What will happen to Fluffy or Fido when you go?
This cat, named “Butterbean,” is one of two young females rescued recently by Palmerton Cat Project. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
When a healthy dog was euthanized in Virginia per a directive in her late owner’s will last spring, news of the animal’s death sparked a whirlwind of criticism on social media.
The 67-year-old woman, Anita Cullop-Thompson, wanted the pup, a Shih Tzu mix named Emma, buried with her — and despite resistance from a local animal services, Cullop-Thompson’s wish was granted in March 2019.
“It is a heartbreaking situation,” Humane Society Vice President Amy Nichols said in a statement last year about Emma’s euthanization.
“While we don’t know the specifics of this case, as a general matter, we don’t support the euthanasia of healthy and adoptable animals when other alternatives exist, such as re-homing of the pet.”
The question of what happens to a pet once their owners die offers no easy answer. In some cases, the animal is attached to the one person, making rehoming it nearly impossible. In others, rescuers struggle to place the once-beloved pets in local shelters, who seem caught in a never-ending shortage of space and resources.
Some stories have happy endings, like the one about two elderly service dogs, called Lily Belle and Sugar.
Tom Connors, director of the Carbon County Animal Shelter, was notified the pups owner had passed, and he bought a house for them and a veteran in Lansford. “These dogs helped a lot of veterans throughout their years, and we don’t want to forget them,” Connors said after closing on the home in November.
Still, there are many cases in which a lack of planning on a pet owners part leads to further crowding of already resource-strapped shelters, from the one in Nesquehoning, to Carbon County Friends of Animals in Jim Thorpe and nearly every other rescue in between.
“I think it happens more than most people realize,” Barbara Greenzweig, president of the Palmerton Cat Project, said.
“And sadly enough, most folks don’t make any provisions for their pets.”
It’s not uncommon for any one of the foster homes that comprise Palmerton Cat Project to take in stray cats and kittens at a moments notice. But it’s always a challenge, Greenzweig said. While PCP doesn’t have a home base, most other area rescues with physical shelters already operate at full capacity.
The death of a caretaker raises concerns not only about what will happen to their animal; Greenzweig pointed out that losing an owner can also stoke anxiety in a pet — especially if they’re taken out of their normal environment — making adopting the pet out an even bigger challenge.
Greenzweig said the best way to help overcrowded shelters while minimizing the effect of one’s death on their pet is having a plan.
Some shelters offer programs where a pet’s surrender can be prearranged, ensuring its eventual placement and a stipend for the rescue. Though pet owners interested in pursuing that option should thoroughly research a rescue’s practices, Greenzweig noted.
If surrendering a pet over to a shelter is the only option, make sure the pet is up to date on its shots, and be prepared to make a donation to the rescue to help with operating costs.
“For most of the people that we’ve come in contact with in our community, they care very deeply, and they love the pets that they have,” Greenzweig said.
“I think that you need to be thoughtful about how to best care for them in the event that you cannot, and translate that love into something concrete to ensure their future.”