Pets who outlive their owners can be adequately cared for through the Tender Loving Care program at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
The program offers pets a lifetime of veterinary care at the teaching hospital and a home with an approved caretaker. Cats, dogs, small exotic pets, and horses are accepted.
"A number of friends and donors of the (veterinary school) have asked in the past if the school would help find a home for their pets, should they die before the pet," said Dr. Richard Timmins, director of the Center for Animals in Society at the veterinary school and manager of the TLC program.
"A couple years ago, we discovered that there were a number of informal agreements between individual donors and members of the (Office of Development) and some faculty members," Dr. Timmins said. "The problem with these informal agreements was that there was no assurance that the pet owners' needs would really be met, and there was no formal structure for carrying out the agreement.
"After examining programs at a few other schools and receiving input from clients, donors, attorneys, and faculty here at (UC-Davis), we built the TLC program, which is an explicit legal document—but one that can be flexible according to the needs of the owners and the pets."
Along with UC-Davis, at least one other veterinary school or college offers a program for pets who outlive their owners—the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine. Established in 1993, the Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care Center at TAMU meets the needs of pets when the owners are no longer able to provide that care, whether it's because they've entered a retirement home, are hospitalized for an extended period, or have died.
As part of the enrollment process at UC-Davis, a veterinarian meets with the owner and pet to assess the animal's needs and match it with the most suitable caretaker. Caretakers are selected from members of the school's veterinary community. New caretaker homes are prescreened by a program official to determine the appropriate species, age, size, and number of pets that can be adequately cared for in each prospective home.
The TLC program is funded through estate gifts from owners who enroll their pets. A contribution of $30,000 to the TLC program helps provide lifetime care for each enrolled pet. Dr. Timmins said all health care, including wellness examinations, medicines, surgeries, and hospitalization, is provided at the teaching hospital at no charge to the new caretaker.
In addition to the estate gift, the enrollment fee for each animal is $1,000, which covers initial costs, such as legal documents, evaluation of the pet, and care of the pet after the owner dies but before the estate is settled.
Dr. Timmins offered several recommendations for veterinary schools or colleges that are looking to implement a similar program.
"Make sure that there is a legal document clearly stating what is expected of the school and of the pet owner," he suggested. "Examine the pet and its environment before enrolling the pet to determine what sort of home will work best for the pet—and make sure that the pet is adoptable."
If the pet is not adoptable, he said, consider recommending that the animal be brought to a no-kill organization.
When looking to implement a program, he also suggested establishing a phone line and delegating a person to respond to inquiries, because there will be a lot of them.
The program has an oversight committee, called the TLC for Pets Committee, of select faculty, staff members, and knowledgeable pet owners to oversee the health management of the pets. Once the pets are in the care of the school, the committee reviews health records, behavior, and requirements for placement.
Log on to the program's Web site at http://www.tlcforpets.net/ to learn more.