Service Cats: What Happens When the Handler Dies

Here we are, another Miserable Monday. Dat means it’s time fur one of our educational Service Cat postys. As always, da followin’ will be written in human English so everypawdy includin’ google translate can read it. Our doggy brofur furiend Easy, really is on top of his game. He asked another great question last week dat we’re gonna try to answer this week. As always, ifin ya’ have any questions, or somethin’ specific you’d like us to cover, purrlease leave it in da comments, or send us an email. Ifin you’ve missed any of da posty’s in this series, you can ketch up by clickin’ da linkys below.


Dezi in her work harness on cat ledge

Service Cats: What to Look For 

Service Cats: Training Foundations 

Service Cats: How to Train Kitty to Massage without Claws

Service Cats: Smelling Disease 

Service Cats: Do You Need One

Service Cats: Who Bears the Cost 

Service Cats: Housing Laws and Exceptions 

Service Cats: Accommodations and Common Sense 

     Now that you’re all caught up, let’s get to today’s topics. So what did Easy ask, right? Well here it is, “What happens to a Service Animal when their disabled handler no longer needs them?” 

       We need to remind you that our answers are only as it applies in the U.S., if you live in another Country, the laws/rules may be different. So please check your local regulations.  

Raena reaching out from the perch to alert mommy
Raena Alerting to Syncope incident

So, your first question is probably why would they no longer need the Service Animal? In the event of death or admittance to a nursing home a person would no longer require the assistance of a Service Animal. You must remember as well, that these animals are purchased and under current laws, animals are considered property. For the purpose of this part of the explanation, we will discuss the Service Dogs that the ADA does recognize. Most of these animals are trained by individuals living across the States, belonging to one of a few different groups. Depending on the age of the animal and it’s specific training (ie: guide dog only) and the amount of time spent with the handler, they may opt to take the animal back and re-sell it to another disabled person. They will not refund your payment or pay you any fees for the animal. The family of the disabled handler may choose to keep the animal and let it live out it’s days as the family pet. Some breeds do better at this than others. Remember, these animals are working animals and not pets. They don’t understand retirement.

Before we get to the second part of Easy’s queston, let’s discuss the other Service Animals not yet recognized by the ADA, like cats. We have met a few people who have learned that their cats are alerting them to seizures, etc. that haven’t been trained. Altho’ the Cat/animal is performing a task, it doesn’t meet the current requirements of the ADA since it wasn’t specifically trained. For the purposes of this article, these cats/animals are not included in this topic as they are essentially still pets. So let’s get to those non traditional Service Animals (Cats)


Firstly, there are very few trainers for cats and other animals because they’re not recognized by the ADA , so there’s no money in it. And until recently, cats weren’t necessarily seen as trainable. So like us, the disabled handler often trains the animal themselves. Cats are a different species with different needs and bonding abilities. Unlike dogs, cats don’t feel the need to love everybody or make friends with every human they meet. Because of this, re-homing a Service Cat to work for another disabled person is nearly impossible. Altho’ mommy’s never seen or heard of it, we won’t say completely impossible, as it may be done in the future. We will say, we don’t recommend it, as the cat may not perform. Because of the bond that must be formed between a disabled handler and the cat, the services provided will only be for that one specific person for the lifetime of that cat.

 Dezi in stroller

Remember, these cats are working animals and not pets. It is possible for them to continue to live with any family they currently lived with. They will mourn and be confused but with the proper love and attention, it is possible for them to live out their lives peacefully. If there is no family however, what then? Depending on the age and training of the cat, they may or may not be able to rehome as pets. A young kitten, only starting training for example, may be rehomed as a pet or to another who needs similar tasks. Typically by the first year, a Service cat is so bonded with their handler they cannot be separated and thus cannot be rehomed. Keep in mind, these cats and their handlers are together 24/7/365. We don’t want to offend anyone, but no matter how bonded you think you are with your pet, it doesn’t match the bond between a Service Animal and it’s handler. The handler literally relies on the Service Animal for life and vice versa. In this instance humane euthanasia when the handler dies is the best outcome for the animal.

The last part of Easy’s question, was, “Do Service Animals end up in shelters like other animals?”  The idea of a shelter makes us sad for any animal, but the hard truth is, Yes Easy, it is possible for a Service Animal to end up in the shelter. These animals are often put to sleep because they have traits seen as undesireable by adopters, because adopters don’t understand what the animal is doing. A family of the deceased handler who doesn’t know, care or want to take on the animal may take it to the shelter. A working animal will always be a working animal. This speaks to the reason people need to understand a little about breeds before adopting a pet. A herding dog will herd, whether it’s children, sheep or cows. the Service animal will continue to try to perform tasks, and may be considered problematic.

 Raena sits pose

There aren’t currently any rescues specifically for Service Animals to go to live out their lives. However most of those types of places do want a donation or money left in a trust or will. There’s nothing wrong with that, but again, Service Animals are generally owned by people who are on fixed incomes. And again, Service Animals are working animals. They are not pets. Adjusting to life after the loss of their handler is easier for some species and breeds.

This is definitely something to take into consideration when deciding if you need a Service Animal and what kind. Altho’ most people with fixed incomes and considered poor do not leave wills as there’s nothing to leave; if you have a Service Animal we recommend you have a will or directive and someone specified to take care of your Service Animal in the event of your death. Please make sure your Service Animal doesn’t end up in the shelter. For that matter, if you have pets, please make sure you have a plan for them in the event of your death. And the, my ____________ will take care of them isn’t a good enough plan.

 Dezi looking around on the cat tree

Well this has been a really deep post, so we’re gonna wrap it up for now. We do hope we’ve answered your question, and given others something to think about. Again, please leave your questions, thoughts, or topics you’d like us to cover in the comments. 

Do you have a will or designated person to care for your pets in the event of your death? 

Have you discussed alternative solutions with your family and/or Vet? 

Till da next time………………………………….Be Blest!!!

Luv and Hugs and Kitty Kisses

Deztinee and RaenaBelle    

42 thoughts on “Service Cats: What Happens When the Handler Dies

  1. thiz izza total lee awesum post dezi & raena N it sure makes a purrson think….while we due knot current lee noe any servizz animalz; ewe can bet we will rememburr what waz iz yur post two day …thanx for takin de time & for sharin ~~~~~~~ ♥♥♥

    Liked by 1 person

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