To Rest in Peace.

WMGrandfatherThey aren’t getting any younger. Most of us spend a certain amount of time between riding and mucking, just watching our animals get older. If you are like me, you have a few elders of different species right now who are on borrowed time. Every time the Grandfather Horse lies down I squint to see if he’s still breathing.

We wish for some sense of order, hoping that they will pass chronologically, oldest to youngest. That plan never works. Still, as we watch them age, we always imagine ourselves saying goodbye, one at a time, for years to come.

What narrow vision. The truth is it’s possible they’ll outlive us. What if you die first?

The world lost a good horsewoman recently. She and I hadn’t met, but we shared the same friends. Her passing was unexpected and she left a horse behind. She is mourned dearly.

I didn’t know her except for one small detail: She was 61 years old. My age.

This is how animals get in trouble. They are beloved by their owner, but that person dies. Family members mean well, but maybe they live far away or are unfamiliar with horses. Sometimes these good horses languish in neglect, with no one wanting to make a hard decision. Maybe in the end they get thin, finally go to auction, and in the worst case, get aboard a truck heading south, more frightened than they have ever been. Can you imagine anything worse?

Do you have a plan written down for your horse?

Our horsewoman-friend was forward-thinking with the best interests of her mare’s safety at heart. Her papers were in order, with directives and money from the estate to support her horse. She was blessed with good friends who stepped up to help immediately.

Current statistics say that about 55% of American adults do not have a will or other estate plan in place. Probate can take a long time: even a simple estate takes six months, with many taking over two years. During that period, no money can be disbursed for the care of animals.

Past that, not all of us come from close-knit families with similar lifestyles, or if we live in a different area, it’s our friends we will need to rely on. Have you talked with them about your animals in the case of your death? If you have a plan written, is it time to update it and check-up with your caretakers?

When I was younger I didn’t take this topic very seriously. I had a vague plan that my horses be given to a committed 4-H girl. I passively felt good about it, but the truth is that I didn’t even write it down. Thinking about that now, it’s laughable.

We all want our animals safe when we are gone and it takes more than good intention. But it’s emotional and we often aren’t all that good at asking for help in the first place. It’s the part of our estate that is most challenging. Animals are family members but without the same legal considerations. The more animals we have, the more complicated it gets.

If asked to take a pet in the past, I would have waved an arm and nodded–I certainly didn’t want to talk about it. The thought of losing a friend is never easy; it takes courage to even have the conversation. At this age, it’s a much more serious question and I’m much more cautious about volunteering. We all should be–it’s a huge responsibility.

Perhaps your horse could be donated to a rescue. Is it an idea, or have your actually gotten their permission? Choosing a specific rescue has risk involved: suppose that rescue no longer exists or there has been a change in management and it no longer has that credible reputation. Or suppose that rescue was exceedingly full when the time came. Do you have a back-up plan?

Some areas have Perpetual Care Programs (here) where agreements are made and paid for in advance, for the long term well-being of your dogs, cats, and horses in future foster care or permanent homes. It would give such a sense of peace to be able to keep companion animals in our last years and know at the same time that they will be safe when we’re gone.

What about euthanasia? It might seem simple on one hand, but if the animals are young or in good health, the courts will rule the decision invalid. Still in the case of an elderly horse, or one with chronic health concerns that require a high level of care, the euthanasia option should be considered. Too many times at the end of a horse’s life they are devalued and fall into neglect as the cost of care continues to increase. Perhaps allowing them to rest in peace is the best option.

What about forming an intentional community of animal lovers who work together sharing care for each other’s animals? Is now time to look into nursing homes that allow pets?

And have you noticed that I have more questions than answers? Have you come up with a plan that you would like to share? The more comfortable we can get talking about this difficult topic, the more we can help each other and our animals when the sad time comes.

This is a great resource on Will Planning and Pet Trusts (here). It has information on all aspects and options available to animal owners who want to be responsible for their fur family in the event of their death. It’s a place to start and then thoughtfully consider all the options.

For those of us who share our lives with loyal dogs, kind-hearted horses, and cats who may pretend indifference at times–we put their safety first. They are part of our legacy. After that we can rest in peace.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

26 thoughts on “To Rest in Peace.

  1. Diane Lacy

    Thank You Anna!! I, for one, will take action NOW to put a plan in place. I always think that I will out live my two horses – they are both 18 in wonderful health and condition. I am 65 and have the same going for me. But you are right – who knows? We are probably neck and neck heading towards the end, but anything can happen. I have had them since babies and they are my only “kids”. I have verbally made plans, should I die first, but I do need to have a written plan in place – NOW. Thanks for the gentle kick in the butt – I needed it! DL

    Sent from my iPad

  2. Over the last three years this has been on my mind constantly. And I have written down “instruction” as to my horse, should I pass before he does. He is to be humanely put down upon my death. He is a 19 year old OTTB that has been retired and living the live as a big pet for the last 7 years of his life. I am 45 and suffering from a disabling neurological disease which stands little chance of improving and very well may kill me.
    My husband is not a horse person, although he will clean the stall, feed and turn out when I am not able to. My choice to have my boy PTS was made out of fear of him ending up in a bad situation, with someone cruel in charge of his daily life. Or even worse, that truck headed south. I can not have that happen to any animal that is in my life, never mind my “son” It’s a hard decision for some. A hard topic for all. But when it’s staring you down, you face it

    1. Yes, and on the otherside of the decision, we hope for some release and lightness. It is a statement of vulnerability and love that you make here. Thank you so much for your blunt honesty. The best to you and your good horse.

  3. Martha McCoy

    I go to a weekly dharma talk and one of the important recurring teachings is: “Death is certain. Time of death is uncertain.” It’s not meant to be morbid, it’s meant to remind us of of what we need to do now and how we choose to live our lives, moment to moment. And that includes the animals we share our life with – which is what you so lovingly write about. Thank you for the nudge.

  4. Anna thank you for this. I too take this topic seriously and have clear directives in my will, drawn up by our attorney, about where our pets will go when my spouse and I die. For our dogs it’s the wonderful couple who own the pet sitting service we use. For my horse it is his trainer that Rijkens and I both love and respect. Included are directives to leave a comfortable enough sum to pay for complete care of each animal through the end of its life. One humorous caveat we had to consider: rather than list each individual pet by name (because we know we will gain and lose a few as we age) our attorney helped us word it to say each “household pet” (i e pets that live inside our home not horses) will go to our trusted friends with x amount of dollars per pet to support the care and upkeep. Our attorney suggested we might not want to have a tank of fish (we don’t) as that could be argued in probate that each individual guppy would get a handsome (for a fish) sum, and if we had 20 goldfish that could be a chunk of dough. Anyhow we trust completely our friends and attorney but one must always be clear!

  5. I know I’ve told you the Airedale story, but their owner who left the dogs to my mother had thought this through in great detail. She knew they would outlive her and arranged a trust fund and explicit instructions overseen by her will’s executor. She had willed the dogs to someone else until she met my mom, who was responding to a classifieds ad about a trailer for sale. They had an instant rapport and she recognized my mom as a dog lover and particularly an Airedale lover since they’d been a family tradition. She approached my mom about inheriting the dogs and had the directives changed. My mother had to send quarterly reports and all their vet expenses were covered as well as a handsome annual stipend. Before she died, the owner financed a dog run at my parents’ house and also left her car to them, since the Airedales had “made it their own” by practically gutting it when she took them with her to her bridge games. She was quite a character, and it definitely gave me new perspective on planning for our animals, although I admit I still have nothing formal in place myself.

  6. Clear Account

    I doubt this is possible, but just in case no one has told you how stupendously wonderful you are today……..YOU ARE STUPENDOUSLY WONDERFUL AND I’M THRILLED YOU ARE IN THE WORLD WITH ME ! ! !

    Corey

  7. Gail

    Yes, a timely reminder. We animal lovers can sometimes be too soft hearted and we turn away from the hard decisions, leaving very good loyal horses to whatever fate awaits them. Our horses are in their mid teens and we have verbal plans with friends but we know it’s time to formalize our wills in this regard. I’ve made the decision that vet administered euthanasia would happen so that there is zero chance of them ever seeing the inside of a slaughter house. It’s too easy to lose track and no horse deserves that fate.

    As for retirement facilities, that is a very good idea. We used to be involved with a riding cooperative/rescue that received several older horses who were lucky enough to find our herd and a ‘people’ to care for and ride them. They really enjoyed the last few years of their life very much and were allowed to die humanely surrounded by their friends.
    The concept works well but it must involve some hired help, and a knowledgable manager familiar with the various aspects of aging horse care. As well, a key ability is the ability to say “no” once a place is full.

    I’d like to get one going but the costs of acquiring land is very high. Liability, feed, vet care all must be factored in. It is do-able but is not for the unskilled.

    1. I agree, it takes a very special staff, but a retirement community is nice. On the other hand, my Grandfather Horse has been raising my young mare and he’s doing a great job. It doesn’t matter what we do, it’s more about what we don’t do. We don’t “get rid” of them. Great comment, thanks.

  8. Pat Wagner

    Thank you Anna. This is timely. Facing this with my sweet 28 year old mare. She was the BEST horse I could ever ask for.

  9. Lisa chadwick

    I love your work, Anna. Would it be possible to reprint this essay in my local riding club newsletter? It’s so important!
    Thank you for your blog, I love it.

    1. Thank you fro reading. It’s fine to reprint, with my name and website on it. Thanks for asking. (This fall I will be publishing a compilation of blogs.)

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