Dr. Henry Presnal's children are grown, but his office is alive with the pitter-patter of little feet. Bubba, the Siamese cat, takes a stroll across a computer keyboard as the skittish poodle Jill leaps over Annie, the terrier mix snoozing in the hall. Playing equal parts Saint Francis and Dr. Dolittle, Presnal, a retired vet, oversees them all with pleasure: "We provide loving owners peace of mind that their animals will be cared for after they're gone."

For $25,000, Presnal, the current director of the five-year-old Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care Center at Texas A & M in College Station, assures owners that, in the event of their death or incapacity, their cat or dog (or, for $50,000, their horse or llama) will have free rein in a house with a generous yard and 24-hour petting service from the veterinary students, who share the abode. (The menagerie now numbers 10, but expansion to 60 is planned.) Having grown up locally on a farm and spent 27 years as a vet, Presnal, 63, feels in some ways more akin to animals than to people. "I can be standing in the checkout line at the grocery store," says Presnal, who lives nearby with his wife of 41 years, Lou, "and immediately recognize someone by whatever ailment their pet had years ago."