Dog lovers to the core, Dennis and Sue Sweeney of Benicia can’t imagine life without their “fur kids,” their two Scottish Terriers that are clearly beloved members of the family. But the Sweeney’s have imagined and planned for what life should be like for the dogs, Abagayle and Tyler, in the event something happens to them. “We all plan on living a long time, but tragic things can happen. We wanted to plan for them and make sure they are taken care of if something happens to us,” Dennis said. It was the couple’s love and devotion to their pets that inspired Bay Area estate attorney Stefanie West to create a free pet directive which pet owners can download and use to plan for their pet’s care in event of their own death or illness. This kind of advance planning gives the Sweeney’s and other pet owners peace of mind, too. West launched the directive in February to coincide with Responsible Pet Owner Month.
There are times when a pet directive is clearly of great benefit. West said she learned about Sparkles, a dog that had nowhere to go when her owner passed away. Fortunately, the real estate agent selling the owner’s house knew of an animal lover who agreed to take Sparkles and give her a forever home. West said some pets are not so lucky and are taken to an animal shelter and euthanized. In another case, a 14-year-old boy in Oakland lost both his parents and then nearly lost his dog, too. A pet directive was not in place, but West made sure the dog stayed with the boy as he went to live with relatives. Such a document is also of help to West’s own father who lost Bella, a beloved dog and loyal companion of many years. He has been reluctant to get another dog for fear he was getting older. A directive assures West that a plan is in place should his pet outlive him.
Pet Directives are not not legal documents, nor are they wills or trusts. The document gives owners a place to set down their wishes as well as list critical information regarding a pet’s age, medical condition, medication, allergies and other conditions, such as anxieties and fears. West’s directive is designed to get people thinking about a number of things they might not consider. She enlisted the help of a local veterinarian to assist her. The form records such things as temperament, food preferences, social needs, sleeping arrangements, groomers, dog walkers, favorite treats and toys, and what he or she enjoys doing. Other parts cover vaccinations, registrations and whether the pets have been spayed or neutered. Finally, there’s a part to record who will care for the pet temporarily in the event of death or incapacity, and who can take the pet permanently. Once the document is filled out it can be put alongside the pet owner’s other estate planning documents. The pet directive can be downloaded free of charge at truststefanie.com/index.php/resources/pet-directive. A series of short YouTube videos called “Stefanie Talks” also instructs owners in greater detail on how to fill out the form.