Love After Death: Advanced Pet Planning Ensures Continuity of Care

Programs eliminate worry for seniors seeking companionship of adopted cat, dog

By Autumn Gray

It was a once-in-a-lifetime vacation that started Cheryl Foote thinking about the very worst that could happen.

She and her husband, Bill, both 71, their two children and their spouses, and her grandson – the entire family – had planned a trip to France in 2016. Yet as the vacation neared, instead of envisioning shared baguettes and museum strolls, her mind spun down anxiety road: What if they all died in a tragic accident? What would happen to Butch, Sundance, and Jesse, their three cats, or to their loyal yellow Labradors, Sam and Emma? Who would find them? Who would care for them?

“We’ve always operated under the assumption we’d take care of each other’s pets, but if we’re all on the same plane and the plane goes down, then there’s nobody left,” said Cheryl Foote. Whomever found our animals, “they wouldn’t know anything about the pets, and I thought that would be terrible.”

Like the Footes, Albuquerque resident Nancy Wilkins is 71. Unlike them, her three dogs and three cats are her only family. It didn’t take her imagination to run wild to consider the possibility that at least some of them might outlive her.

“To think that I might die and there was nothing in place for my animals didn’t feel right,” Wilkins said. “They’re like my kids, and you wouldn’t leave your kids without making some kind of plans for their care when you’re gone.”

Both Wilkins and the Footes found solace in an advanced planning program offered by Animal Humane New Mexico, a nonprofit shelter in Albuquerque that serves 10,000 homeless and at-risk cats and dogs annually through adoptions and its clinic. Its multifaceted pre-planning assistance includes:

  • Help crafting a pet profile, including photos, personality traits, medical needs, and favorite toys and pastimes, so that the next loving owner can give their cat(s) or dog(s) the best possible care.
  • A referral list of estate planning professionals.
  • Wallet-sized “My Pets Are Home Alone” emergency contact cards stating who is to receive pets in case the owner is incapacitated.
  • A free private tour along the path their pets would take to adoption if Animal Humane were to receive them into its care.

Animal Humane will receive pets of a deceased owner and find new homes for them whether or not the owner donated to the shelter or included it in a will. However, because the nonprofit doesn’t receive city, state or federal funding, it asks to be named as a beneficiary when a person or family has the financial capacity.

“Animal Humane requests but doesn’t require a $15,000 bequest per pet,” said Stefanie English, senior director of development and marketing.

“Our goal is to relieve any worry pet owners have so that they never feel too old to have another pet,” English said. “We want them to know their pets will be cared for if they survive them. We want people to enjoy that special companionship and love until their last days and know we will take those pets with loving arms and match them with a perfect new family.”

The peace of mind the Footes now enjoy has been well worth the bequest. “I feel much better because (our pets) are such a big part of our lives, and it would be so awful for me to contemplate someone not knowing their histories, someone not knowing their attachments. They might go through a lot more trauma or just suffer, or they might be given up (without this plan in place),” said Cheryl.

The plan also asks that their cats, who are from the same litter, will be adopted together and that their dogs, who are bonded like siblings, will live out their lives with each other.

Just because Animal Humane is part of a pet owner’s plan doesn’t mean it automatically has first rights to the animals. English says people often approach the nonprofit to be second or third in line to receive their pets, especially in cases where the owner has family or friends willing to be a first choice as a future home.

“I think my kids would want to do it, but I don’t know how practical it would be,” said Cheryl Foote. “This just puts everyone’s minds at ease.”

The Santa Fe Animal Shelter, a nonprofit that serves more than 5,500 lost, stray, abandoned or injured animals each year, also expects to begin offering a menu of “legacy plans” for both humans and their pets in October, said its public business relations officer Murad Kirdar. In cases where a pet outlives the owner, the shelter’s Surviving Pet Care program will work with the estate or family and care for the pet until it can be adopted. Other pending programs involve planned gifts – regardless of pet ownership – to help the shelter continue to save lives.

Planning for Death of Pet

More often than not, it is the pet that dies first, leaving the owner with grief beyond measure.

Almost anyone who has experienced the trauma of making end-of-life decisions for a cat or dog knows the scenario: There’s the urgent car trip to the closest vet, where you hold your best friend for the last time, tears moistening fur, and after you’ve “taken your time” in the heavily air-conditioned back room, you are then asked questions about how you’d like for the deceased to be handled: Would you prefer cremation or burial? Would you like a set of paw prints or a fur clipping from your loved one? Which urn would you like? Finally – how would you like to pay?

Puffy-eyed, dizzy and under duress, you ask for everything, regardless of cost. You rationalize that you can’t put a price on unconditional love.

But the vet can – and your next credit card statement reflects just how much.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

“Planning ahead makes it so you can grieve the loss of your loved one and focus on the memories and not the financial aspect,” said Alicia Gardner, a pet service provider with Best Friends Pet Cremation Services.

Best Friends, which is owned by French Funerals & Cremation, offers both online and in-person advanced planning arrangements for pets. No lawyer or other legal authorization is required. A pet owner simply chooses a plan and signs a contract for products and services to be rendered at the time of need.

The company will pick up the pet from a vet or home upon its passing and lay the remains to rest at Best Friends Forever Cemetery at Sunset Memorial Park, “so you can pay your respects at any time,” said Geraldine Gallegos, advanced planning consultant with French. Best Friends Forever also allows humans who will be cremated the opportunity to be placed with their pets.

Depending on transfer services, type of cremation and associated merchandise, cost can be anywhere from $100 plus tax to upwards of $600. Payment plans are available.

Albuquerque Pet Memorial Service and Riverside Funeral Home in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Los Lunas also provide personalized pet cremation, transfer and memorial merchandise, but neither offers advanced planning.

“If you pre-plan, you can decide how you want to memorialize your pet when you’re not grieving because at the moment, when you’re going through it, it’s a lot harder,” Gardner said.

The age of the owner or pet should be a non-issue, she added. “Any time is the right time for pre-planning, so if it’s on your mind, take care of it then.”

Animal care professionals suggest researching your options and talking directly with multiple local organizations and companies before deciding which is right for you and your pets.


– Animal Humane’s advanced planning programs: Stefanie English, [email protected].

– Santa Fe Animal Shelter’s legacy programs: Deanna Allred, [email protected].

– Best Friends Forever Cemetery:

– Albuquerque Pet Memorial Service:

– Riverside Funeral Home:




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