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Pets

    While most of us are sheltering down in our homes, there is a large population that is traveling and not practicing social distancing — shelter pets. One unexpected turn of pandemic events seems that Atlantans are stepping up to foster shelter animals, even if it’s only while under the stay-at-home mandate. Sanford Leach, who graduated from the University of Georgia last August and landed a job at Warner Media, wanted a dog but the time wasn’t right. “My roommate and I wanted to foster, but I was starting a new job, and we weren’t sure we would have the time or ability to foster, much less adopt,” he says. His roommate, Jacob Gottlieb, saw social media posts asking for fosters since, with the quarantine, workers were unable to care for the animals. The two, who live in the Old Fourth Ward, contacted LifeLine Animal Project and Rudy, a twoish “cuddle bug” found a loving, temporary home. “We went to the shelter, met Rudy and he’s doing good. He’s kind of a mix of a lot of things. This is a great time to foster a dog because everyone has the time.” It’s also National Pet Week. It seems that more than a few have the same idea. LifeLine Animal Project runs the Fulton and DeKalb county shelters as well as the LifeLine Community Animal Center. On average the Fulton shelter takes in between 450 to 600 dogs a month — about 20 to 40 a day; Dekalb County averages between 380 to 550. “The virus came, and we put out a plea to the Atlanta community for help. It was a perfect storm,” says Karen Hirsch, public relations director. “People were stuck at home. It was a great time to get a pet because you had the time to spend with the dog.” The Atlanta pet-loving community responded. At one point, the LifeLine’s shelters were empty. “We have a waiting list now. We’ve never had this before. It’s a wonderful problem to have,” says Hirsch. Currently, they have about 40 dogs. The virus became a problem in March. That month, the Fulton shelter saw 375 adoption and 269 fosters; Dekalb had 315 adoptions and 457 fosters. The third shelter had 235 adoptions and 220 fosters. By contrast in March 2019, the Fulton shelter had 260 adoptions and 74 fosters; DeKalb, 249 adoptions and 155 fosters, the community shelter, had 50 adoptions and four fosters. “It’s pretty incredible,” she says. It’s the same story with Angels Among Us Pet Rescue and other rescues. Cobb County’s animal shelter is the only municipal shelter without a foster program. “We’ve seen a tremendous increase in new fosters and adoptions,” says Jackie Spett, development director for Angels Among Us Pet Rescue. “We’re struggling to catch up. We’re inundated with applications.” The rescue now averages three to five new fosters a day, and it’s been at that pace for a couple of weeks. “It’s about 30 a month. Normally, we get maybe five a month,” says Kim Kay, operations director for Angels. The fosters range from families to those in their 20s. The applicants go through the usual screening process of filling out an application and meeting the animal and rescue coordinator. If all goes well, the pet has a new temporary home. The shelters take great pains to ensure the fosters know the pet’s issues and how to make it work. Shelters also pay for vet services, medicines and other supplies. Typically a rescued pet takes a couple of days to adjust. They tend to be stressed and uncertain. Many sleep. “Probably the only good sleep they’ve had in a while,” says Hirsch. Others, like Rudy, are heartworm positive and need medication. The first couple of days Katrina Flanders and her family fostered Coco, a pit bull mix, he wouldn’t go into his crate. “He was so anxious, but I was told to give him time, and he calmed down. Now, he’s a dog. He likes to sit in the sun. He has more confidence,” she says. “It’s better each day. He’s getting an understanding of routines. It makes me wonder what kind of life he had prior to us.” Coco — or Ollie — had two names, and didn’t respond to either. Her children, 6, 9 and 12, call him Kobe, and he likes it. He had three fosters before the Flanders. “We don’t have time in our lives for a dog,” she says. “I’m a teacher and swim coach, and my kids are on the swim team. We’re in school, practice and, on the weekends, at meets. It’s not fair for a dog, but this situation is perfect.” >>VIDEO: 5 best dog breeds for seniors At first, Rudy had a chewing problem, and it took several days to gently train him. “When we first got him, he did so many things wrong. It was hard. He had so much anxiety. He couldn’t sit still. He would just pace and freak out, but after a week he calmed down,” Leach says. “He wants to please, and he’ll do anything for a treat and a ‘good boy’.” The fosters benefit as well. “Taking him for a walk gets us out of the house,” says Leach. For the Flanders family, it’s a needed break from television and work. “It’s nice to break it up and walk him,” she says. “He’s provided a lot of laughs. He does weird quirky things. The kids are teaching him tricks, and he’s so much happier.” >> RELATED: Best dog breeds for older people Both the rescue groups and temporary fosters hope that many of the fosters will adopt, and if not, will find a permanent home for the pet. Both Leach and Flanders post on social media outlets seeking adopters. “You realize that you have to be able to love him and give him up,” says Flanders. “We approached this fostering as giving him a safe place to learn how to be a good dog so others can love him.” Leach will be sad when that day comes. “We’re trying to do everything we can for him, but we love this little dude.” Spett encourages social networking so that potential adopters can envision the dog in a natural setting rather than stressed out in a cage or at an adoption event. “People can see how they would be in their own living rooms.” >>RELATED: Why fostering a shelter animal during coronavirus crisis helps you and them Still, there are downsides. While pet adoptions and fosters are up, many fundraising events were canceled and donations are down. Many rescues, including Adopt a Golden, are seeing more owner surrenders because people can no longer afford a pet. Plus, there is worry about how the temporarily pampered pet will react when it’s back to the kennel. Potential separation anxiety is a fear. “We’re hoping that not many will be returned,” says Spett. Hirsch, however, is positive. “We’re just hoping that people learn what a great gift a shelter pet can be.”
  • When Jean Allred was doing her estate planning, first and foremost were her babies. She wanted to ensure that Jack, Molly, Annie and Gordon were well taken care of after she died or if she became incapacitated. That includes money for expenses like food, bedding and medical care. Her babies are of the four-legged variety, and her planning illustrates a growing trend. Currently, 67% of U.S. households own at least one pet, and many people now consider long-term planning for them just as important as they would for two-legged family members. “They were kind of like No. 1,” in terms of planning, said Allred, 58, a quality control manager who lives in Marietta. “If you think about it, animals are completely vulnerable. They can’t take care of themselves. If something happened to me, I’ve got to make sure they’re cared for and that somebody doesn’t take them to a shelter and they’re euthanized. That just keeps me up at night.” Indeed, for many households, pets are viewed as valued members of the family. They provide companionship, and studies show they help reduce stress. They sleep in the same bed. Their owners take them to restaurants and on vacations. In fact, a 2018 Realtor.com survey found that 79% of millennials who bought a home said they would pass on an otherwise perfect home if it didn’t meet the needs of their pets. Estate lawyers and investment advisers are aware of the trend. Fidelity Investments offers tips on its website for pet owners, advising people to be upfront about what it takes to care for your pet. Fidelity also advises that once a caregiver has been identified, a plan should be put in place that details what needs to happen immediately after the death of the owner. Pets, though, are considered property and have no legal rights, so it’s up to you to plan for their care. Some questions you may want to explore: • What is the difference between a pet trust and a will? • Does it vary by state? • Is the trust independent from the will? • What happens to the leftover funds after your pet dies? • Can you designate money from your 401(k) to care for a pet? To come up with a plan, Allred looked at the life expectancy of each animal and factored in the average vet bill, food and extra money in case something catastrophic happened. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ pet care cost table, the annual cost to care for a dog can range from $737-$1,040.31, while the annual cost for cat care is around $809. The cost of caring for both dogs and cats can vary depending on age, breed, weight, and other qualities such as special medical or training needs. Some pets can live even longer. Horses generally have long lives, and certain birds can live more than 70 years. For Allred, it was more than financial, though. She had to find committed caregivers. A brother, who is the executor of her estate, agreed to take her two dogs, Jack and Molly. Allred stipulated that the two dogs stay together and that her cats not be separated. She’s been in a similar situation. Several years ago, a neighbor asked her would she look after his mostly feral cat, Gordon, if he died. She agreed. Not long after, the neighbor died unexpectedly of a massive heart attack. “I never had second thoughts,” Allred said. “I went right down there and got him.” Their arrangement was informal, although experts say owners should have a committed plan and legal caregiver. It also helps to check in with your designated caregiver. Situations change. Someone who agreed to take your pet three years ago may develop a health or other personal issue. Allred’s neighbor didn’t leave money to care for Gordon, but that didn’t matter to her. That may not be the case with others. When Erika Orcutt, a Kennesaw attorney, first started her practice 20 years ago, she saw very few cases in which clients even talked about including pets in their estate planning. Now it’s about 20%. She often asks clients if they have pets and whether they have a plan in place for their care. “It’s definitely gone full spectrum in terms of being an item in the estate planning process,” she said. Most people don’t think about including the pet in estate planning. More than likely, they expect family members and friends to do the right thing, “and that can be problematic, but something you can avoid with advance planning.” In Georgia, pets are considered property, so you can’t leave anything to them directly in a will, she said. You can, however, leave money to a loved one or friend to care for the pet, but there’s no guarantee the money will be used to that end. “Once you give the money to that person, there’s nothing to force them to spend it on the animal. You can leave $5,000 to your sister, Jane, to care for the animal, but that doesn’t have the same teeth (as a trust). Once Jane gets the money, there’s no real way to force her to spend it on the animal.” A trust, though, is more legally binding when it comes to caring for animals, Orcutt said. It can also be specific, including how often a pet should see the vet and cover its standard of living. In a pet care agreement, the executor or lawyer could go to court to enforce the contract. Typically, a trustee will hold property “in trust” for the benefit of the person’s pets, according to ASCPA. Payments to a designated caregiver will be made on a regular basis. The trust, depending upon the state in which it is established, will continue for the life of the pet or 21 years, whichever occurs first. Some states allow a pet trust to continue for the life of the pet beyond the 21 years. Related: Escaping hell: After life in a cage, how do dogs adjust? Many experts advise against a will alone. It takes time for a will to be probated, and there could be challenges. What happens to the pet then? The general responsibility of the executor is to oversee assets of the estate, and property is one of them. It is different, though, when that property has be fed and walked. Relatives or close friends are often looked to to fill the void, but may not have an interest in caring for a pet or the ability to do so. Atlanta attorney Nancy Goodman said a pet cannot be named as a beneficiary of 401(k) or IRA. “It is possible to name a trust as a beneficiary of a retirement account, but the funds would be subject to immediate taxation if payable for the benefit of a pet,” she said. Goodman added that it’s generally advisable to use retirement funds to provide for a person or persons, so that required minimum distributions are payable — and taxed — over the lifetime of the oldest beneficiary. That preferred tax treatment doesn’t work for non-persons such as animals or charities. Gene Gettler and his wife, Laura, who are in their mid-60s, own four cats, but they also help take care of several feral felines that wander his East Point neighborhood. The Gettlers, who own a fencing school, prepared their wills last November. Gene Gettler was going to have surgery the next month, and they figured it was best to have their affairs in order. And that meant looking out for their cats. “We love them and we don’t have children, so they rule the roost,” said Gettler, who reads the newspaper every morning as his cat Bandit looks over his shoulder. “We love cats and we wanted to basically make sure that if they outlive us, they are taken care of.” A close friend agreed to either care for their cats — which range from 7 to 10 years old — or make sure they had a good home. They set aside enough money for their care. If there’s no set plan, a beloved pet can end up in a shelter or abandoned. Ask Karen Hirsch, a spokeswoman for the Lifeline Animal Project, which manages the DeKalb and Fulton counties’ animal services. Several times a month, a dog or cat is brought into the shelter because the owner died or became too ill to care for the pet and hasn’t made provisions in a will or trust or there’s no relative able or willing to step forward to care for the animal. “You don’t want your pet to end up in a shelter,” said Hirsch, whose own pets are included in her will. “It’s a scary place, especially if they’ve been in a home all of their lives and been loved by somebody who’s now gone. They can be confused and scared.” They may stop eating, whine a lot or become depressed. They don’t understand why they are in this new place without the person who may have cared for them for years. Related: Pet owners cope with loss of their best friends “It’s certainly not what their owner would want for them. People just don’t think about these things.” Sandy Hackler did. Hackler, who lives in West Cobb, owns three horses and three dogs. She started thinking about estate planning when she got her first horse about 17 years ago “Horses are not readily passed down in a family like a dog or other animal might be,” she said. “You can just give your dog to your sister.” Today, there is a trust for the care of her animals after she dies. A longtime friend and fellow horse lover has agreed to take her three horses — Profe, Mae and Doc — who are 24, 25 and 18, respectively. Money is set aside for their care for the rest of their lives. The funds will be released in increments over time to be used for medical expenses, boarding and feed. Hackler, 64, admits she was picky about finding just the right caretaker who would love her animals as she does. Horses, depending on the breed, can live anywhere from 25 to 30 years, so she had to be meticulous about the financial planning. As for her three dogs, she has also set aside money for their care. Her one human child — her son — has agreed to take them in, but the two travel a lot together, so she has a contingency plan in place that includes other family, friends and members of a Lab rescue group. Related: Rescue Me: Lucy steals writer’s heart More: Hundreds of shelter animals find new homes Hackler volunteers at a local shelter and has seen pets come in whose owners didn’t make arrangements. “It’s heartbreaking.” She said it’s a big enough issue that if an older person wants to adopt a pet, workers make sure the potential owner understands the importance of having a will or trust in place. Once a person who was 90 came in to adopt a dog, and she and other shelter workers required the adopter to show a “verified plan” was in place for the animal before they let him go. “They’re family,” said Hackler of her animals. “You wouldn’t want to leave your children with no advance care if something happens to you.”
  • A Wisconsin girl battling a terminal illness is finding strength and comfort from thousands of four-legged pen pals. According to WISC-TV, Emma Mertens, 7, of Hartland, was diagnosed with a DIPG, or diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma. Emma’s GoFundMe page describes the condition as a “rare and inoperable brain tumor.” >> Read more trending news  But thanks to flyers that have gone viral on Facebook, some new furry friends have boosted Emma’s spirits. “Attention dog parents!!” reads the flyer. “Emma Mertens is a 7-year-old little girl who is terminally ill and wants comfort in the form of letters from dogs. If you are interested, you can help by sending a letter from your dog. This can include written letter[s] or emails and can even have photos or videos attached.” >> See one of the flyers here So far, Emma has received 50,000 photos and letters, “Good Morning America” reported Wednesday. >> Need something to lift your spirits? Read more uplifting news  Want to write to Emma on your dog’s behalf? Email emmalovesdogs7@gmail.com or mail a letter to Emma Mertens, P.O. Box 230, Hartland, WI 53029. You also can donate to her GoFundMe campaign here. Read more here or here.
  • A puppy's touching reaction to Disney's 'The Lion King' is capturing hearts across the country. >> Read more trending news  According to WBNS, Josh Myers of Chattanooga, Tennessee, shared a video last week of 4-month-old Luna whimpering while watching an emotional moment from the 1994 animated film.  >> Need something to lift your spirits? Read more uplifting news  'Right as Mufasa falls to his death, she stops and turns to the TV to watch,' Myers captioned the video, which has been viewed more than 4.4 million times. 'To see her crying at the TV was the sweetest thing I think I've ever seen. She even lays down right after Simba lays with his dad.' He continued: 'We don't deserve dogs. 4 months old and she's already showing empathy.' >> Click here to watch Read more here or here.
  • Have a special four-legged friend at home? It's time to be extra generous with the belly rubs, walks, treats and playtime in honor of every 'fur child's' favorite day – Love Your Pet Day. >> Love Your Pet Day: 9 lavish ways to spoil your pet According to NationalDayCalendar.com, the holiday, celebrated every year on Feb. 20, is the perfect opportunity 'to give extra attention to and pamper your pets.' The site, which could not track down the holiday's creator, recommends that animal lovers 'bring your pet a special treat, take an extra long walk or give them more attention' to mark the occasion. >> Need something to lift your spirits? Read more uplifting news  But if Twitter trends are any indication, the most popular way to celebrate Love Your Pet Day may be sharing photos of Fluffy and Fido on social media. Check out some of our favorite photos below and share your own with the hashtag #LoveYourPetDay. >> Read more trending news 
  • A king shepherd that vanished eight months ago is back home with his family after making a 175-mile trek from Massachusetts to Maine. >> See a photo of the dog here According to the Bangor Daily News, the Woollacott family of Ashby, Massachusetts, had been searching for the 5-year-old dog, Kaiser, since June, when he scaled a wall and escaped a woman who was looking after him. Tom Woollacott said he drove 1,500 miles over 'three or four weeks' and even used a drone to try to find his four-legged friend. >> Read more trending news  Little did Woollacott know, his luck would change several months later, when a woman from Bethel, Maine, contacted animal control about a dog she had been feeding for a few weeks. Officials captured the dog and brought him to Responsible Pet Care of Oxford Hills in Paris, Maine, on Feb. 6, the Daily News reported. 'He was timid, shy, and nobody really knew where he came from,' said the shelter, who scanned him for a microchip and shared his photo on Facebook. >> Need something to lift your spirits? Read more uplifting news  Days later, there was a breakthrough. 'Day 5 came of his stray hold and we got a call from a lady in Massachusetts, saying she was watching this dog for about 6 hrs when he slipped his lead and took off, the last sighting was about 75 miles away from where she was located, that was 8 MONTHS AGO IN MASSACHUSETTS!!' the shelter wrote in a Facebook post. Shelter officials eventually spoke with the dog's owner, who 'was able to identify some things' on the dog 'that no one else would know,' the post said. >> See the Facebook post here Woollacott drove to the shelter Friday and brought Kaiser back home, the Daily News reported.  >> See the touching reunion here But some parts of Kaiser's story remain a mystery. 'Did he get here himself? Was he taken? Was he picked up and then escaped again?' Responsible Pet care wrote. 'We may never know, but we do know that his family never stopped looking, and today will be the happiest day for all of them.'  Read more here.
  • The Westminster Kennel Club has a new best in show for 2019. King the wire fox terrier was crowned top dog Tuesday at Madison Square Garden in New York. See King and the group winners below: >> PHOTOS: 2019 Westminster Dog Show Best in show: King, wire fox terrier Terrier group: King, wire fox terrier Working group: Wilma, boxer Sporting group: Bean, Sussex spaniel Herding group: Baby Lars, bouvier des Flandres Nonsporting group: Colton, schipperke Toy group: Bono, Havanese Hound group: Burns, dachshund – Visit the Westminster Kennel Club's website to learn more about the show and see a full list of winners.
  • Hump day' came early this week after sheriff's deputies in Pima County, Arizona, tracked down two camels on the run Monday night. >> Read more trending news  According to KOLD-TV, deputies responded to a Green Valley neighborhood about 7 p.m. after someone spotted the camels 'running loose.'  Authorities captured the camels safely and are seeking their owners, KOLD reported. >> See the photos here Read more here.
  • Police in Richmond, Virginia, are looking for the person responsible for setting fire to a dog tethered to a pole at an area park. According to a Facebook post by Richmond Animal Care and Control, the incident occurred Sunday evening at Abner City Park, where the male pit bull 'was tied to a pole,' then 'covered in accelerant and intentionally set on fire.'  Witnesses described the suspect as a man 'wearing multiple layers of pants,' the post said. He fled the scene afterward, authorities said. >> See the Facebook post here The dog was taken to Virginia Veterinary Centers for treatment of the burns, which covered more than 40 percent of his body, the post said.  Officials named the dog Tommie. >> Read more trending news  'Please share this post and help us save Tommie and find the person responsible for this evil, senseless act of violence,' the post said.  If you have information about the attack, call Metro Richmond Crime Stoppers at 804-780-1000.  Click here if you'd like to make a donation to RACC.
  • More than 165 German shepherds found neglected and living in filthy conditions in central Georgia are now in need of new homes, officials say. >> See the Facebook post here The Atlanta Humane Society shared with WSB-TV a video of the dogs found on a Candler County property Thursday. AHS workers went to care for the shepherds Friday and brought several of the animals to their campuses in Midtown Atlanta and Alpharetta on Saturday.  >> Read more trending news  Candler County Sheriff deputies arrested the property owner on animal cruelty charges. 'The dogs on this property are living in extremely unsanitary conditions and are in desperate need of help. Our team is working closely with Candler County Sheriff’s Department to provide the support and care needed to ensure the best outcome for these dogs,' said Jessica Rock, director of legal advocacy and law enforcement support at the Atlanta Humane Society. >> Read a Facebook update here The humane society said all the animals are being assessed and given medical exams onsite.  Volunteers from Canine Pet Rescue are traveling by caravan to south Georgia to pick up as many of the dogs as they can Sunday.  The organization is asking for the public's help to feed and care for the dogs.  >> See another Facebook update here