Let’s Stop Shaming People Who Don’t Take in a Dead Relative’s Pets

A dog in a shelter.
Photography by Shutterstock.

After years in rescue, and also from being on multiple social media platforms, I have seen a lot of approaches to getting pets out of shelters and into foster or permanent homes. There is one that grinds my gears every time, and I am taking this opportunity to implore you NOT to take part. It is the shaming of relatives of dead pet parents. Usually the story under the photo goes a little something like this:

“Please help! This poor baby’s owner died, and now his owner’s terrible son has dumped him at the shelter like yesterday’s garbage. This baby deserves so much better!”

Inevitably this type of post is commented upon by myriad people with no apparent interest in helping the dog, but a compulsion to prove how superior they are by bashing the “horrible” person who would do such a thing and making adamant declarations that they would never do something so unforgivable.

Cut it out.

Not only does it not help the animals in question, but it demonstrates a total lack of humanity and empathy for a real, live person. One who, among the many other realities of their life that we can’t know, is also grieving a newly deceased family member. Pointing out that you would never do this does not make you superior, it makes you cruel. And here’s the other thing: You don’t know that you would never do it. Off the top of my head, here are just a few very plausible reasons a person might not be able to care for their dead relative’s dog.

  • They live in a rental unit that doesn’t allow dogs.
  • They, or someone in their family, are allergic.
  • They already have other animals that don’t get along with this dog.
  • And a sure to be unpopular possibility: Maybe the relative simply doesn’t want the dog: Maybe the dog pees on carpets or tears up furniture or lunges at strangers or has bitten somebody.

These are all things we accept and have an obligation to work on when we adopt our own pets, but NO ONE should be forced to do that with someone else’s dog. Being a pet guardian is a choice to make with great care, not an obligation to be forced upon your family or friends.

Here’s the tough reality: These things happen because we fail to make plans. This is OUR responsibility as dog parents: Make a plan for our pets if we should die or otherwise become unable to care for them. Do you have a plan? If not, whose fault will it be, then, if you die and your beloved (and possibly problematic) dog ends up at a shelter?

We have a plan for our pups Mama Dog and Lefty. (Photo by Lisa Seger)
We have a plan for our pups, including Mama Dog and Lefty. (Photo by Lisa Seger)

If you do not have a plan, start crafting it today. In addition to getting a verbal commitment from a friend, neighbor or family member, include your dog in a will, so it is clear to the executor of your estate that there is a plan. If you don’t want to go to the length of drawing up legal documents, at the very least, communicate your plan to the family member most likely to be dealing with your estate when you pass. Let them know where your dog will be going. (If you need help in this area, check out Dogster’s guide to estate planning for pets.)

As a dairy farmer, I have to deal with this many times over. Luckily, the friend we asked to take over the dairy and all of the goats also agreed she would keep our dogs should the worst happen. Now that I think of it, I need to send her number to my mom. Just in case.

Probably we all have some work to do. So let’s do it. And let’s add to the list to have compassion for the family members of people who didn’t plan so well. The world would be a better place if empathy was put on all of our to-do lists. Dogs totally get that.

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