How to Protect Your Dogs If You Die First or Can No Longer Provide Care


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I’ll never forget the day I first saw my dog, Candy, at the local shelter. Still scared and confused after having been surrendered by her owners a few weeks earlier, she desperately needed a home. A shy, 6-year-old mixed breed, her chances of getting adopted were slim.

Now that Candy has become part of my household, I worry about what will happen to her should my husband and I meet with an untimely demise. The only way I can ensure she won’t end up back at the shelter is to make provisions for her now. That’s why Candy and all my companion animals are included in my estate planning.

Making plans to guarantee your dog’s care after you are gone or are incapacitated is actually easy and inexpensive, thanks to New Jersey attorney Rachel Hirschfeld, who created the Pet Protection Agreement, a legal document that allows you to name a pet guardian for your dog should something happen to you. You can also specify the kind of care you want your dog to receive as well as the amount of money from your estate that will go toward your dog’s care.

Friends and family are the most obvious choices, although private rescues and sanctuaries are another option. If you decide your dog will go to a rescue or sanctuary, check with the organization to find out if a minimum donation is required before it will take in your dog.

Before naming someone as your pet’s guardian, discuss the situation with her to make sure she is up for the task. If she agrees to take on the responsibility, let her know you’ll be signing a legal document to ensure she receives custody of your dog once you are gone.

Puppy by Shutterstock.
Puppy by Shutterstock.

When deciding who will be your pet’s guardian and how he or she will care for your dog, keep your dog’s age in mind.


The great thing about puppies is that they have a lot of life left to live. Of course, this can be a challenge when you are planning for a puppy’s future should something happen to you. You need to pick a guardian who is young enough to reasonably outlive your dog and is willing to take on a puppy and everything involved with that. You should also choose someone who has the same philosophy in puppy raising and dog care as you do.

When determining the care you’d like your puppy to have, add these requirements to your dog’s protection agreement:

  • Obedience training. All puppies should be enrolled in obedience class to learn basic manners and under- stand their role in the family. Your dog’s pet guardian will have a much easier time raising your puppy if the dog attends an obedience class.
  • Spay or neuter. If you don’t want your dog contributing to the home- less pet problem, specify that the puppy be spayed or neutered by the age of 6 months. Spaying or neuter- ing your dog will also help him live a healthier life.
  • Doggie daycare. If you have funds to also provide for your dog’s care, stipulate that your puppy get regular playtime and socialization at a doggie day care center.

Your puppy won’t be a puppy past the age of 1 year, so any stipulations you make in your agreement might not be appropriate for him later in life. Change your requirements once your dog has matured.


The guardian you choose for your adult dog should be someone you trust implicitly to give your dog a home for life.

Man hiking with dog by Shutterstock.
Man hiking with dog by Shutterstock.

If your adult dog is really active, choose a pet guardian who will take him hiking, play ball with him, and give him plenty of walks. If your dog is a couch potato, a home that is quiet and mellow is probably best.

Consider any issues your dog might have. Candy is a shy, apprehensive dog who is afraid of strangers. She loves my friend Michelle,though, so I’ve asked Michelle to be Candy’s pet guardian should some- thing happen to my husband and me.

If your dog doesn’t get along well with other dogs, chases cats, or dislikes children, keep all these facts in mind when thinking about who should take care of him when you’re gone. Don’t put your dog in a situation where he’s likely to fail and where your friend or relative will regret her decision to be your pet’s guardian.

Old but not out

Making provisions for an older dog can be most challenging when it comes to estate planning. When choosing a guardian, make certain the person who will care for your dog is willing to take on the issues that can affect older dogs. Senior dogs can go deaf or become blind. They can also become incontinent and have difficulty standing or walking. Illnesses such as kidney failure and cancer are common in old dogs. Is your pet guardian willing to tackle these problems should they develop?

If possible, set aside funds to help your dog’s pet guardian pay for the inevitable vet bills that will come with caring for an older dog.

Senior dogs usually do best in peaceful environments, so the pet guardian you choose should have a quiet, non-stressful home for your dog. A home with young children or a number of dogs that might bully a senior canine might not be the best place for an older dog who is starting to wind down.

Establishing legal arrangements for your dog will give you great peace of mind as you go about your daily life. Making sure your dog will be well-cared for if you’re no longer here is the greatest gift you can give him.

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