Pets, Places, & Things

A Plan for Your Pets Can Make All the Difference

A Plan for Your Pets Can Make All the Difference

By Barbara S. Moffet

Do you have a cat or dog or other animal whom you cherish, a pet who is part of your family? What would happen to him or her if you suddenly died or became incapacitated?

That is a situation commonly faced by the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria (AWLA), called to a home where the owner has died and possibly left pets behind. “Usually, we have no information about the number or type of animals in the home and have to go in to search the premises, hoping that we have found all of the pets inside,” said AWLA Executive Director Megan Webb. “When we do rescue these animals, we often have to start from scratch to learn their specific medical and behavioral needs.”

Webb said when she walks through the AWLA shelter, she can often tell which animals have come because their owners have died. “These animals were very bonded to their owners and will shut down for a long time. We work to make the shelter a wonderful place, but it’s still a shelter. It’s so much better for pets to have a plan in place that was created by their owner beforehand.”

To address this need, the AWLA has developed A Plan for Pets, which allows people to register their pets with AWLA, providing extensive information about them and designating a guardian to step in if needed.

AWLA board member and attorney Rachel Baer, Esq., who is Of Counsel at Needham Mitnick and Pollack PLC, says A Plan for Pets is groundbreaking. “I know of nothing like it in Virginia,” she said. Baer points out that Virginia law treats pets as property, meaning that the animals can languish in legal limbo for months while the AWLA attempts to contact the owner’s next of kin or the administrator of the owner’s estate and then waits for them to decide whether the AWLA can take ownership of the animal. A Plan for Pets streamlines this process for Alexandria City residents who don’t have a chosen individual to be their pet’s new owner. Using the AWLA’s transfer agreement, City residents can name the AWLA as the pet’s new owner if the resident passes away so that the AWLA has the immediate authority to make decisions for the pet, such as placing it in foster care or up for adoption.

If you have a pet, here are some of the key recommendations in A Plan for Pets:

  • Ensure that your pets are licensed and microchipped for identification and wear a collar with a tag for identification.
  • Choose someone who is willing to take care of the pet if something happens to you.
  • Meet with a lawyer to set up a durable Power of Attorney document giving your chosen caretaker the authority to care for your pets and make decisions about medical care. Without this document, Baer says, owners run the risk that the veterinarian might not release a pet’s medical records or allow the caregiver to make medical decisions. In addition, a durable Power of Attorney can give the caretaker the authority to use your money to pay for your pet’s care.
  • Make sure pets are included in your estate plan and discuss your plan with a financial planner.
  • Register your pets (if you are a City of Alexandria resident) with the AWLA so all information about them is easily available to AWLA Animal Services Officers and the shelter.
  • If you are a City of Alexandria resident and do not have an individual who can care for your pets if you pass away, consider naming the AWLA as the legal guardian of your pets in the event of your death, using the AWLA transfer agreement.

Baer and Webb are leading a series of free informational workshops about the Plan; the next workshops will be at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 18, and at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 20, both at the AWLA shelter at 4101 Eisenhower Ave. Go to and click on the link to register.

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