The Source of Fear and Worry

My last post should have been preceded by one I’ve been meaning to write for a long time– my fear of something serious happening to Our Best Friend.

These are some of the stories I have heard at the park in the last few months:

  • Happy, a lab cross we love, blew out a knee joint or two. Surgery to correct the problem: close to $4,000. Happy is almost 11 years old. Owner Bob didn’t think twice.
  • Denise’s greyhound, Lea, broke her leg in March. Initial costs were over $3,000. Denise was given bad advice regarding rehabilitation and exercise; the leg broke again in June. Through the miracle of the Internet, she found a retired vet in the States who now treats greyhounds exclusively at a cut-rate fee. Lea got three months of boarding, rehabilitation, and treatment for a further $1,500. Total costs: close to $5,000.
  • I met a miniature pinscher a few months ago, hobbling around with a shaved leg and post-surgical marks. The owner told me they had removed a cancerous tumour; the dog is five. The entire treatment cost $7,000. “We could have just amputated the leg for $5,000,” the owner told me, “but my husband will do anything for this dog.”

And then of course there’s Blackie. In 2008, Blackie was hospitalized for a urinary tract problem. First came the initial exams… then the blood tests… then the ultrasounds… then the vet stay. One small cost, followed by another, then another. By the time Blackie came home, My Dearest Friend, a single mother of three, was out $3,600.

MDF was raised on a farm. “On the farm,” she told me, “if the dog got sick you shot it. A dog wasn’t a pet. It was part of the farm. I wasn’t raised to spend money on a dog. But how could I turn to my kids and say, ‘Yeah, we could have cured Blackie, but I didn’t want to spend the money?'” Never mind that it was money she really, really didn’t have. To make it worse, the vet said the problem might be congenital. If it recurred within a few weeks, there would be nothing to do but either treat it again (and again and again), or put Blackie to sleep, in which case the $3,600 went down the toilet. Thankfully, Blackie recovered, and my world is much richer for it.

Yet I understand the dilemma. Healing the dog can cancel the vacation, or extra-curricular for the kids, or even wreak havoc with the rent or mortgage. The Spouse, too, was raised with the value system that dogs are dogs and people are people and if the dog becomes a nuisance, you make life easier on yourself. He insists he won’t spend money we don’t have on a pet. The critical phrase is don’t have. If we had it, he wouldn’t hesitate. He loves Our Best Friend, too.

Part of me says I shouldn’t own a dog I can’t afford treatment for in a bad situation, but that’s not real life. Then only the rich would have dogs, and even more dogs would die in shelters. We can’t not own a dog because of something that might happen.

If something fixable but unaffordable went wrong with Our Best Friend, I think I’d lose my mind. (And it makes incredibly real to me the kind of worry 50 million uninsured people in the States must live with every day. If the dog does this to me, I can’t even begin to imagine what uninsured kids would do.) And now this worry, always at the back of mind, has been brought front and centre by a stupid bout of kennel cough. While some people swear by pet insurance, I have heard from a number of dog park friends that it costs a fortune for little coverage. You might be better off putting the premiums in the bank in a dedicated account and using the money for treatment if necessary. If you have money for the premiums in the first place.

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About one person's view

I'm the mother of three girls, three cats, and a dog. All need constant attention, but only the dog likes to go for long walks!
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18 Responses to The Source of Fear and Worry

  1. Kristine says:

    I agree with your last statement on pet insurance. I’ve looked into it and what I found is unconvincing. It is much better, IMO, to put that money into a savings account marked for your pet’s medical care. If you never have to use it, even better. But it’s there if you do need it. You can’t be sure the insurance money will be.

    It’s always in the back of my mind as well. While I would probably move to a one bedroom apartment and eat ramen noodles every day if it meant saving my dog, even those sacrifices may not be enough. It worries me but I don’t let it spoil my life. My childhood dog lived to the age of 17, quite old for a Siberian husky, without any major medical issues. Hopefully OBF and Shiva will be the same.

  2. Pamela says:

    So few people talk about money for treating our animals and how it affects us. It’s a horrible burden to have the responsibility for making health decisions for another creature. And yes, money, is a real consideration.

    It works the other way too. I wonder how many people with means get expensive treatments for their dogs because they can afford it without considering if it’s best for their dog.

    When my last dog, Shadow, was diagnosed with bone cancer in her jaw, the university vet hospital recommended surgery to remove the entire jaw and weekly doses of chemotherapy. The crazy thing was that this would not cure her but only give her a few more months to live. And those months, with surgical recovery and weekly visits to a crowded and noisy vet waiting room would not have been happy for her. (BTW, without the surgery, she lived 2 years longer than expected and was in great shape til the end.)

    Making health decisions for another creature is hard enough without having money complicating things.

    I hope YBF is feeling better.

    • Thanks for that anecdote. If a vet told me my dog had incurable cancer, I’d probably have him put to sleep on the spot because I couldn’t stand the suffering. Now I know it might be better to wait and see.

      And yes, I agree, just because something can be done doesn’t mean it should be done.

    • Melf says:

      Oh wow Pamela. I had no idea. It really is tough to face those kind of decisions, but in your case I would have done the same thing. What kind of life is it with half your jaw missing? So glad that Shadow disproved the vets.

  3. thatjenk says:

    Yep. Pet Insurance is a tough call.

    We didn’t have it. Then we spent $4,500 on unexpected bloat surgery.

    Then we did have it, spinal cyst rears its head, and we make $5,000 worth of claims (all paid out – thankfully), plus paid some extra out-of-pocket, because the plan we picked has a $5,000/year limit per condition.

    For us, insurance has been worth it. But we have a purebred, large breed dog. And I would highly recommend it to anyone else with a pure bred Newfoundland, Great Dane, or other breed with known risks. Because no matter how well the pure bred, registered, CKC breeders and the like screen and plan litters, gene pools for many breeds or many regions are often limited, and hereditary and recessive issues are more common than we’d like.

    Rescue dogs, however, are often mixes, so people who adopt the Heinz 57 from the local shelter are likely to get a healthy dog (provided no pre-existing issues) with diverse genes.

    So pet insurance for those “mutt-owners” out there becomes a question of cost over time vs. freak accident likelihood (e.g., a dog that’s an escape artist and frequently gets out of the back yard and can risk running into traffic, tangling with a porcupine, or getting into a tussle with another dog, might be worth insuring).

    Two years of insurance premiums at $65/month, and we’ve been paid back $5,000 for a procedure I’m not sure we would consider without the insurance. It was nice to take cost (somewhat) out of the picture and think only about what was the best treatment route for Moses.

    And, of course, we did our homework and made sure to go with a company that has a good track record of paying out valid claims, and picking a policy that’s worth it (the $1,000/year/condition policy wouldn’t have done us any good). And we made sure there were no breed exclusions (some companies won’t cover issues like hip dysplasia for certain breeds – Newfs included).

    It’s a tough call that requires research. You’ve just got to hope nothing major happens while you’re still on the fence.

    • $65.00 x 12 = $780/year. That’s a lot of kibble. (Whoops. Bad analogy for a raw feeder.)

      Seriously, my dog cost me about $900 all of last year, and that includes food, vet bills, and toys. I’d really have to research it carefully, as I bet every province is different. Wouldn’t it be nice if money *wasn’t* an issue for anyone???

      • thatjenk says:

        It would be so nice!

        But I bet you’re right, and wouldn’t be surprised if pet insurance rates varied by province.

        Fun fact: When Moses is at full exercise, and therefore full diet, we spend about $190/month on his raw diet (currently on a no-walk regime, that’s cut in half). $65 feels like small potatoes by comparison.

  4. Jodi Stone says:

    You bring up very real concerns for those of us who love and live with dogs. I worry about My Best Friend all the time.

    In April I read a book about getting rid of debt. One of the suggestions was to begin an emergency fund with $1,000 in it, that way when unexpected budgetary issues arise, you have a great handle on it. Luckily for us it was right around income tax time and I cannot tell you how much comfort that account has brought me.

    I would do anything for MBF and I mean ANYTHING, like Kristine I would eat ramen noodles if that’s what it took, and putting money in a dedicated account is a great idea!

    Pamela also makes a great point, depending on the diagnosis, what really is the best treatment for your pet? If MBF was having to go to the vet every week and his life was being disrupted, I would hope I would make the right decision. Luckily for me, I know have a huge support system of bloggers who love dogs and I know I would turn to them for guidance.

    I am glad YBF turned out with Kennel Cough and nothing more serious than that.

  5. kate says:

    You should consider insurance. I wrote about my experience with Embrace on my blog. I pay about 30 dollars a month to insure Norbert my 9 year old lab mix, he had bloat and torsion in July and it cost 6000 for surgery and treatment. My policy which covers emergencies, illnesses, and medicated convered 80% minus the 500 dollar deductable. I am very pleased. All my dogs and cats who are young enough to be insured are insured. I wish I had insured them all. I would not hesitate to treat a dog for any ailment even if meant going severely in to debt which is why I think insurance is so important

  6. The Hook says:

    Very open, honest post. I share your point of view when it comes to Our Best Friend.
    Great post!

  7. Melf says:

    What a great post. Lori, you share a worry that I think is common to so many pet owners. I’ll be honest, up until I left my company 3 years ago, I never questioned the expenses I had with regards to my pets. When my dog Indy started having seizures after a 3-shot vaccine combo I didn’t hesitate to pay for her emergency vet care and the visit to the specialist. I had the money and I did not question it. When I adopted Aspen I did the same thing. Ultrasounds. X-rays. Meds. You name it, I did it. But when her quality of life deteriorated I made the right decision to say goodbye.
    But now, after running a business and putting myself in debt, I worry about this issue all of the time. I am back at my company and making the same amount as before, but until I pay off my debts I don’t have the money I once had to spend on my pets. It is a constant worry for me. Nick, my cat, is 19 and has cancer. I opted not to get the x-ray that would have provided definitive proof because I could not afford it and the vet pretty much confirmed it because of his blood test results. I know his time will come soon, but for now I just keep him comfortable. At 19 years, it doesn’t seem logical to put him through more. But I do worry what I will do if something happens to Daisy or Jasper. You, my friend, are not alone. Not at all.

  8. rumpydog says:

    Insurance gives peace of mind to some. For me, I agree with your idea of socking the money in a savings account. Let’s face it, insurance companies are in the business to make money. My savings account is in the business to make ME money.

  9. Kirsten says:

    Ugh, this is a horrible source of worry. I haven’t hesitated to drop 4K on Lamar when he had gastrointestinal issues (salmonella, it turned out), and another 4K when he had some awful inexplicable internal bleeding (turned out he’d eaten rat poison, which would have been cheap and easy to fix with a huge dose of Vitamin K, if only we’d known!), when I had the money to drop (just barely). If I ever didn’t though? I’d figure out some way, I guess.

    Good to know about pet insurance…I’ve often wondered about that!

  10. houndstooth says:

    We have four dogs, so pet insurance is definitely not affordable for us. We just deal with things as they come. We’ve also learned to be able to take care of a lot of things ourselves that we would have taken the dogs to the vet for in the early years. After a great discussion on a Greyhound forum that we belonged to, hubby and I sat down while the dogs were healthy and decided what we would or wouldn’t do if something happened to one of our dogs. So far, we’ve stuck to the agreement and it did help us to have clarity. If one of our dogs is sick, I want to keep her here because she has a chance at recovering and living a happy life, not just to keep her here to make me feel better.

  11. Pingback: I Think It’s An Attitude Problem | The Dog Park

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