Where there’s a will … sometimes there’s a wealthy pet

Look, I know it’s not pleasant to imagine your own death, but think about it just for a couple of seconds and then ask yourself this: who do you want to leave all your money and possessions to? Your husband or wife perhaps? Maybe the kids? Possibly a charity? Well, here’s a thought. What about leaving all your cash to Fido? After all he’s been a loyal canine companion for years. He’s never given you any grief and, let’s face it, those puppy dog eyes have always been filled with only the purest devotion and love. Can you say the same about the kids? Thought not.

Story by Andy Round

Leona Helmsley shared this view. When she died at the age of 87, the heiress of the Helmsley hotel chain with a property portfolio that included shares in New York’s Empire State Building, left US$12 million to her white Maltese dog Trouble. Her only son Jay Panzirer died 30 years ago, but only two of his four children inherited anything from granny. “I have not made any provisions in this will for my grandson Craig Panzirer or my granddaughter Meegan Panzirer for reasons which are known to them,” Helmsley’s will stated. The two other siblings inherited US$5 million each.

In context, Trouble’s US$12 million fortune represented just a minute portion of Helmsley’s fortune. The remaining US$5 billion of the inheritance was donated to charity. Still, there were tough times for Trouble.

Speaking on CBS’ Early Show, Trouble’s minder John Codey, a former aide to Helmsley, said that the dog had received death and kidnap threats. To avoid adding to Trouble’s troubles, the dog was flown out of its Park Lane hotel in Manhattan and transferred to a secret luxury hotel. According to Codey, security for Trouble costs at least US$300,000 every year. So what does this ball of white fur do with the remainder of the money? “Trouble is like any other dog,” said Codey. “She likes to spend her time relaxing and playing in the afternoon. She now answers to her new fake name.”

After Codey’s appearance the show was inundated with requests for mates for Trouble so that any resulting puppies could inherit Trouble’s fortune. Unfortunately, Helmsley’s will dictated that any money left when Trouble dies must go to charity.

Bequeathing huge fortunes to animals is not a new trend. The most famous of all rich pets was Tobey. When the eccentric Ella Virginia von Echtzel Wendel died in 1931, aged 78, she left instructions that US$5 million be used to look after her pet French poodle Tobey after her death. Tobey was the last of a long line of Tobeys and he continued to sleep on the bed that had been especially made for him and enjoyed delicate meals served by gourmet chefs. Until his death two years later Tobey also enjoyed free reign of his Fifth Avenue apartment in Manhattan. When he died, he was buried with his mistress in the family mausoleum.

But why would anyone leave a fortune to a pet? Spokesman for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Pets, David Grant, says: “Pets can be an important companion to older people. Our research shows that for many over-60s they rate them as a more important part of their lives than their friends.”

Even within the past 12 months there have been plenty of examples of newly wealthy pets. A ginger cat called Fluffy last year inherited US$50,000 from his church organist owner Mary Burton in the UK. Her will stressed: “Fluffy should have a home in the sun and be provided with a diet of fresh pilchards, steamed cod, tail ends, no bones, best lean roast beef and only milk, no water.” Sounds delicious.

And owners don’t necessarily have to be dead to show their multi-million-dollar devotion. The American actress Drew Barrymore placed her US$3 million house in trust with her pet Labrador cross-breed Flossie after the dog saved her life by barking and thumping on the bedroom door when fire broke out one night at their home. “There is nothing I wouldn’t do for my dog now,” Barrymore says. “I adore dogs and rescued Flossie from a Pasadena market in 1996. She means the world to me.”

At the time of the blaze Barrymore was married to comedian Tom Green. When they divorced Barrymore had to fight to keep custody of Flossie. Ironically, you can now hear Barrymore providing the voice for Angel the canine star of the Disney film Beverly Hills Chihuahua. The film charts Angel’s – and possibly Flossie’s and Trouble’s – worst nightmare: abandonment on the mean streets of Mexico “without a day spa or Rodeo Drive boutique in sight”. Comparisons with Paris Hilton’s pet are entirely intentional.

However, perhaps the most notorious inheritance case is that of Kalu the chimpanzee. Kalu is expected to inherit a staggering US$60 million fortune when his owner, the twice-divorced, 84-year-old Patricia Cavendish O’Neill, dies.

O’Neill, the last of a long line of aristocrats, is now married to former Australian Olympic swimmer Frank O’Neill and made headlines when she announced that she would leave her fortune and South African ranch to Kalu. In an interview with Cape Town television, she said: “The major press had a field day. They were saying, ‘Olympic husband disinherited for a chimp’. But it’s just not true. The money has been put in a trust called the Kalu Animal Trust. There are 32 baboons, 65 dogs and 14 cats to look after as well as Kalu.”

Lucky old Kalu.

Sometimes animal inheritance stories are so bizarre you really couldn’t make them up. Or perhaps you can. The best pet story comes courtesy of Gunther III who inherited US$60 million when the German countess Karlotta Libenstein died 15 years ago. Gunther does not have owners he has trustees and lives a jet-set existence in the former Florida home of the singer Madonna. Allegedly.

There are several websites dedicated to the daily antics of Gunther and he looks happy enough. However, he is ‘managed’ by a suspicious group of attractive young people described as the rock band The Burgundians. Performance art? A hoax? Who cares, sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. Just ask Trouble.

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