If a drug lord didn’t provide for his hippos after death, what hope for our dogs? | Michele Hanson

Hippos formerly owned by Pablo Escobar have escaped his theme park to rampage around Colombian villages. I’m relying on the younger generation to save my pets

One of the worst things about owning a dog or cat or any pet, is that they usually peg out before we do, leaving us in a dreadful state. But what if we die first? How do we ensure that the beloved creatures will be well cared for? It’s perhaps best not to follow Pablo Escobar’s example. Twenty-three years after the drug baron’s death, his pet hippos, which have been breeding like billyo, have now escaped his ex-private zoo, now theme park, and are terrifying local Colombian villagers. And with reason. Hippos have bad tempers, enormous jaws and 20-inch choppers, they are easily enraged by humans and may bite and trample us, or tip up our boats. And they spray their excrement about by swirling their tails. So not a sensible pet to choose in the first place.

Who was meant to be in charge of these creatures? It sounds like a fairly hopeless theme park. Who was meant to supervise their breeding and enclosure? Clearly Escobar made no sensible plans, and with his money, you might have expected better. Other millionaires have tried much harder, often providing lavishly for their pets, upsetting and annoying their human relatives. Last year, Leslie Ann Mandel, late of Manhattan, left a trust of $100,000 to her 32 pet cockatiels, stipulating, among other things, that they be fed “Avi-Cakes, carrots, water and popcorn”. What a fusspot. Naturally her sister was not pleased.

But you can leave your pet squillions and still not be sure of its continued wellbeing. Leona Helmsley famously left $12m to her dog Trouble, who then received multiple kidnapping and death threats. And the odd “caretaker” employed to look after a deceased millionaire’s pet has found a replica animal and kept on charging long after the original has fallen from its perch. I can’t say I blame them. So although a vast amount of money can help, it is not always the answer.

Meanwhile, down here on the ground, what is everyone else meant to do? Now that I’m in my 70s and getting closer to death, I sensibly planned to rescue well-behaved older dogs, in the hope that they’d drop dead before I did, and if they didn’t, then the Daughter could easily manage to take over, but foolishly I didn’t stick to my plan, and last year ended up with a rather wild, excitable, large, muscular and pouncing three-year-old dog, which means I have to try to plod on until my early 80s, when hopefully he’ll have calmed down. But then what?

Luckily, Daughter has found two friends who have promised to look after both her dog and my dog. “Because what if we both die together?” she asked, with reason. “They can’t be separated. They’re best friends.” And so they are, always playing in each other’s homes, having sleepovers, sharing dinners and walkies. Imagine if they lost us, and then each other. Too horrid to contemplate.

Leona Helmsley and Trouble
Leona Helmsley left $12m to Trouble. Photograph: Jennifer Graylock/AP

So that’s them sorted out, and Daughter’s friends are much younger than me. Not that that’s any guarantee, the Reaper can strike at any time, but fingers crossed. Hopefully, the next generation is the answer. With any luck, they see us going down the pan physically, foresee the orphaned dog/cat/whatever, and step in. My friend Clayden’s young friend, who he met on his dog walkies, has volunteered to take over Freddie the labrador/retriever. He has a key to Clayden’s flat, so should he not appear in the park for several days, the friend can go round, discover the tragedy and rescue Freddie. And Clayden has alerted his family to this plan. They have the dog rescuer’s number, just in case. That is what I call excellent planning.

So we’re all sorted out, except for Parker the tortoise, who’s bound to outlive me and the Daughter. Then what? People think tortoises don’t care about much, but they do, I promise you. They are sensitive creatures and can pick up on mood. If you’re depressed, they’re depressed. Ours goes right off his food and goes to bed early. And even when on top form, he likes to be fed dandelion flowers by hand. Who will be prepared to do that, and slice up his cucumber properly? I think I know someone. I’m lining up this neighbour who said she longs for a tortoise. Lucky her, she may soon have one.

But don’t panic if you have no such obliging younger friends, relatives or neighbours. There are always the rescue centres – mine promised to have my dog back – or the Dog’s Trust, or Battersea, but that means back into kennels/catteries, with your darling pet temporarily behind bars, waiting for a new home. Or there’s the Cinnamon Trust, which looks after older people and their pets, and finds them foster homes when the owners are no more. Within reason. Hippos are probably pushing your luck.


Michele Hanson

The GuardianTramp

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