This two part article has been updated HERE
Our pets count on us for their care, so if we are not around to provide for them, we should have plans in place for someone else to do so.
Last month, I wrote about the benefits of setting up a formal pet trust, and now I would like to offer more information about financial considerations and care providers. We’d all like to think we can count on our friends and family to take on our pets, but unfortunately, that’s often not the case.
How much money should you think about allotting for cat care? Probably about $1,200 per year of the pet’s additional life expectancy. As cats age, their health care needs and costs rise. An average cat lives 15-17 years.
One organization that frequently counsels families who have lost loved ones and don’t know what to do with the surviving pets is the Animal Assistance League of Orange County. AALOC has a nokill facility in Midway City licensed for 50 dogs and 85 cats.
The Animal Assistance League works closely with OC Animal Care but is a separate entity. This organization helps with pet adoptions and providing education to the public through its help line.
If someone dies and AALOC is sent photos, a bio on the pet and a health history, its volunteers will do their best to help place the pet. If a purebred pet needs placement, AALOC works with specific purebreed rescue groups. It does not have a formal pet estate program, but if its facility is properly designated in a trust, it will take in the pet. It does not have a set monetary contribution for care. For more information, visit aaloc.org or call 714-891-7387.
Two Orange County organizations that offer retirement facilities for cats are the Blue Bell Foundation (bluebellcats.org) and the National Cat Protection Society (natcat.org). Both have established programs for taking in cats whose owners can no longer care for them.
If you are interested in one of these groups, you’ll need to work with your estate planning attorney and the organization directly to properly set up the terms. You would want to visit the facilities and feel comfortable about their work.
Although they are nonprofits and run on donations, these organizations have expenses, including staff, food, facility maintenance, vet care and drugs in order to provide high-quality care.
They will provide reasonable long-term medical treatments to their feline residents but would not provide services such as kidney transplants, chemotherapy or radioactive iodine therapy. A cat that needed these services would require additional funding as part of a residency agreement.
The Blue Bell Foundation is in Laguna Beach and was established in 1989 by Bertha Gray Yergat. She started a feline boarding facility in the 1960s, then started taking in cats whose owners could no longer care for them. The Blue Bell Foundation is a private care facility and nonprofit that can house 50 cats. The facility is licensed and inspected by Laguna Beach Animal Control. It also works with the shelter medicine program at UC Davis’ School of Veterinary Medicine. Several Laguna Beach groups donate to the Blue Bell Foundation. The current cost of retiring there is $6,500.
Shelby, a domestic longhair gray tabby, is the facility’s longest resident. She has lived there happily for 10 years. Her owner died but fortunately had an estate plan that ensured Shelby’s care through the foundation.
Blue Bell has cats available for adoption. Susan Hamil, an original foundation board member, told me that one of the facility’s goals is to place senior cats with senior people. The available cats are all microchipped and designated as adoptable. Hamil’s husband was a vet for founder Yergat, and Hamil thinks Yergat had great foresight when she established the facility. The foundation also helps owners in assisted-living situations who are no longer able to care for their cats.
The National Cat Protection Society in Newport Beach also has a larger facility in Spring Valley, east of San Diego. Fifteen cats currently live in retirement in Newport Beach; 34 live at the Spring Valley facility. The oldest resident cat in Newport is 20 years old, but one cat there lived to be 24! Resident cats have lived at the facility for 10-12 years. NatCat has six paid employees along with volunteers and a board of directors.
Cats that are “retired” at NatCat need to be current on vaccines and have recent lab work so their health status is known. They are examined when they arrive. Retiring a cat costs $5,000; this can be set up by a lawyer through a trust or life insurance policy. A contract is established between NatCat and the pet trustee. Once things are set up, NatCat will pick up the cat when the appropriate time arises.
Retirement coordinator Karen Christianson told me that NatCat has a separate area for cats with kidney disease so they can be treated and better monitored. All cats are housed in groups, and every cat has become acclimated to others. The housing areas have a lot of vertical space with perches and hiding areas so each cat can find his own space.
It’s fantastic that there are special organizations that can help when an owner can no longer care for his or her pet. Your friends, family and local animal control services will do what they can, but the best way to make sure things are handled properly is to work with an estate planning lawyer and make formal arrangements ahead of time. You can designate funds and a pet beneficiary, or you can retire your cat to a facility like the Blue Bell Foundation or the National Cat Protection Society. A handwritten will won’t legally suffice when it comes to pet care.
After I did the research for this column, I know that I have some work to do to plan for my own cat’s future. I hope that this information helps many other cats and their owners.
Copyright © 2014 The Cat Care Clinic