Feathers were ruffled and fur flew when the fate of the dogs owned by two women who contracted the Ebola virus was brought to public attention. In Spain, Excaliber, the dog who belonged to a health care worker who contracted the virus was euthanized despite protests by animal lovers who started a Twitter campaign #salvomosaexcaliber. U.S. officials were a bit more humane; they quarantined Bentley, the King Charles Spaniel belonging to Dallas health care worker Nina Pham. Animal rights activist and Animal Fair Founder and Publisher, Wendy Diamond drew numerous comments, both positive and negative, for speaking out against euthanization stating that her adorable adopted dog, Hope, was like a child to her. The question raised: Why wouldn't you protect your dog like you would any precious member of your family?
Diamond sums up in her article in Animal Fair, "Animals are living and breathing creatures that are entitled to treatment and life just as their human friends. We are the stewards of the planet, and animals should not be euthanized (massacred) because of viruses that are not contained by man, spread by man, or manmade."
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) noted in a press release October 17 "that, while there has been no reports of dogs or cats getting sick from Ebola, or of pets passing the virus to people or to other animals precautions were still being taken."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta notes in a helpful Q&A addressing domesticated animals and the Ebola virus. "The chances of a dog or cat being exposed to Ebola virus in the United States is very low as they would have to come into contact with blood and body fluids of a symptomatic person sick with Ebola."
The situation has raised an important issue that all pet owners should consider: Have you taken the appropriate legal measures to protect your beloved pet in the event you are no longer able to provide for his/her care and for when you die?
Most pet owners (including this one) consider their dog, cat, horse, you name it, a member of the family. Many of us treat our pets like our children. I know I do, and I have asked several friends who feel the same way. We rescued Sazerac who spent much of his young life in a puppy mill. His love is unconditional; his needs are simple real: food, water, shelter, love. That's about it.
In 1999, I adopted my first rescue Maltese, a male named Chance. I was single at the time, living in New York City, and when the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center collapsed from terrorist attacks, it was Chance who curled up by my side reminding me I was not alone. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, it was Chance who comforted both me and my anxious husband, David, when our spirits were low. And when Chance was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor two years later, we showed him the love and care any parent would devote to an ill child, and we grieved deeply when we lost him in the end. The only difference was that we were given the choice to euthanize Chance to end his suffering. A human's child's pain would need to continue.
But in the eyes of the law, pets are property, not family members. And property is not treated the same as family. Like your children, have you made necessary provisions to make sure your pets will be well cared for and given the water, food, shelter and love that they need and deserve if and when you cannot be there for them?
"Pet owners often do not think through what will happen to their companion animals if their owner dies or become disabled. A handshake and a promise are not enough, and procrastination is too common," says Rachel Hirschfeld, a pet trust legal specialist and founder and co-chair of the Animal Law Committee for the New York Bar Association. "Sadly, the consequences of a pet owner's failure to provide for their pet's continuing care can be stark. Too often, the pet will end up in a shelter where, at best, it will not receive the care the pet owner would want and, at worst- and in most cases- the pet will be euthanized."
To help pet owners follow proper channels and paperwork to provide for their animal companions, Hirschfeld created the Pet Protection Agreement pet trust.
Here are five things Hirschfeld says to consider when setting up a pet trust:
1. Identifying the pet owner and appointing the pet guardian (both owner and guardian must sign and agree with the document terms);
2. Ensuring the record is a stand-alone document which is valid in all 50 states and enforceable immediately upon the pet owner's inability to continue caring for the pet;
3. Including all pets that the pet owner has when s/he becomes unable to provide for their care are incorporated. This includes any pets in gestation (e.g., if a dog is pregnant);
4. Including the limited power of attorney and health care proxy;
5. Never using the word "incapacitated." Rachel notes that the word "incapacitated is a legal term that defines a condition that allows others to make financial and personal decisions for the pet. The term 'unable to care for' is more accurate and less explosive. The danger of using the word 'incapacitated' is that it may be used to describe the pet owner's possible mental state and used as evidence in a guardianship proceeding."
It's important to realize that while you may consider your precious pooch or feline friend your child, your human children may not feel the same way and neither may your spouse or partner.
"Heirs and beneficiaries get restless while waiting for a pet to die," notes Hirschfeld. "Legal protection for a pet's continued care, guaranteeing a forever home for them and safeguarding the pet's legal decisions are key things to consider when planning for your pet's future."