"It is up to us to demonstrate through our action and words
that companion animals are much more than mere property.
They are our friends, partners or companions
and we are their guardians."
If you're like many cat guardians, you feed your cats premium cat food, take them to the vet annually for a check up, and keep them indoors so no harm can come to them. Most likely, you even share your bed with them. You're doing everything you can possibly do to ensure they'll live a long, healthy life. In return, their love for you is unconditional. They look to you for all their needs and give back a tenderness you'll share with few humans.
In spite of this loving relationship, your cats' lives could be hanging in the balance. If anything would happen to you, their fate would be uncertain. Why? Only about 1 out of 3 cats that lose their guardian find new homes — and of those, most are kittens or young cats under 5 years of age.
If you have someone to take your cats, you're fortunate — but even that solution is fragile. Many times well-meaning individuals adopt the pets of friends or relatives who pass away. After a short time, however, they take them to a shelter. Their intentions were good, but their life style didn't allow them to follow through — their spouse or child is allergic — their own pets are jealous — they travel too much, etc. There simply is no reliable safety net to protect cats that lose their guardians due to death or serious illness.
So, if you are concerned about what will happen to your cats, we've prepared this paper to provide you with the information you need to protect them.
If you do nothing at all to plan for your cats' care after you are too old or ill to care for them, the responsibility typically falls on a relative or friend. Their options are:
If instead of leaving the fate of your companion cats to your friends and relatives, you plan their future as part of your estate plan — just as you would for minor children — there's another option — placement in a cat retirement community.
About ten years ago, animal welfare organizations started recognizing the need to provide for cats of the elderly and terminally ill when they can no longer care for them. The pain of knowing their beloved pets would die for lack of successor care is an added burden to one whose own life is at risk. Many elderly resist moving into long-term care facilities for fear of what will happen to their pets — and, when they do relinquish them, experience a sorrow tantamount to grieving for a close family member. Cat retirement communities give them the peace of mind they need to give up their cats. They know their beloved friends will be well taken care of for the rest of their natural lives.
Retirement communities are particularly useful for elderly cats, over the age of 7, whose chances of finding a new home are miniscule through conventional adoption programs.
To enroll your cats in a retirement community takes front-end time and planning on your part. If you are interested in this approach to successor-cat care, we suggest you contact as many organizations as you can to learn about their programs first hand. We've described our program below, followed by a directory of other ones we know of. Most accept out-of-state placements.
If you find one that you want to use, try to make an on-site visit to verify the living conditions. You'll want to develop confidence that they'll provide quality care for your cats and be there through both your and your cats' lives. Have your attorney review the contract and advise you on the best way to fund the enrollment fee. Although the amounts are substantial, there are ways to minimize their impact on your overall estate.
Be sure to check out the organization's finances and their plans for perpetuity. If they are a nonprofit organization this information is available on the Internet at www.guidestar.org.
Once you've enrolled your cats in a program, be sure to let your relatives, neighbors and friends know of your plans. Simply putting the plan in your will is not sufficient — wills are often not read until days or weeks after death — and by then, your cats may have been disposed of in a manner other than you had intended. We recommend adding a tag to the cat's collar referring the cat to the safe shelter.
Funding the cost of surviving cat care can be managed in different ways. Here are a few examples. When you get ready to select a retirement community to set up survivor-cat care, make sure you contact your attorney to review the contract and advise on how best for you to handle the funding.