Loved ones left behind
Who will take care of pampered pets when the owners pass on? A group has the answer for a legitimate fear, but it will require money. Quite a lot of it.
By SAUNDRA AMRHEIN
Published February 16, 2007
SUN CITY CENTER
It's just the two of them now.
Ever since Eileen Horan's husband died five years ago, her daily routine has revolved around Pat, their miniature poodle.
Every morning, Pat jumps on her bed, wriggling and panting warm breath in her face. They go on seven walks a day. They take their medicines together.
Horan, 87, considers Pat one of her children. He's also her biggest worry. Like many residents in retirement communities like Sun City Center, Horan fears what will become of Pat when she dies. Who could care for the 15-year-old poodle the way she does? Who could comfort him after his seizures or make sure he gets his medicine?
"I pray every day that Pat will go to sleep before me so I know that he's safe," Horan said.
The concern is so great among retirees, who often die before their pets, that they set up trust funds or make plans for their animals in a will.
Now, local residents and veterinarians are hoping to build a massive home in southern Hillsborough County - the second of its kind in the nation - where pets could stay the rest of their lives after their owners die.
"It's a real problem for people. They really care for their pets," says Spencer Faircloth, who launched the idea for the pet home after Horan came to him years ago with a wrenching request: Would he have Pat euthanized when she dies?
He said no. But Horan's dilemma is one Faircloth has heard often in his job as a trust officer at SunTrust Bank in Sun City Center.
He talks to clients about setting aside money for the care of their pets after they're gone. Faircloth, 77, an animal lover who also lives in Sun City Center, has a trust fund for his cat, Patches.
In 2002, Florida joined more than a dozen other states in allowing pet owners to set up trust funds for their animals. Owners can specify an amount of money and name a trustee to carry out their wishes under court supervision.
The problem, Faircloth says, is that many older Americans don't have anyone they trust enough with their pet.
Some retirees have outlived all of their relatives. Others feel they can't count on their adult children, who live out of state or have families and pets of their own, he said. Some adult children simply dump their parents' pets outside to fend for themselves after the funeral, he said.
The issue forced Faircloth and local veterinarians to form a nonprofit group called Pet Continuing Care Home Inc.
They're hoping for a large, private donation to build a pet home in southern Hillsborough, which would accept animals from anywhere in the country.
It would be patterned after the Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care Center in College Station, Texas.
The center operates in partnership with the College of Veterinary Medicine at nearby Texas A&M University.
Veterinary students live full time at the home, providing companionship, care and grooming for the animals. The pets get regular exams and medical attention from the school's veterinary teaching hospital.
Faircloth and the Pet Home group want to establish a similar relationship with the University of Florida's College of Veterinary Medicine.
Last month, Faircloth and the Pet Home nonprofit invited the director of the Stevenson Center to Sun City Center for a presentation.
Residents loved the idea. They had just one problem: the cost.
Dr. Henry Presnal showed slides of dogs and cats napping together on pillows. He told stories of new friendships among the Stevenson Center's 13 dogs, nine cats and a llama. He said 280 pets are enrolled and will be taken in when their owners die.
But the next detail vexed some of the dozen or so people in the audience: Depending on a pet owner's age, the minimum endowment required from an estate is $50,000.
Marian Weber, a resident in her 80s, spoke up. She could never afford that price based on what she gets from Social Security and a small pension.
"No matter how much I want to, I can't," said Weber, who has no children and no surviving relatives to care for her dog, Thunder, a 2-year-old Chinese crested powderpuff.
Presnal and other Stevenson officials explained that the endowment, which is invested and never touched, needs to be high enough to generate income to pay for animal care and medical bills.
Medical care for aging animals becomes expensive, not to mention boarding costs that can run about $5,000 a year.
Pet Home planners think enough donations could help some residents with the cost. First, the local home needs one big donation to be built - as much as $1.5-million.
Until then, some residents are leaving their pets to the free "Care for Life" program at the Humane Society of Pinellas, which finds new homes for animals.
The Humane Society of Tampa Bay does not have a formal program, but about once or twice a year, someone wills his or her pets to the agency.
Others leave them to trusted veterinarians, such as Dr. Bob Encinosa of Riverview, the new head of the Pet Home effort.
"They want to make sure the animal is going to be placed in a good home," he said.
Horan, who decided to ask her son in Riverview to take Pat when she dies, says the uncertainty can keep owners awake at night.
"I think you're only really happy when you have the security of what will happen to them."
Times researcher Angie Holan contributed to this report.
. more information
The new pet home
For more information about the plans for the Pet Continuing Care Home, call Spencer Faircloth at (813) 633-5818 or Dr. Bob Encinosa at (813) 671-3400.
For more information on the Stevenson Center in Texas, visit www.cvm.tamu.edu/petcare.
[Last modified February 15, 2007, 08:33:15]
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