Dogs, once primarily regarded as utilitarian companions, going along with humans to hunt game or herd livestock, are increasingly regarded as family members in our modern society. We value them as friends of another species, regardless of any working skills they may or may not have. We love them, sometimes to the point of anthropomorphizing them as children. That often means that we go to extraordinary lengths to maintain them in good health, and to return them to health should they fall ill or be injured. But the cost of doing that, just as with human medical care, has been steadily rising. Pet owners may find themselves confronted with staggering fees unheard of just a few years ago.
In late 2010, my aging Foxhound, Maska, seemed to be in pretty good health. However, one morning, I awoke to the sound of retching and found some very discolored urine all over my living room floor co-mingled with equally oddly colored vomitus. My boy clearly wasn’t well, so off to the vet we went. Several hours, one exam and one ultrasound later, still no answers. A preliminary leptospirosis diagnosis quickly went by the wayside, followed by more ultrasounds and other diagnostics at Tufts, followed by an exploratory surgery. In the end, I spent $6000 just to hear the devastating news that my handsome, sweet, stoic therapy dog had adenocarcinoma of the pancreas and it had already metastasized to his liver. I hugged him and cried and let him go. A few weeks later, I decided not to “self insure” for such emergencies any longer, knowing that, had his condition been more treatable, I could easily have bankrupted myself. I bought pet insurance for my remaining dogs.
Just a few years later, my sweet Hound mix, Quanah, made me glad I had done so. He decided to ingest a foreign object, precipitating a bowel resection surgery. This time, insurance picked up the tab for 80% of the cost.
It didn’t really hit me just how valuable a lesson my boy’s final days were until a colleague, Ettel Edshteyn, of Poodles to Pit Bulls Clicker Training, Inc., in Astoria, N.Y. went through a similar experience with her dog, Prynne.
It’s suspected that a normally innocuous dog treat may have become lodged in the tiny dog’s esophagus, causing tears to occur requiring surgery and some complex medical care to repair. The cost was approximately $20,000.00 to save the dog’s life. Ettel did not have insurance, so is bearing the cost herself and allowing me to use Prynne’s story as a cautionary tale – we should all assess risk ahead of time. How much would we, or could we, spend to save the life of the dog we love?
For about fifteen years, I directed a non-profit program that gave small grants to help senior citizens with veterinary expenses that they could no longer afford. There are quite a few such charitable programs for persons of all ages and their pets, but many of them often run low on funds. (Something to think about, since this post is being written on Giving Tuesday). Some of the charities require individuals to first file an application with Care Credit, which is a health care credit card company, before they will consider a request for assistance.
I hope these stories will make people think about the potential cost of their pet’s physical and behavioral health, and make some plans for how to meet such costs, so they never have to have their hearts broken for lack of funds.
Stories of your own experiences with cost of care issues is welcome in the comments section. Please, no bashing of health care facilities or practitioners. Most are doing the best they can to keep prices reasonable and provide the best care they can.