Most Extravagant Things People Have Done to Honor Their Pets

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By Lynn Coulter, Reader's Digest


Lavishing love on our pets

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We love our pets, and they give us so much in return. Research has shown that dogs, cats, and other animals can reduce our stress, make us happier, and even help us live longer. We're devoted to them, so it's not surprising that we make sure they have soft beds, healthy food, and regular visits to the vet.

What is surprising is that some pet parents go to extravagant lengths. Their animal companions are pampered with everything from diamond jewelry to weekly manicures and massages. These extravagances can be jaw-dropping, but they're just a few of the ways loving owners honor their beloved pets. Some pet-parents even leave inheritances that last throughout the pet's lifetime—and beyond.


Black cats can be lucky

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Black cats don't always mean bad luck. When a childless, Italian widow found a hungry, black cat wandering the streets of Rome, she brought the little feline home with her. When she died in 2011, at age 94, the widow, Maria Assunta, left her real estate fortune of approximately $13 million to the stray cat she'd named Tommaso. At the time, Italian law didn't permit animals to receive a direct inheritance, so Assunta told her lawyers to find an animal organization to care for Tommaso instead. When they couldn't find a place that offered the luxurious life Assunta had envisioned, the inheritance went to another cat lover. That woman, a nurse Assunta met in a park one day, now lives with Tommaso in an undisclosed location, according to news accounts.


Monkey business

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Patricia Cavendish O'Neill was passionate about animals and spent many years in Kenya. While in Zaire in 1985, she found and rescued Kalu, a Congolese chimpanzee whose life she wrote about in her book, A Chimpanzee in the Wine Cellar. It's said that O'Neill's husband disliked Kalu after he caught him drinking his beer and smoking one of O'Neill's cigars.

O'Neill intended to leave her Cape Town, South Africa estate, valued at $80 million, to Kalu, but in 2010, she reported she'd been swindled out of her money. Kalu remained in her will, but after she died in 2019, at the age of 93, a representative for her Cavendish O'Neill Animal Trust had to ask for donations to move him to an animal sanctuary.


Gone to the dogs

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People aren't the only ones who honor pets with inheritances—sometimes pets leave fortunes to other pets. That's what happened when Karlotta Liebenstein, a German countess, left an estimated $106 million to her German shepherd, Gunther III. Since the will didn't specify what would happen when the dog passed away, the fortune went to one of his offspring, Gunther IV, upon his death. Fortunately, the dogs had some smart money managers who reportedly made wise investments, eventually making Gunther IV's properties worth some $375 million. According to Money, the lucky dog also owns Madonna's former $7.5 million Miami Beach home as well as villas in the Bahamas and Italy.


Lap (dog) of luxury

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You could say a pet is spoiled when she refuses to wear a $15,000 Cartier necklace her owner bought for her. That was the case with Conchita, a chihuahua owned by heiress Gail Posner. Conchita also had her own bedroom and bathroom, along with regular manicures and weekly spa treatments. Posner left $1 million to her son when she died in 2010, but she also created a $3 million trust fund and left a Miami Beach mansion to Conchita and two of her other dogs. Posner's son, Brett Carr, challenged the will, saying that his mother had been coerced into changing it when she was ill. Though updates on the case have been scarce, Carr was still battling the will in court as of 2015.


Trouble caused trouble

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Nicknamed "the Queen of Mean," American businesswoman Leona Helmsley had her share of troubles. Known for her quick temper, this owner of the Helmsley hotels was charged with income tax fraud and evasion and served time in prison. Still, she loved her Maltese dog, Trouble, and left him an extravagant gift of $12 million when she died in 1987. She wasn't so generous to some of her grandchildren and left two of them out of her will entirely, but they went to court and eventually had Trouble's inheritance cut to $2 million. The pampered pup lived to be the equivalent of 84 human years old, enjoying full-time security, grooming sessions, and meals said to cost as much as $100,000 annually.


Where no dogs have gone before

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The original Star Trek television show, created by Gene Roddenberry, debuted in 1996 and featured his wife, Majel Barrett Roddenberry, as Nurse Chapel. In the series, Nurse Chapel had a crush on science officer Mr. Spock, but in real life, Roddenberry adored her dogs and set up a $4 million trust to care for them after her death. In case that wasn't enough to give them a luxurious life, she left another $1 million to a devoted employee who agreed to move into one of the Roddenberry's mansions and care for them. Majel Barrett Roddenberry was said to support animal rescue organizations.


Two dogs and triple the money

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Jasper was a homeless dog living in an animal shelter in the United Kingdom when brewery heiress Diana Myburgh found him. Although she already had one dog, Jason, she couldn't resist rescuing Jasper and bringing him home to live in her mansion. Sadly, she passed away in 1995, but she remembered Jasper in her will. Both dogs were allowed to keep living in her extravagant home, and her son-in-law was instructed to manage the 50,000 pounds she left them (about $125,000 today). When Jason followed his mistress in death, Jasper received his canine brother's share. It's believed that Myburgh's son-in-law wisely invested the money and tripled it in the stock market.


Treated worse than a dog?

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When wealthy Sidney Altman died in 1998, he willed most of the $6 million he earned distributing upscale bathroom fixtures to his beloved companion animal, a cocker spaniel named Samantha. Altman's girlfriend, who'd lived with him from 1990 until his death in 1996, received a $60,000 yearly allowance for herself—but the allowance was to end when Samantha died, and then it would be donated to worthy animal charities. The girlfriend contested the will and a judge urged the parties to settle.


A chicken with a nest egg

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Dogs and cats aren't always the beneficiaries of extravagant lifestyles and generous inheritances. Miles Blackwell, a tycoon in the publishing industry, reportedly left $15 million to his favorite pet hen, Gigoo when he died in 2001. Blackwell's wife had died not long before him, and the couple had no children. In fact, they'd been planning to move to the English countryside, where they wanted to raise rare Scots Dumpy hens and sheep on their hobby farm. Blackwell left most of the rest of his huge estate to charitable trusts. Not much else is known about Gigoo, except that this little hen no longer had to scratch out a living.


One of the family

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The late pop superstar Michael Jackson used to refer to his chimp, Bubbles, as his first son. Bubbles certainly was treated as part of the family, sleeping in a crib in Jackson's home, eating at the table, and even traveling with the artist on some of his tours. All that ended sometime around 2003, after Jackson's son Prince Michael II was born and Bubbles reportedly became too aggressive. The chimp was moved to a Florida sanctuary, The Center for Great Apes, where he still lives. (Chimps can live as long as 50 years.) Although he was gone, Bubbles was not forgotten. He received $2 million from Jackson's estate, which still pays for his care.


Underdogs to top dogs

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Former talk show host and American media mogul Oprah Winfrey loves dogs and counts two Springer spaniels and a cocker spaniel among her pack. All three were adopted from a rescue group called PAWS and allowed to sleep on her bed, romp around her large estate and fly to tapings with her. They even wear special headbands to keep their ears held back and out of their bowls when they're fed. Oprah has had many pets over the years, and it's been reported that she has established a trust fund of $30 million to take care of these three if she passes before them.


Shell game

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Customers of W & G Foyle, a well-known London bookstore, knew they could count on its owner, Christina Foyle, to help them find the latest and best titles. "Miss Foyle," as she was known, had no children, but she doted on her precious pets and often talked about how much love and loyalty animal companions showed to their owners. When she died at age 88, Miss Foyle left approximately $27,000 to Silverstone, her beloved, 50-year-old pet tortoise. Legal Zoom estimates Silverstone's current net worth at $200,000, proving the managers and handlers of Silverstone's inheritance fund weren't playing a shell game when it came to money.


Pets at peace

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Beloved pets can't always be honored with extravagant lifestyles or big inheritances. Many pet parents memorialize their animal companions in special cemeteries or with heartfelt markers. According to Atlas Obscura, a New Jersey couple started the Clara Glen graveyard in 1918 for pets. It became the final resting place for animals that belonged to many celebrities who worked in nearby Atlantic City, such as Rex the Wonder Dog. Rex entertained crowds at Atlantic City's Steel Pier in the 1930s and 40s, showing off his waterskiing skills. Another former canine star, Paradiddle Ben, lies under a Clara Glen tombstone marked with the masks of comedy and tragedy. Legend says that when the pet dog of one Atlantic City bartender was laid to rest in this cemetery, his burial procession included 20 limousines.

See more at: Reader's Digest

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