, you might also ask about how the cat(s) would be transferred/travel to their lifetime care home. This also means you might need a temporary home for the cat(s) between the time you die and when the organization is ready to accept them. Another note about visits: when I required medical care out of town and I needed a place for Bear during that time, I visited all the kennels I was interested in, since he'd likely be there for a few months and I wanted to know about practices, procedures, and conditions and what exactly Bear's life would be like for those few months. If I found it important to investigate and scrutinize the care he would receive for a few months, that means I should care EVEN MORE for a place that might provide his care for YEARS. During this time, I visited a kennel that boasted of fish tanks throughout the feline area. When I went to visit, the tanks had an inch or two of brown water and no fish. Had I not visited first, I'd have never known that the desired condition was not a reality. Also, by visiting, I often found I could speak with the owner or a manager, and in the end, this made all the difference because I was offered a good discount that made the best place (in my estimation) affordable. Other than that one "pet resort," Bear's only been to one kennel. For a two-day trip, I decided to try the kennel closest to my home. I don't know WHAT happened there, but I've never seen Bear that scared (and it says a lot because the vet has to forcibly pry Bear's tail off his belly so the vet can examine his belly during a routine exam). When I picked Bear up from that kennel, he cowered in the back of the unit even though I was standing right next to the employee. And after I got him home, he wandered around the house aimlessly meowing. He's NEVER done that with our "usual" place. I don't know if a cat's trial visit would be allowed (or useful) in a lifetime care facility. Over time, the people and cats change, so just because your cat does well there now, doesn't mean that will be true five or ten years from now.
  • Ideally, my cat could be placed in a new home by your organization (is that your first choice as well?), but if not, what are the conditions he would encounter at your facility (kennel or housed "free" with other cats, human interaction including petting and play, feeding procedure, etc)? 
    • Note: For your cat(s), you might not think another home is ideal; this question might change for you based on what you feel would work best for your cat(s) (including whether they stay together, whether they'd enjoy being around other cats, requirement for human attention, etc). To be honest, I worry about any organization choosing a home for Bear even though I think it would be best for him to find a home vs. live in a facility. If he's re-homed, there's no guarantee he'll be treated the same or enjoy the same freedoms that he did with me. And no one will probably take care of him as well as I do. In a home, versus in a facility with standards and set procedures, there's more variability in the standards of care possible. This is where I have to give in a bit and recognize that whatever happens to Bear at my death will not be ideal. The best I can do is provide as much information about Bear and his care as possible so that an organization can find the best home for him; it won't ever be as ideal as living with his Momma, but that doesn't mean it won't be good or even great. While it's important to have expectations, one must also consider which expectations are the most important and compromise on the points that are less important.
  • What kind of access do you have to veterinary care (on-staff, in town, on call, etc)? 
    • Note: This might also include concerns about a cat's end-of-life. When does the organization make the call to euthanize? How do they determine quality of life? Do they exhaust every avenue for recovery or base their decisions on probability (not likely to recover meaning euthanize). I've seen this phrase used many places, and it's the one I use to describe my wishes regarding end-of-life decisions: "when the cat's suffering and his care is beyond the capabilities of veterinary medicine reasonably employed, to restore to generally good health or to alleviate suffering."
  • Does your facility have any accreditations (ex. American Sanctuary Association (ASA), The Association of Sanctuaries (TAOS), or similar)? 
    • Note: This might make no difference at all. But it might give you an extra sense of security to know the organization has been reviewed and approved by an outside organization. You know there are standards and accountability and oversight. How much this matters is up to you. If I had a spectacular impression during a visit, this might not matter very much. 
  • What arrangements does your organization have in place in case your organization is no longer around or capable of care at that time of my death? 
    • Note: Some places have continuity plans in case an organization is no longer around. I found many organizations are labors of love of individuals which might not live longer than you. If an organization doesn't have a plan, you might also list backups in your estate documents; how many backups you provide might be a good topic to address with a lawyer.
  • Can you provide care for the unique issues my cat(s) has? 
    • Note: For Bear, this would include daily tooth brushings and care for his acne. But for other cats, might include diabetic care/monitoring, FIV-positive status and issues (I found FIV-positive cats are kept separate from others at many of these types of facilities), arthritis, and whatever else your cat(s) is dealing with.
  • What are your policies on {whatever is most important to you}?
    • Note: For me, this includes a no-kill policy (until the cat is "suffering and his care is beyond the capabilities of veterinary medicine reasonably employed, to restore to generally good health or to alleviate suffering.")

RESOURCES:
 (Click on item for a specific document or page and the author for the author's home page)
(copyright by respective individuals and organizations, provided here only as a reference for additional information; not to be construed as legal advice or approval of any lawyer or organization)

6 comments:

  1. All very important questions to ask and important information to have. great post, thank you for tackling it

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    1. I wish more people felt like you do! As I contacted many of the facilities listed by 2nd Chance 4 Pets, most of them only got inquiries in emergency situations instead of planning for the future. I'm not willing to put Bear's future up to chance. Every so often you see a post on Facebook because someone's designated representative (well meaning but even more unknowledgeable) dumped the animal somewhere and other family members are desperate to find the beloved pet.

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  2. This is so thorough - it's great! This has crossed my mind, but not something I have seriously looked into, but I know I should. You've given me such a good place to start. Thank you!

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    1. Dexter, Olive and Sophie are lucky to have you ... then again, you're lucky too, so it's just great all around.

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  3. As we suspected, a great posty. We're glad you have a plan, but we do hope you finalize it soon. You can always make amendments. We only say this cuz in a matter of 2 minutes mommy went from a healthy vibrant young woman to disabled but fankfully alive. Dat was not on her agenda fur dat day, but it happened, and could have been worse.

    Luv ya'

    Dezi and Raena

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    1. Thank you. And yes, you are right ... life can change so quickly without any warning!

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