In this time of uncertainty and social isolation due to COVID-19, our companion animals provide much-needed comfort and emotional support. It is crucial that pet guardians reciprocate this support by putting together an emergency plan for their animals in case of circumstances unexpectedly change. Devising a plan now can provide peace of mind that your companion will be well cared for in the event that you fall ill or are otherwise temporarily unable to care for them.
In the longer term, it is important that pet guardians make arrangements for their animals in the event that they pass or are otherwise unable to care for them. According to 2018, a study by the Angus Reid Institute, half of Canadians do not have a formal will. Only 35% of Canadians report that their will is up to date . Developing an emergency plan and estate planning are both important tools to protect your companion, whatever the future holds.
Emergency Planning during COVID-19
If you are well enough to continue caring for your pet and keep them in the home, it is best to do so . There is currently no evidence that domestic pets can become sick with COVID-19 or spread the virus to people . Stay informed on any new information presented by the CDC or WHO to continue protecting yourself and your companion animals. Make arrangements with a friend that could temporarily care for your animal if you become unable to do so. As travel is restricted in many areas, it is best for this friend to be local to you. Prepare a bag of items that your pet would need for a month as well as detailed care instructions. This might include a 3-6 week supply of food, treats and litter, a supply of any medication they are on, a list of allergies, necessary pet accessories, veterinary contact information, proof of guardianship and their favourite toy. Additionally, if you live alone the Animal Legal Defense Fund suggests putting up signage in your home to indicate that an animal is present .
Companion Animals in the Law
Although guardians share close bonds with their pets and many consider them to be
members of the family, Canadian law still treats animals as property. It is, therefore, necessary for the interests of the animal to be clearly represented in their owner’s will to ensure their long-term care and wellbeing. Pet clauses in wills, pet trusts, and pet stewardship programs are all options for how to plan ahead and provide peace of mind that whatever the future holds your companion will be well cared for.
Pet Clauses & Pet Trusts
By including a pet clause in your will, you can specify who will have ownership of your animal in the event of your passing. Since animals are considered property, they cannot be left any assets. However, a trusted friend or family member can be entrusted with your pet and an additional sum of money to care for them. It is important to name a loved one you trust and to communicate with them when planning, as there is no legal obligation for them to continue caring for the animal or to use the money for related pet expenses. If you have multiple animals, consider if they’re bonded to one another, if one person you trust would be capable of looking after each of them or if separate arrangements need to be made. If you are able, set aside money to pass on with your animal, considering increased costs as they age, as a financial burden increases the risk that a loved one will be unable to care for them. Gartner & Associates are experienced at drafting pet clauses in wills and can help you ensure that this is the correct route for you. Alternatively, a pet trust includes a trustee and a guardian. A pet trust involves specific instructions for the use of the funds and cares for an animal that the trustee enforces .
Pet Stewardship Programs
We recognize that not all pet guardians have a trusted loved one with the ability to care for your companion. Local stewardship programs provide one alternative. For instance, the Ottawa Humane Society (OHS) offers a pet stewardship program where you can sign an agreement that upon the death of the owner the animal is taken into custody of the animal estate. Funds go to the Humane Society with specific instructions to ensure the animal is being cared for as you want them to. OHS agrees not to euthanize except in cases of the disease, to find a permanent caregiver, visit the home to monitor their care and ensure medical treatment . Stewardship programs often come with a steep enrolment fee, so it is worth looking at options in your local area and planning ahead.
If there is no plan in place, animals are likely to be either sent to a shelter, where only half are adopted, or euthanized. The most recent data from Humane Canada shows that 47% of shelter dogs and 62% of shelter cats were adopted in 2018, which continued an upward trend.
Since shelters have limited resources, 2% of dogs and 7% of cats otherwise healthy or adoptable are euthanized . A growing number of Canadians are turning to adopt from shelters first, though senior animals and those with medical conditions may remain unadopted.
You know your companion best. Contact Gartner & Associates to discuss which option makes sense for you. We recognize that these can be sensitive issues and can support you through this process. We hope you all are staying safe, practicing social distancing and following CDC and WHO guidelines. We are in this together.
Pet Estates and COVID-19
 “What ‘will’ happen with your assets? Half of Canadian adults say they don’t have a last will and testament”. Angus Reid Institute, 2018, accessed through http://angusreid.org/will-and-testament/.
 “Put a plan in place for your pets, animal groups say”. Times Herald Record, 2020, accessed through https://www.recordonline.com/news/20200407/put-plan-in-place-for-your-pets-animal-groups-say.
 “If you have animals” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020, accessed through https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/animals.html.
 “Plan Ahead- Prepare an Emergency Plan for Pet Care”. Animal Legal Defense Fund, 2020, accessed through https://aldf.org/article/plan-ahead-prepare-an-emergency-plan-for-pet-care/.
 “Estate Planning for Pets”. Nolo, accessed through https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/estate-planning-pets.html.
 Tebby, Diana, “Estate Planning for Your Pets in Ontario”, Mann Lawyers, 2019, accessed through https://www.mannlawyers.com/wills-and-estates-law/estate-planning-for-your-pets-in-ontario/.
 “Pet Stewardship”. Ottawa Humane Society, accessed through https://ottawahumane.ca/donate/a-legacy-for-the-animals/how-to-care-for-pets-in-your-will/.
 2018 Animal Shelter Statistics. Humane Canada. Accessed through https://www.humanecanada.ca/animal_shelter_statistics_report.