What if your assistance dog outlives you?

August 19, 2013 · Posted in Assistance Dogs, People, Service Dogs · Comment 
Older man and his dogAn older man and his dog

We don’t always think about what will happen if our assistance dog outlives us. Usually our focus is on the grief we’ll feel when our beloved dog goes before us, since dogs usually have a short lifespan.

But planning ahead to make sure your assistance dog is cared for if you die before they do is important. A pet trust is a legal mechanism recognized in most states. It allows you to plan for the care of your dog, including providing the financial means to do so.

First, if you got your assistance dog from an agency, you have to determine whether or not you own your dog. Some agencies retain ownership while some agencies turn over ownership to the recipient. This is an important question to answer before you proceed.

You may think that a provision in your will covers the care of your dog, but it offers no guarantee. A pet trust, a type of “honorary trust,” must be established for your wishes to be enforceable. Cornell’s “DOGWatch” newsletter recently took on this topic in detail, and here are some of the points they raised.

Since dogs are considered property by law, and can’t directly receive an inheritance, a trustee and caregiver are needed for a pet trust. The trustee is the person who manages the funds of the trust and the caregiver, who may or may not be the same person as the trustee, is the one actually taking care of the dog. Naming more than one caregiver is wise. You are the settler or grantor of the trust, the person who creates it. The beneficiary of the trust is your dog.

Whether you find the forms for your pet trust online or hire an attorney, the main thing is getting the trust set up so you know your assistance dog will be cared for in the manner you feel is important. As long as the details you spell out are not considered by the court to be “capricious,” and the amount of money is not considered excessive (like the $12 million Leona Helmsley left for her dog), the trust should be enforceable.

To make sure your wishes are carried out, you will not only have to set up the trust, but also take additional steps including:

  • Talk to your caregiver(s) and make sure they’re willing to take on the responsibility.
  • Spell out specific details of care for your dog.
  • Make sure enough money is set aside for your dog’s care over his expected lifetime, plus something for the caregiver’s time.
  • Give copies of the trust to the trustee and caregiver(s).

To you, your assistance dog is a partner and family member. In the eyes of the law, he or she is just a piece of property. I want to make sure that Whistle has the best care possible if I die before him. Plan ahead with a pet trust to ensure your assistance dog is cared for, even if they outlive you.

Image courtesy of africa / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Happy Birthday Betty White!

January 17, 2011 · Posted in People · Comment 
Betty White

Actress-comedian and assistance dog champion, Betty White celebrates her 89th birthday today! What a role model and tireless advocate for assistance dogs and all animals everywhere.

We can all take a lesson in life from this bubbly, vivacious, hard-working, and dedicated individual. I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to visit with Betty on a couple of occasions and she is one of the most delightful, upbeat women I have had the chance to meet. Most recently she visited with me on Working Like Dogs on Pet Life Radio in celebration of National Assistance Dog Week. And she was the first person we thought of to write the foreword to Working Like Dogs: The Service Dog Guidebook. Betty can teach us so much about how to succeed in life and how to be true to ourselves and our causes.

Betty is truly passionate about animals and she has a special place in her heart for assistance animals. Perhaps that is due to her beloved golden retriever, Dinah, who Betty adopted when Dinah could no longer work as Tom Sullivan’s guide dog. Ironically, Dinah lost her vision and she could not perform the tasks that Tom depended on for his daily activities. Betty stepped in and welcomed Dinah into her home. She provided the love and support to both Tom and Dinah that enabled each of them to move forward to the next chapter of their lives. If you’re interested in a good read, check out Betty and Tom story about their experience in The Leading Lady: Dinah’s Story.

Betty is a renowned actress and animal activist. Happy Birthday to you dear one, and thank you for all the laughs you continue to give us and for all that you have done and continue to do for animals AND for individuals with disabilities. The world is truly a better place because you are in it!

Others Can Be Integral Parts of a Service Dog Team

March 2, 2010 · Posted in People, Service Dogs, Training · Comment 
Franz and Whistle at Yellowstone

I am always amazed at how respectful my husband, Franz, is regarding my relationship with my service dogs. He always has been. From the moment I received my first service dog and for the last seventeen years as I am now working with my third dog.

When I got my first dog, Ramona, he was instructed not to interact with her. For the first month, he was not even supposed to have any eye contact with her. I will never forget when I brought Ramona home. What a proud moment. And Franz was so supportive. He followed all the rules until one morning when I got out of the shower and found Franz and Ramona rolling around the living room floor playing together. They both looked at me as if to say, “We just couldn’t take it any longer.”

From the moment I received my first dog, Franz has never overridden or even tried to override a command that I have given. Quite the opposite, he remains silent whenever I need to communicate with my canine partner. And somehow he manages to do this in spite of the fact that each dog I’ve had completely adores him. They love nothing better than to play rough house with Franz when he comes home at the end of the day.

I have often wondered what my service dogs think about Franz? Is he another dog? Is he a member of their pack? Is he one of the pack leaders?

He is definitely the second most important person in their life. Whenever I am sick or unable to meet their immediate needs, Franz steps in for me. He knows all of their commands and fluently speaks their language and yet, he acquiesces to me each and every time when needed.

I view Franz as a secondary member of our service dog team. He is the unsung hero who gets up in the middle of the night to take my dog out. He cleans up our yard. He goes to the emergency vet with us in the middle of the night when my service dog is sick.

There are so many people out their like Franz who provide unwavering support to working dog teams. Through their dedication and support, we are enabled to function and to flourish as a successful working team. We often talk about puppyraisers and their contributions to creating these amazing service animals. Rarely, however, do we talk about these unsung heroes who help to maintain healthy and highly functional teams.

These individuals are our family members, spouses, attendants, friends, etc. who quietly stay in the shadows offering their support in times of need and with the mundane daily tasks that might not be too fun or glamorous. I want to take a moment to say thank you to these integral secondary team members for all that they do to support the success of working dogs and their human partners. Whistle and I salute you!

The Influence of Bacon

February 28, 2010 · Posted in People, Public Interaction, Service Dogs, Training · 5 Comments 
Marcie Davis accepting Women of Influence award

Recently, I was honored as a “Women of Influence” by the New Mexico Business Weekly. Over 550 people attended the sold-out luncheon that honored 30 women for their contributions to New Mexico’s economy and community.

During the luncheon, each honoree was to take the stage, share five things about herself that no one knew, and exit the stage for a photo with two prominent female business leaders.

Several of my dearest friends and clients attended the luncheon with me. We dined on a chef salad and other assorted treats. As a woman with a disability, I have limited balance, and the thought of eating a chef salad while wearing a business suit and anticipating my turn on stage, was a little nerve racking.

As I lifted the fork to my mouth, bits of bacon immediately fell from the fork and came to rest down my shirt. As I looked around at the crowded room, I dared not to try and retrieve it. I thought I would just live with it and remove it once we were loaded safely in my van for the drive home.

Whistle was tucked nicely under the table and my husband, Franz, and I visited with the attendees and cheered as each honoree took the stage for her five minutes of recognition. Before I knew it, it was my turn. As the hostess, local award-winning journalist Augusta Meyers, called my name and read my bio, Whistle and I made our way to the stage.

Augusta greeted me on the accessible stage and I boldly shared five things about myself that weren’t too embarrassing, but would hopefully give the audience a glimpse into who I am as a person. As I left the stage, Whistle and I made our way to the foot of the ramp where the two prominent community leaders presented me with various swag including a bottle of wine, flowers and a gift certificate to a local jewelry store. I felt like a runner-up to Ms. America.

Trying to juggle all this stuff in a wheelchair, things were starting to get a little precarious. I was trying to hold the plaque, the flowers, a bottle of wine, and the other gift items, when I caught a twinkle in Whistle’s eye.

Lo and behold, as I was positioning my wheelchair for the photo, Whistle had caught the scent of bacon. It was nothing short of the television commercial where the dog is chanting, “bacon, bacon, bacon”.

Whistle was obsessed with getting the bacon that was down my shirt. He jumped in my lap and proceeded to stick his nose down my shirt. I was mortified as I could hear the two women saying, “Oh, how sweet. He loves you so much.” And I’m thinking, “Are you kidding me? He loves bacon!”

As the photographer tried to get Whistle to look toward the camera for the photo, Whistle was fixated on my chest. He was staring right at my chest with a look of sheer determination.

I just chuckled to myself and told the photographer not to worry and to just get the best shot he could. As Whistle and I made it back to our assigned table, I had to laugh at the situation. When you’re at your zenith, there’s nothing like a dog to give you a lesson in humility and reality.

The next day, I received an email from the New Mexico Business Weekly announcing the honorees and celebrating the event. Wouldn’t you know it, there’s a photo of me with the two community leaders and Whistle is positioned next to me staring intensely at my chest. I had to chuckle once again.

I was so honored to be recognized as a “Woman of Influence” among my peers. And, I believe I am the luckiest girl in the world to have a service dog. Whistle provides me with the independence to get out into the world alone and he also makes each day an adventure and a lesson in what’s really important!

Holidays Too Much of a Good Thing for Service Dog

January 1, 2010 · Posted in People, Public Interaction, Service Dogs, Training · Comment 
santa dog

As the holidays draw to a close, I am concerned about changes I have recently witnessed in Whistle. My sister and her family visited during the Christmas holidays. Whistle was thrilled to spend some time with my niece and nephew and my nephew’s girlfriend. They are all college students with boundless energy and Whistle reveled in playing with them and falling asleep on the couch with them.

It did not occur to me until after they went home this week that Whistle wanted to remain in the holiday mood. I noticed that when we went out into public he was sniffing quite a lot, more than usual. I commanded him to heel but he was more interested in the crumbs on the floor. Overall, he seemed distracted and much more interested in smells and morsels of food in his immediate vicinity.

This was unusual behavior for Whistle. I began to wonder, “What happened to my usually attentive service dog?” His behavior had definitely changed and his responsiveness to me had diminished. He was clearly more interested in other things than working with me.

And then it dawned on me, he had been unharnessed most of the time they were visiting. He had romped and played with them all day and late into the evening. He had sniffed every yuletide aroma during all of the abnormal cooking and food preparation that occurred throughout their visit. He was a carefree dog for the entire week. Basically, he was on vacation and he was loving it.

Franz and I live alone with Whistle, my retired service dog, Morgan, and three kitties. Whistle was not used to this much activity around the house but he was clearly enjoying it. I don’t think he has any interest in returning to our normal routine.

So it begs the question, “How do we handle our service dogs during the holidays?” Do we let them overindulge like we do throughout the holiday season or should I be Ebenezer Scrooge and require him to keep working without any holiday revelry?

I learned this season that I need to be more aware of how Whistle spends his time during the holidays. Like all of us, I think he should have some holiday fun but in moderation. I allowed Whistle to overindulge in treats and youthful attention and afterward I have a young dog on my hands that had rather play than work.

Whistle and I have to get recertified in January as part of Paws With A Cause’s requirements for all working service dog teams. It is clear to me that Whistle and I have to get back into shape. We need to work on his commands and my overall expectations of him as a working dog.

Whistle and I both overindulged during the holidays and now, we have to get back in shape. We both must set and adhere to some strict New Year’s resolutions that include sharpening our obedience and public access skills. It’s almost New Year’s day and the party is definitely over for me and Whistle!

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