An essential part of being a responsible adult is making contingency plans to ensure that our loved ones are taken care of no matter what happens. Life insurance, identification of alternative housing options for aging parents, provisions in a will for the adoption of our children by friends or relatives ... good contingency planning can make the difference between destitution and security for the people we love.

The same is true for the pets we love.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Plan well and our pets will be promptly transitioned to another loving home if, for whatever reason, we can no longer take care of them.

Plan poorly -- or not at all -- and pets are likely to end up on the street, in an abusive home or in a shelter and, make no mistake, even the best shelters are unhappy places for pets. Weeks in a stressful environment may end with placement in a loving home but, if no home can be found and pet overpopulation is severe, it may also end in euthanasia.

Re-homing is a planning technique to prevent these unhappy outcomes if and when you can no longer care for your pet. The first and best option is to make formal arrangements for a trusted friend or relative to care for your pet or pets if it becomes necessary.

If no such options are available, the next best choice is to act as your own animal adoption agency. Consider this simplified guide to finding an adoptive home.

Create a flyer for any animal-friendly posting place; pet store, grocery store, vet's office, etc.

1) Take a great photograph of your pet

2) Choose your words carefully so your audience will understand your animal's personality and temperament.

3) Include all meaningful stats; age, sex, breed, size, training, etc.

4) Ask for an adoption fee. Your pet is worth something. This can also help you screen potential adopters.

When screening potential adopters:

1) Beware of age: adopters should be over 21 and responsibly established.

2) Beware of purpose: fighting dogs will be abused; guard dogs may be discarded early.

3) Beware of living conditions: home visits are crucial. Ask in-depth questions regarding where pet will sleep; stay when home alone, etc.

4) Ask for references: valid driver's license, vet references, require a signed contract.

5) Be aware of health: your pet should be altered and up to date with vaccinations.

The reasons behind the need to re-home are as numerous as the pets affected: a move that doesn't allow for your pet to accompany you, death, graduation from college or loss of a job, illness, perhaps a change of life-partner as in marriage or divorce.

Available options are far more numerous than imagined to the thoughtful and responsible pet person or family. Books, Web sites and rescue agencies are a few of the ways to learn how to help yourself and your beloved pet with a contingency plan. You can have a say in his future and he'll thank you for it.

Claire Peterson is an adoption counselor and media liaison with Animal Allies Humane Society. She shares her home with three rescued companions and is currently fostering a fourth.