Critter Care: Have plans, funds ready for pets that outlive you

About 15 years ago I met a woman who had recently purchased a young Sulphur-crested Cockatoo. He was a magnificent bird who made me think twice when he spread his wings and raised his huge crest, bobbing his head up and down. When he hooked his beak on my wire-rimmed glasses, I gave them up pretty quickly. I’m pretty sure that pleased him.

Aside from the fact that this bird was a force to be reckoned with (he got loose from his cage one day and chased all the other animals in the house out the dog door onto the back porch), his owner realized that he would outlive her. Given that these birds can last 70 or more years, and this woman was already in her 50s, that meant that at the bird’s death, she’d be … well, older than any of us ever get to be.

Because it is much more common for us to outlive our pets, this posed a problem for her that many companion animal owners don’t often think about: Who would take her pet when she was gone?

I spent some time thinking about her situation, and as a result I have since outlined instructions, which I keep with my will, that detail what I want done with my pets after I move on to cleaning those litter boxes in the heavens.

It’s not a pleasant thing to think about, and with each pet’s passing, it means updating those instructions, but it gives me some peace of mind. I don’t want some stranger coming into my home after I’m gone and thinking of my furry family members as they would a chair or a lamp or some article of clothing to be disposed of.

After attending the wonderful Dogtoberfest in Lawrence’s South Park this past weekend, however, I learned of another way that people can provide for their animals who outlive them, if it’s within their budget.

The fantastic people at the veterinary school at Kansas State University have helped create the K-State Perpetual Pet Care Program, which, according to the brochure, is “a comprehensive program designed to provide animals with loving homes once an owner is no longer able to provide daily care.”

The program, which you can link to at, had its start in 1996 with Lou and Norma Jane Ball, a couple in their 70s who owned two much-loved Himalayan cats. Realizing that they might at some point need someone else to care for their pets, they approached Jake Mosier, a veterinarian and hospital director at K-State.

Together they outlined the type of care the Balls wanted for their cats in their absence, and in return, the booklet explains, the Balls would “provide financial assistance to the College of Veterinary Medicine through a trust.” This began the program in which, “through a bequest, the pets’ medical care is covered for life. The remaining balance can be designated to support initiatives such as hospital renovations, programs and services.”

In preparing for your animals’ futures, the K-State team will take down all the details that are important to you for your pets’ continued care. This includes such information as daily routines and basic home life, so the staff can closely match your pets’ future adoptive home to your own, which reduces the stress in the new placement. The screening process for a replacement family is stringent.

The rewards of the program are great for everyone involved. “Your pet is assured a loving home, companionship and medical treatment,” the booklet explains, and you may choose whatever form of donation that proves best for your particular needs.

The remainder of the money that extends beyond your pet’s needs goes to the veterinary school scholarship, endowment or fund of your choice. These funds assist the school with “teaching, research and clinical health care service.”

The funds donated to this program can help veterinarians become better at what they do, which in turn improves life for pets and their owners in the future.

The K-State Perpetual Pet Care Program offers three levels of funding, beginning at $25,000 for small companion animals and reaching to $75,000 for special needs animals. Once you’ve enrolled, you may add other pets who come into your life, and if the pet you enroll predeceases you, you may substitute another animal.

Today, 76 animals from more than 20 families are involved in the program, which has provided more than $4 million to the veterinary school.

Many people who have large or close families may decide that their remaining family pets will be well cared for, but some who are more on their own may consider this a good option. It’s a win–win situation not only for your loved family members but also for the advanced understanding of companion animal medical care that you will help bring about.

— Sue Novak volunteers with the Lawrence Humane Society.


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