A “will” to help: Arizona Humane Society programs give pet owners peace of mind

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As Wanona Fritz video chats with candidates while working from home, Mona lays under a U-shaped lamp, seemingly giving her owner direction.

“When the candidate is good — I’m sure she picks up vibrations from me — that tail just slowly swishes back and forth. ‘This is a good candidate mom.’

“And then other candidates, she starts flipping that tail with a rapid swish motion, slapping it on the desk as if to say ‘You can stay here and listen to this but I’m not,’ and she gets up off the desk and leaves. ‘Nope, not a good candidate.’”

Interactions like this are common between Ms. Fritz and her Maine Coon-mix cat.

But one day, that may not be the case. However, Ms. Fritz is all the more prepared for that day.

She, as are hundreds of other people, are part of the Legacy Circle program at the Arizona Humane Society. Legacy Circle allows for members to designate the AHS in their will, trust or other estate plans.

The result: money to help with programs, rescues, clinics, and other services at the AHS.

Being a Legacy Circle member means you’ve included the AHS in your estate plans in some capacity. That can be anything from a request in your will, a beneficiary of a life insurance policy, a beneficiary of an IRA, or a beneficiary of a charitable remainder trust.

“What we learned early on was that people’s pets become their family,” said Lori Shepherd, planned giving manager. “Particularly for people who didn’t have family, the Arizona Humane Society became a perfect place for them to consider when they were doing their planned giving, their wills, their estates, trusts.

“It started out as a program where it wasn’t necessarily solicited, and then it just grew to what it is today, which is a very large planned giving program.”

For Ms. Fritz, she came upon the program after coming to Arizona and looking to adopt a kitten. She and her husband have lived across the United States in Alabama, Nevada and Wisconsin, and have always had a dog or cat. Checking out the Arizona Humane Society made sense.

One day, while she and her husband were reviewing their estate plans and legacy giving, they were thinking of leaving gifts to a university, an education institution, a religious organization, and to animals and pets.

“It was an easy decision to say that would be the Arizona Humane Society,” Ms. Fritz said. So she asked the AHS how she could do legacy giving, and was introduced to the Legacy Circle program.

“It gives you incredible peace to know ‘Okay, when my life is ended, then I have already made decisions.’ That nobody else has to wonder, 'What did she want,'” Ms. Fritz said. “When we are healthy and alert... and believe in the mission of this organization, that we can make sure that we invest in its future so that animals will continue to benefit from the Arizona Humane Society for years to come.”

While by an unfortunate situation, the AHS may be receiving funds for the program. The Daily Independent learned the couple in a murder-suicide from earlier this month were Legacy Circle members.

After the Oct. 3 incident in Sun City West, the Daily Independent began searching online records for Mickie and Genevieve Artikuski. A Google search for Mickie popped up a link to a list of members of the Legacy Circle program, which showed “Mr. and Mrs. Mickie Artikuski” on the page.

Ms. Shepherd confirmed the Artikuskis are on the list. But on Oct. 9, Ms. Shepherd said she has not heard from anyone connected to their estate. However, even if she does, Ms. Shepherd would not be able to comment on their estate in any way.

There are about 2,000 Legacy Circle members — roughly 190 are anonymous. Members are designated as either unrealized or realized estates. Unrealized estates are members who are still living but who’ve have already made their pledges. Realized estates — of which there are a little over 200 — are members who have died.

“It’s always bittersweet when an estate is realized because it means we’ve lost a good friend,” Ms. Shepherd said. “But we appreciate everything it’s going to do.”

Another benefit of Legacy Circle is that members are eligible to enroll their pets in a Continuing Care program for free. Pets enrolled in Continuing Care are re-homed should their owner predecease them.

The AHS helps find a new home in the form of a pet profile that owners fill out. It asks about a little bit of everything, including from a pet’s favorite food to their favorite toy, to where they like to sleep. People may also attach a picture so the AHS knows they have the right animal.

And if a pet dies or if a pet has changes in diet, appearance, etc., the owner can contact the AHS and inform them of what’s happened.

“We have one lady who calls in about every two or three weeks to let us know that she’s changed her dog’s food again,” Ms. Shepherd said. “So we just changed the form for her and keep it updated. We love it.”

When people sign up to the Continuing Care program, the AHS sends them a confirmation letter that they put with their estate plans. If something happens to them, their personal representative — or whoever is representing their estate — will see the letter and know to contact the AHS.

From there, the AHS guides them through bringing in a deceased owner’s pet to their facility to begin the re-homing process.

“We want to do that in the least destructive way possible,” Ms. Shepherd said. “The whole point of the plan is that we know these animals have just lost their best friends and their lives are already somewhat turned upside down. So we want to make the transition as smooth and seamless as possible for them.”

That includes making sure the pets are at least placed into a foster home rather than a kennel at the facility, something the pet may not be used to. The AHS then works to find a forever home for the pet through adoptions.

“That program just gives our Legacy Circle members a tremendous peace of mind,” Ms. Shepherd said. “Knowing that if something happens to them — particularly those who don’t have close friends or family here in the area — then they know that their animal is going to be re-homed with their wishes in mind.”

Ms. Fritz said she is pleased to know the Continuing Care program is available, although she has already designated a friend in her pet trust.

“If something happens to me, then she gets a certain amount of money and the right to take care of my pet, and be sure my pet is found a forever home if not with her,” Ms. Fritz said. “It became a nice option to have a Continuing Care program. The Legacy Circle as a whole provides a lot of options for people to think ahead. ‘How do I give, how do I leave a forever gift that will help the AHS continue the good work they are doing?’ It was just the right fit for us.”

The Continuing Care program isn’t for every pet, however, for those with a pet horse for example. The closest thing the AHS could help out with is finding a sanctuary or rescue, but they can’t guarantee it like they can for a dog, a cat, a bird or other small animal.

For the Legacy Circle program, other benefits include name recognition on the AHS Legacy Circle wall at the Nina Mason Pulliam Campus for Compassion and an invitation to the annual donor recognition event.

“You’re not just creating a legacy for your own pet, but you’re creating a legacy for all companion animals in Maricopa County,” Ms. Shepherd said about Legacy Circle. “And it’s one way to show your love of animals going forward.”

To learn more and/or to get involved with the program, call the planned giving team at 602-997-7585 ext 1034, email legacycircle@azhumane.org, or visit azhumane.org/legacycircle.

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