Peace of Mind

Ann Walker has lived with animals her entire life. She currently lives with three dogs, three cats, a pony and a donkey. Now in her seventies, many people ask what she’ll do with her animals once she ‘moves on’. But as Ann explains, thanks to a bequest program she no longer worries about her charges.

Many of us have heard elderly people say, usually with deep regret, that when their beloved cat or dog dies, ‘I can’t have another one, it wouldn’t be fair to them, for what on earth will happen if I die?’

It is a funny thing, but we all tend to say, ‘If I die, if something happens to me …’ not ‘When I die, or when something happens to me.’ Yet we all know that the only certainties in life are death and taxes, and none of us are immortal.

Dogs and cats have a much shorter lifespan than people, but that certainly doesn’t mean they’re never orphaned. Giving a home to a dog or cat when you yourself are in your seventies carries a real risk of this happening, for just as with people, companion animals are living longer. That is, if they survive the hazards of the first year of life. The greatest of these is being discarded when the appealing and cute puppy or kitten becomes a less cuddly adolescent.

There is a widespread and totally erroneous belief that only a young animal will settle in a home and bond with its owner. I have taken in many middle-aged and even elderly dogs and cats over the years and found that they almost invariably settle quickly into a new home. Once they have learned the basic house rules and the timetable, they not only bond with but also unstintingly give their love and devotion to a new person. I do not think it beyond the bounds of possibility that they understand they have been given a second chance to love, and be loved.

Patricia Bell has been an animal carer for many years and has taken into her home middle-aged and even elderly cats. Patricia has a great love and understanding of cats, and knows that they are not the cool, distant creatures some believe them to be, but extremely sensitive and affectionate creatures, to each other as well as to their human friends.

Patricia is part of the RSPCA’s bequest program and currently shares her life with two bequest cats, Thomas and Broadie, who came to her from the same home after their owner passed away. She feels strongly that it was bad enough for Thomas and Broadie to lose their human family and home, without also being separated from each other, especially as they grew up together.

When an elderly person like Patricia becomes a foster carer to a bereaved animal it is a win–win situation for everyone. The carer does not have to worry about the expense of caring for the animal, as all veterinary bills are covered by the bequest. In the event that the carer can no longer keep their new companion, the animal returns to the custody of the bequest program. In all other instances, the animal belongs just as much to the carer as if it had always been the carer’s own pet – the animal has a home again and the carer has the infinite joy of animal companionship once more.

Under the RSPCA bequest program, the animal is registered with the program and money is left in the owner’s will to cover its ongoing expenses should they pre-decease it. For the rest of its life, the animal will be primarily the responsibility of the RSPCA; they will place it in a new home with registered carers who will, to all intents and purposes, be the animal’s new owners.

The new owners will be responsible for feeding, housing, registration and exercise. Those who volunteer to be carers understand that animals, just as people, can suffer the trauma of loss and grief, and offer love as well as care. In addition to paying veterinary expenses, the RSPCA also offer free boarding each year to allow the foster carers to take a holiday. They always keep in touch with the carers to keep them informed of the animal’s state.

The RSPCA’s bequest program does its utmost to match orphan animals and carers. They aim to place the animal in a home as similar as possible to the one they have lost. On registration, lots of questions are asked about the animal, such as their sleeping arrangements, diet, interactions with other animals and children, travel requirements and medications.

Jennifer Richardson is a carer for Sooty, a Spaniel cross Labrador, who came to live with her and her cats five years ago as part of this program. The cats, Oliver and Tabitha – taken in by Jennifer as small waifs – are now themselves registered on the program. Together, they all share a happy household.

Dogs and cats are the most common animals registered for bequests, but no creature is exempt. Pet birds, horses, chooks and even fish can also be registered. Once registered and accepted, if the animal is a dog or a cat a medallion is issued for it to wear on its collar. This has the animal’s number within the program and the number to ring in case of emergency. The owner is also given a fridge magnet with the words IN EMERGENCY in large letters, as well as information stating that bequest animals reside in the residence. The telephone number to call for priority assistance follows. A similar wallet-sized card is also issued. The RSPCA bequest program is free to join, as provision for your pets is made in your will.

I have registered all of my eight animals with RSPCA Victoria’s animal bequest program, and it gives me great peace of mind. My animals are a precious gift and I’ll die happy knowing they’ll be well looked after. So if you’re in your twilight years and yearn for another animal companion, then this could be the solution for you. And if you adopt from a shelter, not only will you be helping to save a life, you’ll have a wonderful companion for the rest of your days.

Ann Walker has a blog at

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