A few months ago we adopted a new dog. If you missed that important news flash, here was my original announcement. We chose Bella specifically because she was a female pitbull. Our previous dog had also been a female pitbull and she was the best family pet we could have hoped for. As it turns out, Bella is nothing like Molly and yet she is a wonderful family pet as well, though for entirely different reasons. We were reminded by these two beautifully diverse animals of a fact most pet owners already know—each dog has its own personality, likes, dislikes, and quirks.
Having barely hit middle age, my husband and I don’t worry about death much. Of course, we take the regular precautions of carrying life insurance, getting regular checkups, and wearing our seatbelts. Heck, sometimes we even remember to take our vitamins. Because of my husband’s chosen profession in the Marine Corps, we are also
forced encouraged more often than we would otherwise be inclined to re-evaluate our wills. Somehow in this process, though we’ve discussed guardianship of our children, we’ve never discussed what would happen to our beloved pets if something unthinkable should happen to both of us.
Well, Cathy Connolly has. When Cathy’s parents died within eight months of one another, they left behind their dog Mandy. Thankfully, Cathy’s brother Eric had helped take care of her parents before they passed away. Consequently, he knew Mandy’s habits, schedule, and little facts that a stranger wouldn’t have guessed (e.g. she liked to have her dinner served slightly warm). For those of us who consider our pets as family members, the thought that our pets might end up with strangers who don’t understand them or know how to comfort them is a painful one. Even worse, what if our quirky, older dog doesn’t find another home? Realizing that not all families have a family member who can or will step up to the task of adopting their pet if something should happen Cathy, along with her husband Joe, decided to create a tool to make planning for that uncertainty easier. That tool is their book If I Should Die Before My Dog.
The book is actually more of a workbook. Each chapter covers a topic area for you to discuss with your family and fill in on behalf of your dog. The book is extremely comprehensive. It covers everything from medical history to habits and preferences. By the time you have completed the book, you will have a personalized manual for your dog that relates what commands he knows, what type of food she eats, how well or poorly he travels, whether she gets along with children and/or animals, and whether or not he is afraid of thunderstorms, among other facts.
I completed Bella’s book with my husband and children. We had fun answering the questions together. Some were funny—My kids thought it was hilarious when I circled “do” in the following statement: I do/do not try to eat kitty’s poo. Others were cause for debate. For example, we couldn’t agree on an answer for “I love to sit on my human’s lap” since our 50-lb pitbull would LOVE to sit on our laps if it wasn’t so difficult to accomplish! We did use pencil to fill in our answers, because just as we know that one dog’s personality differs from another’s, we also know that a dog’s personality and preferences can change over time. I asked Cathy (Yes–she actually made time to chat with me and answer some questions) if she would consider creating a digital version that could be easily updated and she assured me it’s already in the works. She’s also written a version of the book for cats which is awaiting publication.
When you have finished filling in the book, you are left with a customized handbook for your dog’s care. None of us wants to think about the possibility of our own death or serious disability, but since we can’t predict or prevent these events it doesn’t hurt to prepare for our loved ones to be taken care of if and when they occur. By taking just a little time (it took us about an hour) to fill in If I Should Die Before My Dog, you are ensuring that your pet will continue to be loved and cared for in the same way that you have when you are no longer able to do it yourself.