Last month, Indiana woman Conie Ruberg-Ley died and left behind a will with a very unusual and cruel stipulation: Her healthy 9 year-old German shepherd Bela is to be killed and cremated. As her attorney said, Ruberg-Ley “made provisions that in the event of her death, she wanted her very close friend to take charge of the dog,” and that then “the dog be put to sleep, cremated and that the dog’s ashes be placed with her own ashes.”
There is something truly disturbing about demanding, in a legally binding document no less, that if you die, then someone or something else must also die. But Ruberg-Ley’s will contains an out for Bela, and it’s a little weird. The caretaker friend has the option of sending the dog to the Best Friends Animal Society — a no-kill animal sanctuary for homeless pets — all the way out in Utah. If that’s “not possible” or is “too much expense,” then the dog must be euthanized. No deadline is given for the friend to take action.
It would seem then, the will has a loophole enough to walk a St. Bernard through, and one that appears to put the onus and perhaps a sizable guilt trip and/or burden on the friend. Why the dog must be sent to that specific shelter in order to escape death, or any shelter at all and not say adopted by a willing resident in the area who would like to take care of Bela, isn’t clear. What is clear is that legally Bela can in fact be killed in accordance with the will because Indiana law regards pets as property. And as The Washington Post notes, this isn’t the first time a dog would be killed to execute a will in the U.S.
Ideally, animal cruelty laws would prevent this type of thing, but it seems that estate laws take precedence here even though they shouldn’t. I’d argue that because killing a dog because in accordance with a will is both cruel and carries no tangible benefit (like an inheritance) for any living person, such a provision should be null and void. It would be one thing if there were no such provision in the will and the dog had no obvious next caretaker, were sent to a shelter, and then unfortunately put down because no one would adopt it. But to specifically call for the killing of your perfectly healthy dog simply because you died isn’t just cruel, it’s pathological.