My name is Mark Goodfield. Welcome to The Blunt Bean Counter ™, a blog that shares my thoughts on income taxes, finance and the psychology of money. I am a Chartered Professional Accountant and a partner with a National Accounting Firm in Toronto. This blog is meant for everyone, but in particular for high net worth individuals and owners of private corporations. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are written solely in my personal capacity and cannot be attributed to the accounting firm with which I am affiliated. My posts are blunt, opinionated and even have a twist of humor/sarcasm. You've been warned. Please note the blog posts are time sensitive and subject to changes in legislation or law.

Monday, February 15, 2016

How my Dying Dog Impacted my Power of Attorney for Personal Care

Recently, I took my own advice and updated my will and power of attorney (“POA”) for both financial and personal care. The process was fairly painless and for those of you that procrastinate, as Nike says “Just do it”.

During this process, my wife and I discovered that we have a philosophical difference in respect to taking heroic measures if our health were to decline. I want no heroic measures and she does.

Reggie & Whitney Pic by Trudy Rudolph
As we were updating our POA for personal care, by unfortunate co-incidence, our dog Reggie (a schnauzer we got as a puppy), was having a terrible string of bad luck health-wise. Not to equate a dog with a human (although many people like their dogs more than humans) but Reggie’s experience became a reference point for our decisions on heroic measures.

Last year, Reggie who was then nine years old and in great health, started wondering off on our walks. For our other dog Whitney, who has a mind of her own, this would not be unusual; but for Reggie, this was strange, as he was a very obedient dog. We also noticed that he seemed to be having trouble finding his food dish. Long story short, he was found to have suffered from SARDS (“Sudden acquired retinal degeneration syndrome) and in a matter of a couple of days he had gone blind.

Over the next year, Reggie adapted to his blindness and did very well. This past December, we took Reggie to the Veterinarian (“Vet”) for a check-up and were told he needed some dental work. Following the dental work in late December, Reggie seemed unusually sluggish and was acting a bit strange. The Vet ran some tests and did an x-ray. The x-ray discovered a tumour in his lungs which he figured was lung cancer, but further tests were required to be conclusive.

During the Christmas holiday break, our family was trying to figure out our next steps when Reggie suddenly lost the use of his hind legs (probably due to the tumour pressing on his spine), which for a dog is a disaster; as they cannot go to the bathroom own their own. Our family was devastated and could not believe how unlucky one dog could be.

At this point, it became clear Reggie’s quality of life had declined drastically; however, his mind was still very sharp as far as dogs go. We were faced with the gut-wrenching decision as to what was better for Reggie, while also considering our challenges as dog owners. The decision as owners is conflicting. On one hand you want to keep your dog alive because he is your loyal companion, but on the other hand, he was beginning to become a challenge for our family; because he was not able to stand and more importantly, could not urinate fully and independently which we were told can be life threatening to a dog and result in excruciating pain when the urine is not expelled.

Reggie’s health issues became a proxy for my wife and me and our POA for personal care, which were still in progress. I told her if I was Reggie and had all these issues, do not take any heroic measures (i.e.: No chemotherapy or any measure that would prolong my life). She told me, if she was Reggie, she wanted me to do whatever I could to keep her alive assuming she still had all her mental faculties and could move her upper body and arms.

As the person who does not want any heroic measures, I felt we should consider putting Reggie to sleep before he suffered further. But, I was not going to make that decision alone. My son had read about how a doggie wheelchair could assist a dog who has no use of his hind legs. He immediately went to a hardware store and came back with various tubes and wheels and started building Reggie a wheelchair.

We tried it for a couple days and Reggie would not move once harnessed in. We all helped and came up with a couple tweaks to his design and we soon had a Jerry-rigged wheelchair that worked. Reggie with the help of my daughter, who is studying occupational therapy accepted the wheelchair and even wheeled his way to his water bowl for a drink on one occasion.

However, the reality was Reggie still had to be carried everywhere and could not go to the bathroom on his own and at times was shaking (which we were told is often indicative of a dog in pain – dogs supposedly often suppress their pain to not upset their owners).

After much deliberation as a family, we eventually made the decision to put Reggie to sleep.

I have only scratched the surface on the issue of heroic measures in this post, as this saga was more about Reggie. This is an extremely complicated discussion and you should obtain legal advice. I would suggest as a start you read this excellent article by Mark 
Handelman
 of Whaley 
Estate 
Litigation, on the issues of heroic measures and end
 of 
life
 decisions. While the article discusses the duty lawyers owe their clients in respect of end of life decisions, it raises all the issues you would need to consider. And those issues are beyond complex. For example, Mark notes that some procedures may be considered heroic when they are first introduced, but maybe common place years later (such as open heart surgery). Note: each province may have differing legislation.

This blog post had a dual intention. It was an ode to Reggie, but it was also meant to alert you to the importance of having a current set of POA’s and how much thought you need to put into your decision regarding heroic measures.

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and I have provided no legal advice. I have just made you aware that you should have a POA for personal care. Seek legal advice before executing a POA for personal care.

This site provides general information on various tax issues and other matters. The information is not intended to constitute professional advice and may not be appropriate for a specific individual or fact situation. It is written by the author solely in their personal capacity and cannot be attributed to the accounting firm with which they are affiliated. It is not intended to constitute professional advice, and neither the author nor the firm with which the author is associated shall accept any liability in respect of any reliance on the information contained herein. Readers should always consult with their professional advisors in respect of their particular situation.

12 comments:

  1. Mark,

    Great post and very sorry about Reggie. It is funny how certain of life's events, cause us to reflect upon others with a clearer view.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Putting down a family pet is a tough decision.I have been watching cat video channels, (especially tinykittens.com), and have seen a few of the foster kittens not make it. There are times when no matter what, they just aren't going to make it. I thought I would let you know that sometimes despite all, a kitten DOES make it, that the vet suggested putting the animal down, and the kitten goes on to become an amazing kitten. Cassidy on that tiny kittens website is one such kitty, and is a favourite of many a kitten cam watcher. It all comes down to quality of life. The foster mom for Cassidy is giving him an amazing quality of life, and despite missing part of his back legs climbs cat trees, and runs fast enough to be hard to catch! He is loved, and that is what matters. Take a minute or two to watch some of the videos Shelly has made of him and you will see. Your pet had some serious problems and for him, it was a blessing to ease his suffering. No one can fault you for making that decision.

      Delete
    2. Thx Denis,

      One of my favorite expressions is:

      When you are faced with decision,
      make that decision as wisely as possible -then forget it.The moment of absolute certainty never arrives.

      While in this case you can leave out "then forget it". But the quote is still applicable. You never know the exact right time to put down a pet and we discussed this decision with several pet experts and friends with pets (not noted in the blog) before coming to the decision.

      Delete
  2. This was an excellent post and one that will is, or will be, relevant to many of us. With 3 dogs and 3 cats buried on our we have experienced these issues several times.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thx Marko, the main downside of being a pet owner

      Delete
  3. What a heart-wrenching story. I'm sure Regie is in a better place now. But on the side, this will surely help those who are deciding whether or not POA is suited for personal and health care. Such an eye-opener.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Sincere condolences on the loss of Reggie. I have been present at the euthanasia of 7 of 10 previous pets, and it truly was a "gentle death" - but that's another debate.
    BTW, one who died "naturally", of a massive stroke, was Max the amazing dachshund, who was in a wheelchair for 10 of his 13 years.
    Still, besides personal POA's, what is the advice for providing for those pets who survive us? We currently have 3 dogs and two cats. One of the dogs was an unexpected "inheritance" from a deceased friend for whom I am executor. He did not come with a trust fund. We do not want to repeat that favour, though he is a sweet dog.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Unknown

      Thx for your wishes. Here is a link to a good article for you to consider regarding you pets. I know when I re-did my will the question came up from our lawyer.

      https://www.petfinder.com/dogs/bringing-a-dog-home/providing-pets-future/

      Delete
    2. Thanks so much for the article - much food for thought, and will revisiting.

      Delete
  5. Hey Mark, Sorry to hear of the loss of your beloved pet. Sounds like it was a heartbreaking journey for you and your family. And, thanks for your blog; I always look forward to seeing a new post from you in my inbox.

    ReplyDelete