Sunday, March 15, 2009


Your pet is a beloved member of the family. During your lifetime a pet provides you with great joy and companionship. In exchange, you provide her with a loving home. However, upon your death or disability your devoted pet may be left “homeless” or in the care of a well-meaning relative who has little time or resources. To avoid this, more and more pet-parents are choosing to include provisions for their pet's care as part of their will. In 2006, Pennsylvania became the 32nd state to adopt a Pet Trust statute providing the legal right to establish a Pet Trust for the continuing care of an animal.

A Pet Trust can be designated to take effect upon your death or upon a disability that prevents you from caring for your pet. The trust is funded by you (the grantor) with sufficient funds or property to care for your pet or pets during the expected lifetime of the pet(s). You will designate a caretaker as well as a trustee who is responsible for supervising the use of the trust funds and for providing regular payments from the trust to the pet's chosen caretaker. The trustee could also approve and pay for the pet's miscellaneous expenses as they arise.

As with any legal document it is important that a pet trust is as specific as possible. To avoid confusion and misunderstanding you should carefully consider the following:

* Who will you designate as the trustee? And, who will act as the alternate trustee in the event the first trustee is incapable or unable to serve?

* Who will you name as the caretaker and alternate caretaker?

* Do you have a detailed method of identifying your pet (i.e. microchip, DNA)?

* What are your pets habits and needs?

* What type of food does your pet like and when is she fed?

* What is your pet's exercise and play routine?

* Who is your pet's veterinarian and where are the records?

* Are there any chronic health conditions and how would you prefer to handle new health issues as they arise?

* How will the trustee ensure and oversee the proper care of your pet?

* What type of property will fund the trust?

* What will happen to the trust property after the death of your pet?

* How would you like your pet's final remains handled?

A Pet Trust gives you the peace of mind knowing that your friend will live out her days with the same level of care that you had provided during your lifetime. However, like any other estate planning document, a Pet Trust must be carefully drafted or a court may deem it unenforceable. It is important to contact an experienced local trust and estate planning attorney to discuss the appropriate way to plan for a continuing comfortable life for your pet.

Audrey Buglione is an attorney in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania where she lives with her three children and her pound puppy, rescue kitty and "Cool Dude" the leopard gecko. Audrey handles a variety of animal law issues.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Dogs Gain a Little More Protection in Wisconsin

This Wisconsin case shows the court's growing willingness to take a look at animals in a new light. In this case, the court determined that it is a "violation of the Fourth Amendment for a police officer to shoot and kill a companion dog that poses no imminent danger while the dog’s owner is present and trying to assert custody over her pet." The following is a summary of the case from

Viilo v. Eyre
United States
--- F.3d ----, 2008 WL 4694917 (C.A.7 (Wis.))


Virginia Viilo sued the City of Milwaukee and two of its police officers under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 after an officer shot and killed her dog 'Bubba.' The district court denied the defendants' motion for summary judgment on the basis of qualified immunity and the defendants took an interlocutory appeal challenging this denial. The court found that defendants' interjection of factual disputes deprived the court of jurisdiction. Testimony indicated that there were disputes as to whether the dog was actually menacing toward the officers; in fact, witnesses indicated that an officer followed the whimpering dog after it had been initially shot to shoot it again with a shotgun. The court, in aligning itself with other circuits, held that it is a violation of the Fourth Amendment for a police officer to shoot and kill a companion dog that poses no imminent danger while the dog’s owner is present and trying to assert custody over her pet. Moreover, a reasonable officer would or should have known that the actions alleged here would violate the Constitution. The interlocutory appeal was thus dismissed.

Go to to read the opinion.