They aren’t getting any younger. Most of us spend a certain amount of time between riding and mucking, just watching our animals get older. If you are like me, you have a few elders of different species right now who are on borrowed time. Every time the Grandfather Horse lies down I squint to see if he’s still breathing.
We wish for some sense of order, hoping that they will pass chronologically, oldest to youngest. That plan never works. Still, as we watch them age, we always imagine ourselves saying goodbye, one at a time, for years to come.
What narrow vision. The truth is it’s possible they’ll outlive us. What if you die first?
The world lost a good horsewoman recently. She and I hadn’t met, but we shared the same friends. Her passing was unexpected and she left a horse behind. She is mourned dearly.
I didn’t know her except for one small detail: She was 61 years old. My age.
This is how animals get in trouble. They are beloved by their owner, but that person dies. Family members mean well, but maybe they live far away or are unfamiliar with horses. Sometimes these good horses languish in neglect, with no one wanting to make a hard decision. Maybe in the end they get thin, finally go to auction, and in the worst case, get aboard a truck heading south, more frightened than they have ever been. Can you imagine anything worse?
Do you have a plan written down for your horse?
Our horsewoman-friend was forward-thinking with the best interests of her mare’s safety at heart. Her papers were in order, with directives and money from the estate to support her horse. She was blessed with good friends who stepped up to help immediately.
Current statistics say that about 55% of American adults do not have a will or other estate plan in place. Probate can take a long time: even a simple estate takes six months, with many taking over two years. During that period, no money can be disbursed for the care of animals.
Past that, not all of us come from close-knit families with similar lifestyles, or if we live in a different area, it’s our friends we will need to rely on. Have you talked with them about your animals in the case of your death? If you have a plan written, is it time to update it and check-up with your caretakers?
When I was younger I didn’t take this topic very seriously. I had a vague plan that my horses be given to a committed 4-H girl. I passively felt good about it, but the truth is that I didn’t even write it down. Thinking about that now, it’s laughable.
We all want our animals safe when we are gone and it takes more than good intention. But it’s emotional and we often aren’t all that good at asking for help in the first place. It’s the part of our estate that is most challenging. Animals are family members but without the same legal considerations. The more animals we have, the more complicated it gets.
If asked to take a pet in the past, I would have waved an arm and nodded–I certainly didn’t want to talk about it. The thought of losing a friend is never easy; it takes courage to even have the conversation. At this age, it’s a much more serious question and I’m much more cautious about volunteering. We all should be–it’s a huge responsibility.
Perhaps your horse could be donated to a rescue. Is it an idea, or have your actually gotten their permission? Choosing a specific rescue has risk involved: suppose that rescue no longer exists or there has been a change in management and it no longer has that credible reputation. Or suppose that rescue was exceedingly full when the time came. Do you have a back-up plan?
Some areas have Perpetual Care Programs (here) where agreements are made and paid for in advance, for the long term well-being of your dogs, cats, and horses in future foster care or permanent homes. It would give such a sense of peace to be able to keep companion animals in our last years and know at the same time that they will be safe when we’re gone.
What about euthanasia? It might seem simple on one hand, but if the animals are young or in good health, the courts will rule the decision invalid. Still in the case of an elderly horse, or one with chronic health concerns that require a high level of care, the euthanasia option should be considered. Too many times at the end of a horse’s life they are devalued and fall into neglect as the cost of care continues to increase. Perhaps allowing them to rest in peace is the best option.
What about forming an intentional community of animal lovers who work together sharing care for each other’s animals? Is now time to look into nursing homes that allow pets?
And have you noticed that I have more questions than answers? Have you come up with a plan that you would like to share? The more comfortable we can get talking about this difficult topic, the more we can help each other and our animals when the sad time comes.
This is a great resource on Will Planning and Pet Trusts (here). It has information on all aspects and options available to animal owners who want to be responsible for their fur family in the event of their death. It’s a place to start and then thoughtfully consider all the options.
For those of us who share our lives with loyal dogs, kind-hearted horses, and cats who may pretend indifference at times–we put their safety first. They are part of our legacy. After that we can rest in peace.
Anna Blake for Horse Advocates.