Sad but true: Our pets usually depart the world before we do. That’s why we spin comforting visions of their afterlife such as the Rainbow Bridge.

But sometimes the situation is reversed. And it’s even sadder if a pet is left without provisions for care. We need to plan for that possibility, and we need to put those plans in writing.

Among the contingencies to consider:

  • being downed for a few days or weeks
  • being laid up for an indefinite period of time
  • being put out of commission permanently.

I’ll post more about the longer range possibilities, but — on the “cat is on the roof” principle of not plunging right in to a really unpleasant topic — I’ll start by discussing how to arrange for a temporary (no more than two weeks) guardian.

This can be done informally, although not without forethought. Keep a few things in mind:

  • It’s essential to find friends or relatives — plural, because you need a contingency caretaker in case the primary is unavailable — who like dogs in general and yours in particular. (He or she doesn’t necessarily have to like you. No matter how annoying you are, a real dog lover would not want harm to come to an innocent pup.)  Another thing that favors compliance: any temporary guardian is bound to be aware that you’ll be back in action sooner or later, owing them big time — karmically, if not financially.
  • Make sure the people you choose agree to take on the responsibility. Ask them seriously, not just in passing.
  • Give them keys to your house, instructions about the care and feeding of your dog, and contact information for your vet.  Alternatively, you can specify a professional arrangement, such as having your dog brought over to the place where you board him when you go on vacation. Frankie’s diabetes and his dislike of leaving his domain rule out a caretaker who doesn’t know how to give injections — as well as a stay away from home. Therefore, along with my keys, I gave two trusted friends a list of the reliable, insulin-savvy dog sitters I’ve used in the past (yes, there have been several).
  • Determine a way of making your wishes known in case you’re unable to talk. If you don’t want to use a formal service like, where you register your essential information, keep a typed card in your wallet and car noting the existence of your dog and providing contact information for your designated emergency caretakers.

Update: Alert reader Adam Yoblon commented below that the Petlifeline service seemed a little dubious when he tried to use it.  When I initially recommended it in Am I Boring My Dog, I checked it out thoroughly, but only made sure the site was still up and running for this post. BAD BLOGGER, BAD BLOGGER (sound of me slapping myself upside my head)! So I’m unlinking from that site, and would appreciate hearing from anyone who has used a similar service that they could recommend.

19 thoughts on “In Sickness and…Worse: Assigning Pet Care, I”

  1. Good stuff, Edie. We have provisions in our will for who will take care of Ty and Buster in the event something would happen to us. But we have not addressed the situation for shorter term, less serious circumstances in which we might be unable to our dogs. We’ll remedy that!

    1. Glad I could spur you to action. I’m embarrassed to admit I still haven’t updated my pet sitter list with my two designated care takers. Now I’m going to prod myself!

  2. Hey, great information, Edie! I’ve had articles on the Lake Shore site about it, but I have never suggested the gem you have in putting your info about your animals and their emergency caretaker’s number in your wallet or purse. I’m going to do that and laminate it. I did put my emergency contact on my cell, and it’s the same person who has my key and would take care of Tashi, but the cell could disappear in an accident, get smashed, etc. What was I thinking?!?! Thanks!! From Tashi, too!

    1. You’re welcome. I’m a bit disturbed by the fact that the website also promotes an odd pet telephone device with info that hasn’t been updated since 2008, but the pet registry service seems legit and very useful.

  3. Thanks for an eerily appropos entry. I am facing the prospect of surgery to fuse and re-inforce my spine. The surgeon says I will be in the hospital 3 to 4 days, then discharged to a rehab unit (or home care in the unlikely event I can line up nursing at home). My immediate question: What about my dogs? With five in residence, making arrangements for their care takes on a whole new dimension than making plans for one small pup.
    I was in a big-time car accident in 2006– multiple head injuries, five broken ribs, whiplash, etc etc. And there I was in the hospital’s Trauma Center, floating in and out of consciouness, trying to get the chaplain to reach someone I could task with caring for the fur kids.
    Oddly enough, while I have made long-term arrangements for all but one of my dogs (Miriam the pointer is proving difficult), it never occurred to me to make the short-term kind. Thanks, Edie, for the reminder and the action plan!

    1. As we’ve discussed for the long term, I think Frankie could handle sharing his home with Charles (a laid back Brussels griffon), so count me in for temporary dog duty with him too. Miriam… Frankie says sorry, she’s too excitable for him.

      1. There must be pointer lovers out there. I mean, one sees them prancing around the big dog shows and all…….

  4. Such a great article and something that it constantly on my mind whenever I leave the house. I’m going to pop over to petline now. Thankyou

  5. Edie: Great info clearly and cheerfully presented as always. I’m so fortunate to have found your site. Hopefully mine will someday be half as good! Anyway, have you actually heard of anyone that has used this PetLifeline? I agree in theory that it’s a great idea, but I found their website and the infomercial on it quite odd, outdated, and a little creepy. When I tried to actually purchase a card I was taken to a nonfunctioning shopping cart. Something just doesn’t look kosher in my book. My gut tells me to stay away, and that there must be some better alternatives, or just a DIY laminated keychain card as mentioned earlier.

    1. Adam, what a nice thing to say about my blog; way to get me to pay attention to your comments! And you know what: I haven’t used PetLifeline myself and don’t know anyone who has, so I really appreciate your feedback. In fact, I’m going to put a disclaimer on my post — and see if anyone knows of a similar service that they can recommend.

  6. Went to petline and started to join, but gave up. The article has really made think what to do, so thats good. There is another site for humans that also includes a section on what to do with your pets if anything happens. Anyway, just a thought, thanks again

    1. Cate, belated thanks for your comment. Sorry to say, it was swallowed by an overzealous spam filter. You’re not the only one who had a problem with petline, as I wrote in my update. I checked out and it looks very useful and not very expensive. I appreciate your taking the time to research further and to send the results.

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