Should a Dog Die Because the Owner Does?

What happens to your companion animals when you die?

Some of us have no plans. Others of us have family members or friends who will take in our beloved companions, and provide them a comfortable home. Still others of us have made arrangements with a rescue group or sanctuary to care for our furry friends.

And then some of us stipulate the animal is to be euthanized.

Bela's owner died recently. Her will stipulated her German Shepherd either be placed with Best Friends Animal Society, or euthanized, cremated, and his ashes mixed with hers.
Bela’s owner died recently, and soon Bela may die also. (Photo:

That was what Connie Lay, an Indiana woman, decided for her 9-year-old German Shepherd, Bela. Her will specified that Bela was to be placed at Best Friends Animal Society in Utah, or euthanized, and his ashes put with hers. After Ms. Lay’s death, the decision to euthanize was made after consultation with a veterinarian, and because there were not funds available to get Bela to Best Friends, even if they did accept the dog.

Before you label the late Ms. Lay as a cruel person, as many media sources have, you must know that Ms. Lay had documentation of Bela being aggressive, and was concerned the approximately 100 pound dog could harm someone, particularly a child. When Ms. Lay died at home, others could not enter the home for fear Bela would attack.

Of course, the folks at PAWS of Dearborn County Humane Center in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, where Bela is currently housed, are all up at arms about the will. They claim to see no signs of aggression in Bela, and are most certainly the ones responsible for leaking the story to the media.

But those so-called do-gooders also must know that, under Indiana law, Bela is property, and the terms of the will cannot be changed because they want it to be.

For now, Best Friends has agreed to review Bela’s records and decide if they could take him in. If not, Bela will be euthanized.

Forgive me if I don’t jump on the bandwagon of those decrying injustice to Bela.

First of all, animals are euthanized every day. Bela puts a face on what we typically choose to not think about.

Second, Ms. Lay made what she felt were reasonable plans for a dog that she knew to be aggressive. The irony is, if she hadn’t made such plans, he most likely would have been euthanized anyway.

And, third, this happens far more often than most people realize. The fact that it was released to the media right before Christmas makes it a compelling story, I know. But as someone who once had a dog who was aggressive, though he seemed docile much of the time, I can empathize with Ms. Lay’s decision.

So here’s my take on this: If you don’t like what’s happening, instead of shouting about injustice to Bela, get off your ass and work to change the laws pertaining to animal welfare in your state. Animals should not be treated in the courts as the equivalent of a recliner.

Then do your part to ensure there are more places available for people like Connie to place a companion animal with special needs.

Now THAT would make a compelling Christmas story. 

49 thoughts on “Should a Dog Die Because the Owner Does?

      1. I had to put my “I love my daddy” yellow lab to sleep 27 years ago, no pet since and think of her every day. She was about 7 and I could not keep her , divorced and limited place to live choices and she had bad skin/hair condition so no one would take her so would be put to sleep at pound anyway. I know she sensed this was the end as we drove to the pound and a tear comes to my eye as I type this. If there is an afterlife and there were just two “people” I could have be with me, it would be that dog and my first grandchild.

      2. I had a dog who loved me dearly. He was also aggressive. He attacked other dogs, and once he bit me while I intervened. It took me awhile to realize that he was dangerous, but eventually I did come to accept it, and he was euthanized. This woman kept her dog safe and cared for while she was alive. I don’t believe she deserves the cruel treatment she’s getting in the public sphere.

    1. Ten German Shepherds later, I can’tstay out of the fray. When you raise a member of this breed from puppy to adulthood, there is an understanding that develops: a German Shepherd takes care of their person. That is their self-assigned job. It is what they do best and they do it with an intuition, a sensitivity and an acuity that is unparalleled in the canine world. If you take a Shepherd’s person away, you remove the constant in this dog’s life and its purpose is gone. Anyone who has been privileged enough to have experienced a German-Shepherd-as -guardian-and-companion knows this to be true. It is the rare GSD–and always a GSD on the younger side–that can mentally and emotionally handle a rehoming. Even the shelters are wise to this: when the GSDs arrive, usually a purebred rescue agency is contacted and the dog is housed away from the shelter’s busiest aisles until a foster situation can be found. They do very poorly in shelters. Even within a matter of five or six days, a GSD that has shown no signs of aggressiveness can change and, mind you, it’s due in no part to the efforts of the shelter staff. It’s the breed’s nature. They are hard-wired for one-on-one. They are known for their loyalty, their devotion, and their instinctual protective capacity. Whether it’s an elderly person or a family that comes with multiple children, a Shepherd knows–and will only thrive–with a ‘job’ that requires them to continually assess their environment.’

      It saddens me to think of what this fine old friend is going through right now. All of his constants have been removed. And as if that weren’t enough, the final wishes of his life-time companion (wishes that were informed by a lifetime of understanding) are being put on hold because people feel they know this dog better than the owner did. Arrogance, ignorance, whatever you want to call it, I’ve got to ask you who, or what, is paying the price for your misguided efforts?

      It’s a pity that Bela’s owner left this tiny loophole in her final wishes for her dog. But I’ve learned a lesson from this: there will be NO loopholes in my Last Will and Testament. I know this breed well.

  1. Very thought provoking. I will have to check to see what New Hampshire’s law is on that. I have already made provisions for Isaiah should I pass on before he does. My Landlord and her husband will take Isaiah. Just like should something happen to them, I will take their kitty Dawg.

  2. Thank you for reminding men as well as the rest of your readers the importance of including all members of our family in our estate/will planning. Frankly, it was easier to decide how to manage my cats than Mr money or my daughter. Because I knew they were innocents.

  3. Very interesting issue. I’m thinking there are situations in which the kinder choice might be to let a dog go when the owner dies if the owner makes that decision – for whatever reason. I heard of a situation like this many years ago when the owner died and had asked that the very old dog be put down if he should die. I didn’t understand it at the time and thought it was hearless and cruet, but now I can relate to the situation. I think it’s a personal decision – and one where the choice is not always obvious.

    1. I think before we label Ms. Lay as heartless, we should know the whole story. Sadly, media outlets are more interested in getting you to their web site so they can make some money off the advertising.

  4. Before I married, I had made provisions in my will with a stipend for the two cats I owned to go to a friend. We now have 4 and my husband knows what to do if I go first but not if we go together. Sounds like I need to do some adjustments. As for that lady, this is an old dog for the breed. She would know what is best. It would be sad if it was a puppy but it’s not.

  5. My human has made arrangements for me to go and live with a friend we both know should something happen to him and his wife. He feels that’s part of his responsibility when he asked me to be part of his family. It might be something that others might wish to consider. Merry Christmas Rumpy.

  6. Thanks for writing this. The lady’s thoughts and decision process was most certainly more complex than the media gives her credit for. She had a plan, which she thought was also in the best interest of her dog, which many owners lack today. The real questions are exactly the ones you mention.

  7. So if the story had not made the news, would those who are now up in arms have paid any attention? In other words, if there had been no bandwagon to jump on, would they have set one up or just let this happen? And why only this dog and not the thousands of others in the same situation every day? In reality, even with good plans, because these animals are often older and may be less than social living with a person who was also elderly or ill and isolated, animals often end up being euthanized by vets or in shelters because they are considered “unadoptable”. Those that aren’t simply dumped outside, that is. But if this woman felt it was in her dog’s best interest to be euthanized upon her death rather than potentially suffer punishment for being aggressive, that needs to be respected.

  8. I fist thought woooah? what? till I read: “The irony is, if she hadn’t made such plans, he most likely would have been euthanized anyway. ” you’re right, with tears in my eyes and a heavy heart for Bela, you’re right.

  9. wow. thought provoking indeed. she must have worried so much about what would happen after she died. that’s compassion. at first i was upset, but you explained it well. i particularly like the GET OFF YOUR ASS concept to WORK TO CHANGE things.

    yep. glad I’m in my peeps will with careful instructions regarding who’d going to take care of me.

    thanks rumpy pal.

  10. As you say, there’s always more to the story. Often I feel people who are not actually present and involved (especially in other countries/states) should stay quiet least they not fully understand.
    At least the woman did make some advanced plans. (Perhaps her vet/family /friends know why she made these choices)That’s to be commended. Many don’t. Of course her dog was traumatized and protective.
    Realistically it’s difficult for some older dogs/breeds to change owners late in life.
    As executors or a very old uncle’s estate, we had to watch out for his elderly dog who was not in good health himself. While uncle was in the hospital, we had promised to watch out for his dog. We had to get the court to order the dog not be put down until we sorted out the will (with unpleasant and argumentative relatives on one side of the family) We were finally able to get custody and became a foster home for the poor confused dog who at least knew us. Once the disgruntled people realized the dog would not allowed to be held for ransom, they lost total interest in the dog.It’s a dog, not a pawn. Happy to say the dog was placed in a niece’s home and live warm secure and adored the rest of his few years.
    People, please make arrangement for your pets. Make sure the people you trust know. Put it in writing – legal forms with everyone’s signatures – and give multiple copies to people. Locate rescue groups that place older dogs, but be smart and do not trust shelters or “havens” that make promises to care for life of animals until you investigate – one locally ended up with too many elderly dogs, vet bills, and no money…the dogs were living in terrible conditions until someone noticed.
    We are working here to make pets worth more than just “property” in this state. As you say, if it wasn’t Christmas, no one would notice.
    Soft pets to Bella. May she find peace.

    1. I don’t know Connie’s reasons. I do know she knew Bela to be vicious.

      The folks at the shelter may have meant well, but I am quite angry at them for making this a public issue, instead of a private one for a now-deceased woman and her companion animal.

      1. I’m with you. She was looking out for her dog.
        And stupid media. It was even on the news here (in a limited way.the emotional part of the story)
        The media needs to stop shoving into private stories/grief/trauma like whores looking for views.
        One thing that might help others. If you do have a person who will agree to take your pet – or be an advocate/guardian for them if necessary. Create a formal document making that person part owner of the animal. Notarize it. MAke them a copy, put one with directives and with the will. If they are part owner, then they have standing to make decisions – and maybe complications can be avoided.

  11. I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for that woman to leave euthanasia instructions for her dog.

    I agree that laws regarding animals as property aren’t appropriate. But besides the legal and other issues here, I worry about the lack of community this woman had to help her.

    Perhaps her dog’s behavior issues prevented her from forming and maintaining strong relationships with other people. But my ideal is where every person facing their death has some kind of community they can turn to–to take in a troubled dog or to raise funds to send him to an appropriate place for him to live out his life.

    As I get older, I think more about this. Especially since I’m not that close to my own family and don’t have children of my own. But I do want to become better at forming a community for people who need help. Your story inspires me to make a better effort.

  12. Interesting food for thought isn’t it? I know full well that my Bella would not cope in a pound environment. Although we are working on it, she is dog aggressive, but not towards all dogs. Put one of those dogs in a cage beside her in a pound and she’d be first on the PTS list. Beary, on the other hand, would cower in the corner and not cope at all either. I have a plan. It’s in my will. I think it’s a shame that people have turned on this woman who in all good consciousness made a decision she felt rational and the best outcome for Bela. Bela was her dog – one she obviously loved enough to make plans for. Even if they are plans that not everyone agrees with.

  13. Never married and childless and a true dog-lover, I can imagine having only canines for the rest of my life. My biggest fear, however, is that I’ll die alone, and my companion animals will be trapped in the house with me. I feel Bela’s owner made the right choice, especially since her dog is relatively old and perhaps, set in her ways. Cruelty would be placing the dog in a shelter and then trying to find a family that would take her.

  14. And sometimes, relatives go into the house of deceased and bec a use they don’t want to deal with the animal left behind, they open the door as nd let the animal out to fend for itself. I was living in an apartment complex and noticed a dk e legal cat we ith a rhinestone c Olla foraging and finding some popcorn on the ground and eating it. I cautiously approached and he c as me right t o me. I saw the collar was starting t o grow in his neck. I gently picked him up and he snuggled and purred. I took him into my apartment and began to g I’ve him bits of broth and ten a bit of wet f old and broth. I didn’t want h o make sick or strain his system. Small little bits….the slept with me that night. Next morning I t ook him to my vet who took care of him f or a couple odd days and tested him. I went to pick him up and s he t old me that his o we ner had probably died and he had been toss d out like garbage. Pugs.ley was my best friend for 10 years. He was the sweetest creature I have ever known. I miss h I m still. During my bout with cancer, he pulled me through it and saved me. A friend of mine is dying of a fatal diseaxe. She ha s made arrangements for the care and keeping of her cat and dog in her will. I am to be guardian of her cat. I am honored by her trust.

  15. But there would be a huge outcry if the dog was rehomed with a child and badly injured or killed the child?! I am not going to judge her choice and if I was ever taken ill or in an accident I have plans in place for my piggies. Everyone should have some sort of idea.

    And no one should be able to leak that story to the press, I think that annoys me the most with this story.


  16. I really appreciate you taking the other viewpoint here. When I read the story, my thought was is it more humane to put an old animal out for adoption? The shelters do a great job, but it’s stressful on any animal that’s there. I’ve made the same arrangements for my own dogs. If something happens to my husband and I, I prefer they be put down than abandoned or put into a shelter. All three are elderly and have health issues. They’ve had a good long life and I don’t want to worry that someone will not take good care of them.


  17. A pet owner knows their companion. Maybe his behaviour is different with the knowledge that she is gone? I had a dog like that myself, and he would have been heartbroken to lose me, as I was to lose him. I don’t like the ‘property’ label, but I can see why she made that request.

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