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.