Monday, April 14, 2003

Owners ponder surviving pets' welfare

By Abe Aamidor
The Indianapolis Star

Who will check in on your pet after you've checked out? With an estimated 112 million pet dogs and cats in this country, according to the Humane Society of the United States, as well as millions of birds, pet survivorship is increasingly becoming an issue.

Many owners of companion animals are older and single; their grown children, if any, might live far away. Such owners worry that, if they die, no one will care for their animals. Yet only 17 states have laws authorizing pet trusts, according to a recent survey by CNN.

Arthur H. Kroll, who heads a consulting and estate-planning company in New York, became concerned when he bought a cockatoo several years ago and realized that it probably would outlive him.

He favors trusts.

"What it allows you to do is establish a trust solely for the animal," says Kroll. "Then, at the end of the trust, the money goes to a society or a veterinary school, so there's not greed involved. And there are fiduciary obligations in the states that allow (trusts)."

Charlotte Alexander, co-author of When Your Pet Outlives You (NewSage Press; $12.95), wonders why so many legislators are reluctant to authorize pet trusts.

"Would people question leaving money to a humane society to take care of other people's animals?" Alexander says. "So why can't you leave money (to a person) to care for your own pets?"

What most people do, instead, is make an informal arrangement with a friend or relative to take over responsibility for the pet, says Alexander.

Sometimes, pet owners will identify a "guardian" in their will, but there is no legal enforcement available in such arrangements, says Alexander.

And if no placement is arranged before the owner's death? Likely, orphaned pets will end up in a shelter, where they'll be hard to place unless they're very young.

In Indiana, Purdue University's School of Veterinary Medicine has run the Peace of Mind Program since 1995. In return for a bequest of $25,000 or more, the university will find a home for the surviving pet.

At least 16 pet owners, representing about 50 pets, have signed up to date, says Kevin Doerr, a spokesman for the program.

Leslie Gardner, a Purdue graduate who is an associate professor of operations management and mathematics at the University of Indianapolis, has signed up for Peace of Mind.

"I have very little family, and I have an elderly mother," says Gardner, 45, who has six cats. "I wanted to be sure if something happened to me that my animals would be taken care of."

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