They've been loyal friends. After you die, who's going to feed and love your pets?

Judy Davis and Scott Davis' golden retrievers Doughlan, left, and Dooghan play in a friend's Bellingham backyard. The Van Zandt residents adopted the dogs after their elderly owner died.
Judy Davis and Scott Davis' golden retrievers Doughlan, left, and Dooghan play in a friend's Bellingham backyard. The Van Zandt residents adopted the dogs after their elderly owner died. evan.abell@bellinghamherald.com

Does anyone know what happened to Marble?

That's what Bellingham resident Julia Hassler asked after reading about friend John O'Hern's death in a car crash in Lyman earlier this month. Hassler was asking about O'Hern's dog, which was in the Concrete resident's vehicle at the time of the March 12 crash.

As it turned out, the Washington State Patrol had released Marble to O'Hern's neighbors and let his next of kin know about his dog.

What happens to our pets when we become ill or die suddenly? Knowing they'll be cared for in a future without us requires planning now, experts said.

"Many people set up pet trusts and have specific instructions and people identified to care for their beloved companion animals in the case of their death," said Laura Clark, executive director of the Whatcom Humane Society.

It's a thought that has stayed with Hassler.

"I love animals. This has really made me think about my animals and what would happen if I weren't around," Hassler said in a later interview.

Pet planning

Animal organizations such as the national Humane Society and the ASPCA provide information on pet planning, as does the organization for older Americans, the AARP.

Among their tips:

  • Carry a pet alert card in your wallet so authorities know you have pets at home. It should include two emergency contacts for your pets' caregivers should something happen to you.
  • Pick at least two responsible friends or relatives who have agreed to be temporary emergency caregivers. Give them keys to your home, instructions for feeding and caring for your pets, the veterinarian's name, and information about your plans for their permanent care.
  • Select a permanent caregiver.
  • Draw up a pet trust or other legal document to provide for your friends' care. Set aside money for that care, taking into account inflation and the fact that pets live longer now than they did a decade ago.

"Having a plan in place with a trusted friend or family member that is able to care for the animal or animals for the remainder of their lives not only keeps the animal out of a shelter setting, but will provide the owner of the animal peace of mind knowing where their animals will be and how they will be cared for," Clark said.

The Whatcom Humane Society regularly receives animals whose owners have passed away, and Clark said the organization works closely with local law enforcement to see if family or friends will take pets left behind.

If they can't, then the shelter tries to find new homes.

New homes

Some Whatcom County residents have shared their stories with The Bellingham Herald about opening their homes to such pets.

Bellingham resident Diane Demerice adopted her sister's pets — a dog and two birds — after cancer killed her in 2012.

"They were her babies," Demerice said as Kiva, a parrot that's at least 25 years old, squawked in the background. "I wasn't going to have them adopted out to strangers."

Pet Plan.jpg
Steve Janiszewski and Bandit Nicole Janiszewski Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Lynden-area residents Steve and Nicole Janiszewski adopted Bandit after he had been at an Oregon veterinarian's office for three months. His owner died while the dog was recovering from surgery on his right front leg, Nicole said.

They were living in Oregon then, and the vet asked if they wanted to adopt the blue heeler.

"He'd been through so much. They were trying to find him a home. It was kind of destiny," Nicole said, adding that Bandit and her husband share a close bond.

Van Zandt residents Judy and Scott Davis know the importance of planning for your pets' care, having taken on many animals left behind over the years. Some have stayed on with them, others have been there for a short time.

"We usually were called in because no one was there to take them, especially when they're older because people want them when they're younger," Judy said.

Most recently, they adopted two bonded golden retrievers — Dooghan, 5, and Doughlan, 3 — after their elderly owner died and left behind 10 golden retrievers.

If they die before their animals, they have a plan for their care in place.

"We all think we're going to live forever, and it's not going to happen to us," Judy said. "We've had a will for a long time."

Learn more

More information about pet planning is online at:

  • aspca.org — Type "pet planning" into the search window.

  • humanesociety.org — Type "providing for your pet's future without you" into the search window.

  • aarp.org — Type "pet trust" into the search window.

Kie Relyea: 360-715-2234, @kierelyea