911 emergency, take care of my dog for me

In a dog’s lifespan, a family could have as many as 2,000 arguments over everything from cleanup duty to training to the dog’s whereabouts during vacations. Oddly enough, none of the top 20 human versus pet arguments include who’s left in charge should the pet owner pass away naturally or how to handle a pet during an emergency.

Why? Approximately 71 percent of people under the age of 34 and 41 percent of baby boomers (ages 50 to 70) haven’t bothered to create a will for themselves, according to USA Today. Some are in denial about the importance of a will, feel only wealthy people need one or just aren’t ready to make vital life decisions. So thinking about the family pet emergencies is more than likely another topic that could be dodged altogether.

For the pet who comes from a family instead of a single owner, it’s easy enough to leave the dog in their hands. But what happens when no plan is set up or the other family members simply have no interest in taking care of a dog that was the four-legged love of the owner’s life? The pet owner should have a pet emergency kit and a guardian (dog mother/dog father) already set up. Here’s how.

Create a pet emergency kit (checklist via FEMA):

  • Bedding
  • Cleaning supplies (i.e., newspapers, paper towels, plastic trash bags)
  • Collar with ID tag, harness or leash
  • Crate or pet carrier
  • Eco-friendly cleaning supplies (Note: While FEMA recommends bleach, that can be harmful to inhale and the dog may accidentally ingest)
  • First aid kit
  • Food
  • Legal papers (i.e., registration information, adoption papers, vaccination documents, medical records)
  • Medicine and medical record
  • Pet litter (or litter box)
  • Picture of owner with family pet (Should be recent in case “missing” handouts need to be distributed)
  • Toys
  • Treats
  • Water

Ready.gov also gives advice on how to prepare for emergencies, including caring for a pet after a disaster strikes, tips and cold weather guidelines for large animals, and preparing shelter for a dog.

One of the tips includes what to do should the pet get separated from the owner. In the worst case scenario, this includes what should happen to the family pet if the owner doesn’t survive. When planning this out, here are a couple more things to keep in mind.

Do not assume a family member or friend wants the pet. Ask. No one wants to have a living being dumped on them by force or guilt. The recipient of the pet should not only be fully aware of the responsibility but also get along well with the pet. Dogs can go through a mourning period once they realize their owner is really never coming back. Common reactions include loss of appetite, lowered water intake, sluggish response to human interaction, none or little interest in physical or play activity, and howling, according to Cesar's Way. They will need someone reliable and comforting to get them through these moments.

Make sure the family member or friend can afford pet care. Expenses for a dog can cost as much as $1,580 the first year $1,035 for a cat, according to Daily Infographic. Dogs are great for fitness and a general boost in confidence, but they are not free of bills. Make sure the “dog mother” or “dog father” can comfortably afford those bills. And if not, set aside funds in the will to make sure the animal is financially taken care of for his/her estimated lifespan.


Shamontiel L. Vaughn contributed to this blog. Find out more about her at Shamontiel.com.