What Would Happen To My Dogs?
Part I

by Patricia L. Davis, Attorney At Law
Mysterie Kennels


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   This is the first in a series of articles.  The author is an attorney licensed to practice law in the state of California and is the owner of purebred dogs.  This article and the ones to follow are designed to encourage dog owners to think about creating legal protections for their animals in the event of the owners’ disability or death.  Consultation with a legal professional in the owner's area is an essential component in any such plan.

    You hear a story about an exhibitor who falls ill while at a dog show or a story about a cat fancier who is hit by a vehicle while crossing the street and is hospitalized, unconscious, for weeks.  The thought occurs to you: “What happened to that person's animals?”  The stories and the questions echo in your head for days, becoming your worst nightmare.

    If you were to become ill while away from home at a dog show, what would happen to the dogs you brought to the show, and what would happen to the ones left behind in their runs, or running loose in the backyard at home?

    If you were injured and unconscious, it might be a matter of days before anyone learned that you had animals left at home.  Imagine how your house or yard would look and smell if the dogs or cats were unsupervised for any significant period of time.  If your local Animal Control came into your house or yard and saw it in that condition, would your animals be seized and would animal neglect be alleged?  If your animals were seized, how many days would you have to reclaim them before they were euthanized, or spayed or neutered and put up for adoption?

    Preparation and prevention are the keys to avoiding the nightmare scenarios described.  Married people are just as vulnerable as single persons, especially if those spouses travel together to shows.  After all, an accident that injures one person probably will leave the spouse injured, also.  Or if one spouse falls ill while at the show and is hospitalized, it’s likely that the healthy spouse would remain with that ill individual, rather than returning home.

There are some simple steps you can take to protect your animals.

    First, make sure that at least one close neighbor knows that you are away from home and when you are expected to return.  You might not feel comfortable asking a neighbor to check in on your dogs or cats, but you should have someone else in your area whom you trust to step in if you are not home at the appointed time.  Make sure that the neighbor has a telephone number for that person, and your own cell number in the event you fail to return home.

    Second, while you are on the road, place large colorful tags on your animals’ crates.  These should contain not only your name, address, and home and cell phone numbers, but the name and numbers of a person who can step in to claim the show dogs or cats if you are ill and separated from your animals.  (Check with your office supply store about having the tags laminated in plastic. Or consider having your dog club buy an inexpensive laminating machine, and sell custom-made tags as a fund-raiser.)

    Third, carry a card in your wallet, explaining that you have pets at home and in the event you are hospitalized and unable to communicate, a named individual should be notified of your condition and asked to go to your home to take care of the pets.  Print the card on brightly-colored paper and place it in a prominent place in your wallet—preferably right near your driver's license or other I.D. so it will be noticed quickly.

    Of course, make sure that the person named on your wallet card, or the person your neighbor or spouse calls, has a key to your home or kennel and knows how to bypass the security system.

     In the event that Animal Control visits your home while you are away at shows, or if your animals are seized by Animal Control while you are hospitalized, you will need a way to reclaim your dogs quickly.  A delay might mean that the animals are spayed or neutered, placed with a rescue group, or put up for adoption.  Even if Animal Control knows of your situation and is sympathetic, boarding fees at the shelter can mount up quickly.

    A simple document called a Power of Attorney can help avoid these problems.  A Power of Attorney names an individual to act as your agent under conditions you specify.  The terms can be drawn very broadly, or very narrowly.

    Under a General Power of Attorney, your agent could be permitted to withdraw money from your bank account(s), sell your car, use your credit cards, borrow money against your house, or even sell your house.  A General Power of Attorney carries the potential for serious abuse and should be executed only after careful consideration and sound legal advice.

    For the purpose of caring for your dogs, you should consider drafting a very narrow Power of Attorney that would allow a specific person to represent you in dealing with Animal Control to reclaim your animals if they have been seized and to pay any fees required.

A Power of Attorney should include:

    - information to identify the person granting the authority  (address and phone number are usually sufficient);
    - information to identify the person named as the agent  (again, use address and phone number);
    - the actions the agent is entitled to take under the authority  granted (reclaiming the animals, paying any fees or fines, etc.);
    - any limitations on those actions;
    - whether the agent will be reimbursed for any expenditures incurred;
    - a declaration that the agency involved (Animal Control, or your local shelter) may rely on the Power of Attorney to deal with your agent;
    - a declaration that a copy of the Power of Attorney may be relied upon as if it were the original;
    - he duration of the Power of Attorney (is it valid for one  ear, three years, or until revoked--both the person granting the authority and the agent should check the laws in their state or province).

    The person granting the authority must sign the Power of Attorney before a Notary Public and have the signature on the document notarized.  Many states also require that the named agent sign the document accepting the responsibility.  If the agent signs the document, his or her signature should also be notarized.

    Forms entitled Power of Attorney may be purchased in some stationery stores or found on-line.  An attorney in your area could be an invaluable resource in drafting a form designed to address your specific needs.  Most Powers of Attorney expire upon the death of the authorizing person, but some jurisdictions recognize a “Durable Power of Attorney,” which will survive after your death and allow your agent to continue to take actions on your behalf after you are gone.

    Make sure that your named agent has a copy of the executed Power of Attorney in his or her possession.  You should keep a copy in the same file drawer or file box that holds records on your animals.

    If you are unsure what might happen to your animals if you were disabled for a long period of time, you might consider drafting a broader Power of Attorney to address that issue.

    If you were hospitalized, would you require a live-in dog-sitter to take care of your animals and your property, or would you split the dogs up among your friends while you were incapacitated?  Do you co-own dogs with other breeders or do you have dogs being shown by handlers?  Are you actively involved in breeding?  Who will whelp the litters and place the puppies?  If you were hospitalized for two or three months, would the co-owner(s) prefer to have the co-owned dog(s) shipped to his or her home?   Would your handler continue to show the animal for you, or board the dog until you return to your home?  How do you accomplish the transfer of animals if you are hospitalized?

    If you are hospitalized and mentally alert, but physically unable to get out of bed or care for your dogs, you can ask a friend to download forms to transfer the ownership or possession of the dogs or arrange for payment of bills or shipment of animals.  Many cities have mobile notary services.  A mobile notary will come to the hospital or nursing home to notarize documents for you.  But how can you be sure that your animals would be cared for in accordance with your wishes, if you were unconscious, or only partly conscious?

    While you are still healthy and able to do so, you can execute a "springing" Power of Attorney, which would "spring" into effect after two doctors sign statements that you are physically or mentally unable to handle your business affairs.  That Power of Attorney could be drafted more broadly and authorize a named individual to hire a pet-sitter or place your dogs with friends on a temporary basis, ship your dog(s) to the co-owner(s), pay for entry fees, pay handling bills, or seek veterinary services.  Of course, you will want to include a provision that your agent will be repaid for any costs incurred.

    The American Kennel Club (AKC) has two downloadable forms on its Website (http://www.akc.org): a Power of Attorney Authorization, which allows you to designate an individual to sign your name to any AKC form; and a Stud Dog Power of Attorney, which allows you to designate an individual to sign your name to register any litters sired by your stud dog(s).  The forms specify that each form is valid for one year from the date of execution.  There is no fee for filing these documents with the AKC.  With these forms in place, your designated agent can arrange to show your dogs, breed them, register litters, or sell or transfer your animals while you are disabled.  Since these forms are only valid for one year, be sure to review the terms of the document each year, and execute a new Power of Attorney before the old one expires.  Your agent will probably need to make multiple copies of the executed form, so that he or she can include a copy with each dog show entry sent in, or each document submitted to the AKC.

    Unless the named agent is personally familiar with each dog you own, you should consider revamping the filing system on your dogs to allow for speedy identification and handling of your animals.  Clearly mark the file drawer or file box that contains information on your dogs and keep it in a conspicuous place.  In that file drawer or box, include the following:

    - at least one photo of each animal, labeled with registered name, call name, and birth date;
    - registration papers and/or DNA registration;
    - pedigree information and the name of the animal's original  breeder;
    - microchip registration papers;
    - address(es), e-mail address(es), and phone number of any co-owners listed on the registrations;
    - name, address, e-mail address and phone number of any handler(s) currently showing any of your dogs;
    - name, address, and phone number of your vet(s);
    - list of any health problems or any medication each pet is taking;
    - names, addresses and phone numbers of any specialty vets the pet has seen;
    - instructions on feeding and vitamins;
    - copies of any Power of Attorney you have executed.

    If you are prepared for emergencies, you can finally get a good night's sleep without those nightmares, because you have made preparations for the care of your beloved animals.

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Last modified: April 19, 2012