It’s perhaps one of the most difficult conversations you’ll ever have. But it’s one that every single person should have. Because at some point in your life, just as sure as you are living, you will one day pass away. What’s in your will?
Recently I lost a good friend of mine. She was originally a pet sitting client of mine, the owner of a border collie named Alex. Working long hours at her corporate job, I walked her dog Alex every weekday at lunchtime. Over the years Alex became one of my favorite dog clients. She fought 3 different types of cancer, and was a trooper through all of the vet appointments and treatments. When it was her time to go, saying goodbye was hard for both her mom and me. A sweet, strong girl, she was sorely missed.
My client knew she didn’t want to come home to an empty house, and so a brown and white border collie/Australian shepherd mix Tillie came into her life. Tillie quickly won both of our hearts as well as the hearts of everyone she met. A spunky, talkative girl, the house came alive again. From a rescue, this eleven month old puppy was playful, energetic and fun to be around.
A few years later, Tillie’s mom left the corporate world and started her own business. I was sure that would be the end of our relationship since she was planning to work from home. But she wanted to keep the schedule pretty much the same, knowing she would be working hard to get the business off the ground. The years passed and we got into a comfortable pattern. As we got to know each other, our business relationship evolved into a friendship. We would chat about all kinds of things when I arrived for my walks with Tillie. We covered pretty much everything - current events, weather, family, politics, what we’re reading, what’s happening around town and so on and so on. Being business owners we enjoyed bouncing ideas off each other regarding marketing, social media, blogging, etc. And of course we talked about our dogs. I brought Izzy often to walk with me and Tillie. My friend enjoyed seeing Izzy too, always ending our visits with a special treat for both of the dogs.
Then just over a week ago, I got the dreaded phone call. My client, who I now considered my friend, had passed away. I was sure I misheard the name and took several minutes processing this horrible news. I had just seen her a few days before. She had the flu and had been battling it for weeks, but was slowly getting better. I wished her a great weekend of rest and relaxation and looked forward to seeing her back to her old self the following week. It turned out she didn’t have the flu, but was battling other health issues. The details don’t matter. What does, is that she left behind her beloved dog Tillie.
When her family came into town, they found a will my friend had drawn up, but there was nothing in it about her dog. My friend and I had talked about this a couple of times, but neither of us believed our dogs would outlive us. And really, who wants to talk about death?
Volunteering at an animal shelter is a constant reminder of how many pets end up displaced because their owners have passed away. While Centre County PAWS is a no kill shelter, and every animal finds a home eventually, it’s still hard on these pets. They’ve lost their family, their homes and everything they ever knew.
Make a plan. Make a backup plan to the backup plan. Then tell your family and closest friends. Call your attorney and make it legal by including it in your will. Be clear. Be specific. Make it easy on your loved ones so they don't have to try to second guess what your wishes are.
In my friend’s case, my husband and I knew that if no one in her family or any of her friends wanted Tillie, we would welcome her into our home. Knowing that she already knew us helped us cope with the sudden addition of another dog and a very full home. It’s been a tough transition, Tillie went through a lot that week. But she is adapting little by little every day.
Kita, too, has had a hard time adapting and honestly we weren’t sure she ever would. But we’ve been seeing progress from her as well as she accepts this scared, nervous and anxious big dog into her life. We’re beginning to see signs that she wants to play and be friends with Tillie. Who knows, maybe one day these two will end up being the best of friends.
These last couple of weeks have been an emotional roller coaster ride for sure. I’ve been overwhelmed by everything and slowly, I, too, am finding peace with all that has happened. Death is inevitable. No matter how hard we try to hide from it. One day instead of shedding tears, the memories I share with my friend will bring a smile to my face. In the meantime, I will give her beloved dog the best life I can give. And go re-write my will.