En español | Jackie Treneer, a professional pet sitter in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., adopted a 14-year-old bichon frise and a 4-year-old miniature poodle when she discovered that their owner — one of her longtime clients — had died and the woman's husband was unable to keep the pets.
See also: Answers to Your Top Pet Questions
"It wasn't cheap for me to take on the care of these dogs, but it was the right thing to do," says Treneer, owner of Angels Pet Sitting Service.
It doesn't have to be that way. Just as most of us make funeral arrangements, set our affairs in order and draw up wills to help our families with painful transitions, it's possible to make arrangements to help your animal companions, as well. Here's how to be prepared:
Identify true pet allies. Select people who are willing to step in and care for your pets should you require hospitalization, become incapacitated or die. Do not assume your friends or relatives will adopt or even temporarily care for your pets. Select two or three caregivers and discuss details with them. Offer to reciprocate for their pets, if you desire and are able to do so.
Pack a pet-plus ID. In addition to your own basic identification and contact information, you should always make sure to carry along info about your pets: Their names and ages; contact numbers for the vet and after-hours pet emergency clinic; and names and phone numbers for your pet's backup caregivers. (Also list any medication your pets may be taking, as well as details about where you keep their supplies.) And keep a copy of this in a visible place in your home, such as on your refrigerator, for emergency personnel to quickly spot.
Spell out each pet's care in writing. Detail how your surviving pets should be cared for, by whom and where — in another home or in a pet sanctuary. Provide info on each pet's personality, eating habits, special needs, favorite items and rituals. Let people know where you keep these instructions.
Budget for your pets' care by setting up a fund. This fund should cover the cost of your pets' food, medical needs and supplies. You can work out a monthly payment plan with estate planners, financial planners or life insurance company representatives.
Elizabeth Forman and her husband, David Closky, of Oxford, Ohio, incorporated the care of their pets into their estate planning five years ago. They have four Weimaraners, a bullmastiff and three parrots.
"We have arranged for good friends to come and live in our house to care for our pets should something happen to us," Forman says. "We put in money every single month to pay for pet care and our bank manages the money. We feel good that we have taken care of all the loose ends in our lives."
The 2nd Chance 4 Pets website contains information, forms and pet resources, as does the Providing for Your Pet online page of the New York City Bar Association. You can also check out PetGuardian Pet Trust Plans. These resources range from the basic information you need to set up arrangements on your own, to having your attorney draw up legal instructions to having a pet trust set up on your behalf.
Dr. Marty Becker, "America's Veterinarian," is the resident veterinarian for Good Morning America and The Dr. Oz Show. His latest book, Your Dog: The Owner's Manual, will be published in April of this year. Find him in the AARP PetPals forum of AARP.org.