Making end-of-life decisions for a beloved pet can be an emotionally challenging and heart-wrenching experience for families. The bond between humans and their furry companions is often deep and profound, which makes the prospect of saying goodbye all the more painful.
Conversations become even more challenging when you are not just making these decisions for your companion, but also making them for or with another person. This can happen when helping an elderly parent, making decisions in a family that has separated, or when there are different values and beliefs around end-of-life care and burial rituals. These situations can make an already difficult decision overwhelming, leading to arguments and conflicts instead of focusing on the best care for your beloved companion.
As a community mediator, I assist families and neighbors in addressing these conflicts and having meaningful conversations on various topics, from planning for the care of elderly parents to pet custody. The number one thing I recommend is having these difficult conversations before they become crises with short timelines, real consequences, and when emotions are running high.
For those who wish to prepare for such discussions in advance, here’s a structured approach:
Set Up a Date to Talk
Inform the other party about your intention to discuss the matter. Ask them for a suitable time to have this conversation or invite them to a dedicated discussion date. Create an agenda for the meeting to keep the conversation organized and ensure nothing is overlooked.
Create a Meeting Agenda
Your agenda might include topics like:
- Your beliefs concerning pet death and burial.
- Your willingness to allocate funds for pet care and aftercare.
- Criteria for determining the right time to make end-of-life decisions for your pet.
- Plans for instructing a pet caregiver in case you are unavailable.
- Contingency measures for decision-making if you’re unable to do so.
If you are in a crisis and need to make decisions immediately, provide the other party with a shorter window for discussion. Instead of setting a date in the future, ask if “now is a good time or if we should talk in an hour (or a day, etc.)”. Share the agenda before you start to focus the conversation and emphasize that this is not an open-ended discussion.
Effective Communication Strategies:
- In cases of heightened tension, consider using an object to signify the speaker and listener.
- Introduce the agenda to maintain control of the conversation, yet consider allowing the other person to speak first.
- Embrace active listening, emphasizing understanding rather than immediate response.
- Recap what you’ve heard and clarify any missed points.
- After they’ve shared, it’s your turn to speak, fostering a non-defensive atmosphere.
- When posing questions, seek clarification and understanding rather than pursuing victory or closing down the conversation.
- At a minimum, write down your decisions and ensure that caregivers are aware of them.
- Revisit the agreement from time to time to make sure it still aligns with your needs or your pet’s needs.
- Consider including your pets in your Power of Attorney documents if you’re preparing them.
- For long-lived animals like parrots or tortoises, consider creating a trust for their care.
- If you need assistance understanding when to make end-of-life decisions for your companion, consult your veterinarian or organizations like Paws Into Grace for quality of life assessments.
- For official legal documentation like Power of Attorney, Do Not Resuscitate orders, or trusts, seek guidance from local attorneys specializing in wills and trusts.
- If you need help navigating these difficult conversations, consider reaching out to a mediator.
This article was written by Laura M. Lorber, J.D., Pet Custody Mediator. You can see Laura’s website here: https://www.lauralorberjd.com