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    Plan For Your Pets When You Can’t Take Care Of Them

    Who will care for your pets when and if you can’t? Make a plan now so you never have to worry.

    Ruth Thompson understands the importance of having a plan in place when it comes to caring for her pets in case something was to happen to her.

    Thompson, who is the founder and director of the A.N.N.A Shelter, the animal shelter that opened in 2004 in Erie, recalled attending the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, 2017, when a gunman opened fire and killed 58 people. She escaped with some scratches and bruises and while she hid for 20 long minutes, Thompson began to think about some of the most important things to her.

    “I thought about my mom and my daughter, but I straight up thought about my dogs and who would care for them like I would,” she said.

    Since then, Thompson created a plan and established a will that includes specifying care for her pets.

    “I think honestly it’s very important. I can’t tell you the number of people who will bring in a 10-year-old dog because their mom passed away and say ‘no one wants the dog, so here you go,’” she said.

    Nicole Bawol is the executive director of the Humane Society of Northwest Pennsylvania, which for 125 years has served as a safety net for relinquished, stray and abandoned animals and ensures that each animal is treated with compassion and given the best quality of care.

    Bawol said caring for a pet is like caring for any other family member, and she suggests people plan for their care.

    That’s why Bawol highly encourages people to write down their intentions regarding how and who they want to care for their pet in the event they die or become unable to take care of them.

    The Humane Society of NWPA works hard to promote responsible pet ownership through education and outreach.

    “A lot of time when people are planning and organizing ahead of time, they will contact us about maybe leaving something to the Humane Society, we appreciate that, but we also encourage people to put where they want the pet to go,” Bawol said. “We always welcome people who want to talk about estate matters and can refer them to our estate attorney.”

    Gery Nietupski has served the Humane Society of NWPA as an estate attorney for the past 26 years and he is vice president of the organization’s board of directors.

    Nietupski said people need to remember to include their pets as part of an estate plan that should have three components to it.

    The first is a power of attorney that gives a person the ability to act for someone else on their behalf while they are still alive. That may come into play if someone is involved in a motor vehicle crash or perhaps has a stroke and becomes debilitated and can no longer make decisions.

    The second component, and perhaps most importantly, Nietupski said, is to have a will that serves as a written document to set forth intentions of one’s assets after they die and that includes specifying how to care for a pet. Within that document, the person names someone to take care of their pet and can even devote financial resources to its care.

    “We recommend that you sit down with a professional,” Nietupski said. “If you have a pet, you can say where you want the pet to go or you can designate a certain amount of money for the care of your pet.”

    Lastly, an estate plan should include a living will that lets a primary care physician know a patient’s intent if there is a decision that needs to be made regarding keeping them alive by artificial means.

    “It’s simple and cost effective to have all three of these, it takes just a few minutes and usually costs a couple hundred dollars,” Nietupski said. “If we could encourage even just one person to provide for their pets in their will, that would be awesome.”

    When someone dies and no one is available to care for pets found in a home, police are usually called and then the Humane Society of NWPA will work to find a loving home, Bawol said. If the owner left information in the home that police are able to find, the Humane Society can house the animal temporarily until the new owners are identified and can take over caring for the pet.

    “We had a family in New York and they needed to make arrangements to come to Erie,” she said. “Then they were able to go back home with the pet after a day or two.”

    If someone is in the hospital unexpectedly, the Humane Society of NWPA has been able to step in to provide assistance.

    “We had an elderly woman who had two cats, our cruelty department was notified and we were able to speak with her. We went to her home for a week to take care of them and then when she came home from the hospital she was able to be reunited with her pets,” Bawol said. “In some cases when people go into the hospital, whether we heard about it from police or family members, we have been able to hold them here. We know that their family loves them, but can’t take care of them for a couple weeks. We aren’t a boarding facility, but we can extend our services to care for them.”

    She said if the pet owner is not going to be able to care for their pet or needs to stay in the hospital for an extended period of time, the Humane Society of NWPA will work with the owner to find a new loving home for the pet.

    That may involve working with other organizations that also share the same mission to provide for the well-being of pets.

    The Crawford County Humane Society in Meadville accepts stray dogs and cats within the county and has been open since 1972, said Executive Director Tina Zakoftelecky.

    She said most of the time next-of-kin who are specified in a will is how it is determined who will take care of a pet.

    “A lot of times, they can put it in their will as to who acquires their pet, just like a child,” Zakoftelecky said. “If no one is specified, it’s a touchy situation and it’s done on a case by case basis.”

    The A.N.N.A Shelter in Erie is an open admission shelter that will accept any type of animal including dogs, cats and horses, and also has cared for alligators, a monkey, and Guinea pigs, Thompson said. The organization offers a service to ensure pets will have continuing care in the event an owner can no longer do so.

    “We have about 12 people who have given us some pretty specific instructions on what they want done and provided,” Thompson said. “Some of them have left financial resources, if they have them, in their wills to do that. Others have just asked us to help out. They wanted to make sure that if and when it happens, the family would know what they wanted.”

    Thompson said each situation is unique so the A.N.N.A Shelter tries to help as much as it can.

    “If you can kind of prepare because we never know when we’re going to go, find out what the pet likes and eats, leave that with your important personal papers because it helps out. If you have specific things you want done, make that specific to friends and family,” she said. “Obviously, we don’t want the animals to sit here. I’m a firm believer in treating others how you would want to be treated.” LEL

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