UPDATE: Bela is now being sent to live at a Utah animal sanctuary.
“We are thrilled to announce that Bela has been released to Best Friends Animal Society and we are currently arranging his transport to our sanctuary in Kanab, Utah,” Francis Battista, vice chair of Best Friends, wrote on the group’s blog.
(CNN) — Connie Ley made an unusual request in her will before she died last month in Aurora, Indiana: She asked that her German Shepherd, Bela, be euthanized and buried with her.
Three weeks later, however, Bela, who is 9-years-old and male, is healthy and very much alive. And there’s a growing movement on social media to defy his late owner’s wishes and spare the animal.
Ley’s attorney, Doug Denmure, told CNN affiliate WCPO-TV that his late client preferred to send Bela to Best Friends Animal Society’s no-kill sanctuary in southern Utah to live out the remainder of his days.
But if transporting the dog across the country proved too expensive, Ley wanted a close friend to take charge of Bela and carry out her request that “the dog be put to sleep, cremated and that the dog’s ashes be placed with her own ashes.”
As it turned out, sending Bela to the Utah animal sanctuary was not financially feasible, Denmure told WXIX-TV, another CNN affiliate. But following a public outcry, a decision about the dog’s fate has been put on hold for now, he said.
Bela was with Ley when she died at home Nov. 25. The dog is now being housed in a special kennel at PAWS of Dearborn County Humane Center in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Director Becky Foster said the center has no legal control over the dog’s future and is waiting to hear from Ley’s attorney.
“He’s been cared for very well,” Foster told CNN on Thursday. “We’re happy to have him here as long as need be. He has toys and blankies and he’s just chilling.”
Meanwhile, animal lovers on Facebook and Twitter are urging that Bela be spared, calling Ley’s decision selfish. Supporters have mounted an online petition to save the dog and are rallying around a #SaveBela hashtag.
Best Friends Animal Society also has weighed in, posting a statement on its Facebook page urging fans to share #SaveBela messages.
Denmure maintains that everything about Ley’s request is legal.
“The dog was owned by my client and now it’s part of her estate,” he told WCPO. “And those are her wishes, as far as the future of the dog is concerned. Outsiders don’t have the grounds to rewrite the provisions of my client’s will and impose what they want.”
Denmure said Ley didn’t trust Bela to be around others and the 105-pound dog has a history of aggressive behavior. He told WCPO that a veterinarian recommended Bela be put down. “He could cause damage and inflict bodily harm on strangers, in particular, children.”
The case has raised ethical questions about how much control deceased people should have over the life of their pets.
“On the whole, we don’t allow people to euthanize healthy pets,” said Edward Queen, a professor of ethics at Emory University. On the other hand, he said, it’s not uncommon for unwanted pets to be euthanized.
“As a matter of policy, do we really want people to control the life of a healthy pet on a whim?” he pondered. “Assuming the dog is healthy and will be cared for, I’m not sure we want to encourage this.”