Wednesday, March 13, 2013

How far will you go to save a pet?

by Sandra Parshall

Pet owners come in several varieties: those who ignore an animal’s illness and let it die; those who respond to illness by telling the vet to euthanize the pet, then promptly get another to replace it; those who willingly pay vet bills to help a sick pet, but stop when the expense begins to strain the family budget; and those who will do whatever it takes and spend any amount of money to save an animal or make its last days comfortable.

I don’t understand people in the first two groups. I understand the third, and I sympathize, especially when those people have children to support. I am the fourth type, and so are many of my friends. I would probably go bankrupt before I would give up on an animal that had some chance of pulling through.

When I began writing about Dr. Rachel Goddard, a fictional veterinarian, I knew I had to make her capable of doing things I could never do, such as euthanizing sick animals. She’s a professional, and she has to be tough enough to do her job, even though she shares my willingness to go to any lengths to help an animal in need. I’ve avoided difficult scenes with animals in most of my books because Rachel’s day to day veterinary work must necessarily come a distant second to her involvement in crime solving. Her connection with people through their pets, though, gives her the opportunity to get information and make connections that might elude Deputy Tom Bridger, chief investigator for the Sheriff’s Department.

The only book in the series that brings animals to the foreground of the action is Under the Dog Star, in which Rachel fights to save a pack of feral dogs and a collection of dogs that have been used for fighting. I was a little afraid that readers would be put off by Rachel’s zealousness, her willingness to take dangerous risks to help a bunch of pathetic animals, but the reaction from dog lovers was overwhelmingly positive. I can tell that many readers who love that book are the type of pet owners who would go to any lengths and spare no expense to help a sick or injured pet. They are people like me.

I don’t mind admitting that we’ve spent many thousands of dollars over the years on our cats' health care.

We took Sam in when his previous owners moved and left him behind. He was barely more than a kitten then, and perfectly healthy. As he aged, he developed heart disease. We took him to a veterinary cardiologist regularly and gave him prescribed medications every day for the rest of his life.
Our Abyssinian cat Gabriel has asthma and a life-threatening condition called chronic cholangiohepatitis. When he was two years old he almost died a couple of times from liver failure, and since then he has been on a regimen of expensive drugs that he will need for the rest of his life. He also gets puffs from a steroid inhaler twice a day, delivered through a device called the AeroKat. 

Gabriel, I’m happy to say, is a cooperative patient – after we catch him. He knows we’ll find him, and he never fights us, but he makes a ritual of disappearing while I’m preparing his meds.

Gabriel the escape artist

Nicholas, our previous Aby, also had a lot of health problems, including asthma and later on, diabetes. 

Injections and pills were part of daily life, and treatment kept Nicky alive and happy to the age of 13. When we made the painful decision to let him go, it was because his quality of life had suddenly deteriorated drastically and we had no hope that he would recover. The last time I held him, minutes before he died, he purred and licked my cheek. Putting him back down on the table so the vet could euthanize him was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life.

My wonderful Simon kept me company when I wrote. He was my true soulmate. We even had the same birthday. Simon (who grew up with Nicky) was robustly healthy through most of his nearly 18 years, but in the end he developed both cancer and kidney disease. We took him to an oncologist, administered chemotherapy and fluids, and we bought a couple of years of high-quality life that he wouldn’t have had if we’d left him untreated. Once when we were in the oncologist’s waiting room, a young man who had brought in his little mutt told us he'd spent thousands of dollars he couldn’t afford on his dog’s treatment, but would not give up: “He needed the surgery and he needs the medication. I can’t just let him die.” We felt the same way about Simon.

I know some people would look at what we’ve spent on our cats’ medical treatment and tell us we should be ashamed to waste money on cats when human beings are going hungry and lack medical care. The same people are probably outraged when a wealthy person leaves millions of dollars in trust for the care of a pet. But we love those who are close to us, those who return our love and make us happy. We don’t abandon them when they need us most. And we don’t owe the world an apology or explanation if our most beloved companions happen not to be human.

Are you caring for a chronically ill pet? Does anyone ever criticize you for spending so much money and effort on an animal? How far do you believe pet owners should go before they allow a pet to die?

"Compassion, in which ethics takes root, does not assume its true proportions until it embraces not only man but every living being."
– Albert Schweitzer, in his speech accepting the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize


LD Masterson said...

I'm quite sure we've spent enough in vet bills over the years to put out vet's kids through college. But how do you not take care of members of the family. No matter how many legs they have.

Anonymous said...

You certainly struck a delicate nerve with this piece . I, too, like many others, have gone through the agony of a dying pet - and even as I read your lines here, the tears welled up. Our four-legged companions are as real to us as any human - and time does not always heal. It softens the pain, but it is with us a very long time. Thelma Straw in Manhattan

S said...

Vets have varying philosophies, too. My cat had a tumor, a result of an earlier vaccine. My vet did surgery and removed the tumor and then advised seeing a cat oncologist. She advised chemotherapy or the cat would not live another 6 months. But the cat detested her, had had it with treatments, and the vet said he would have to be sedated before every treatment. I agonized and decided against putting him through something he could not stand. Four years later - he is doing fine. It's hard to do, but humans do have to recognize some limits, and it's nice when vets support that decision.

Katreader said...

I'm definitely in your 4th category, spending as much as needed until their quality of life just isn't good, or if it would be too stressful for them. I adopted an 11 year old dog with multiple health issues almost 2 years ago. Since then he developed glaucoma and had to have an eye removed, now he has heart problems. He's on so many meds at various times I had to get a pill case for him! One of my cats is also on meds (hypothyroidism) and this past summer I adopted a kitten with health issues. Thankfully (many pet bills later) he's seem to outgrown his problems and is a happy little monster!

As for those who say why help a pet when humans are going hungry...well, I don't have much compassion for humans. They can take care of themselves. Animals are my family and I'll provide for them.

JJM said...

Katreader said: "...well, I don't have much compassion for humans. They can take care of themselves. Animals are my family and I'll provide for them."

Unfortunately, humans can't always take care of themselves. But, yes, pets are family, and it is natural to put family first. When I donate to charity, though, it is seldom a human-oriented charity; almost always, it's an animal charity.

As for your question, though, Sandy: as I told in another venue, I spent some $3,000 dollars on a cat, out of savings, at a time when I didn't have a job, and had no income. I wanted that cat to have his chance. Alas, it did not help, but ... I'd do it again. The cat, or dog, will let you know when it's time. (What I would have done had savings run out, I don't want to contemplate. If I'd lost the house, unable to pay the mortgage, it would not have helped the cat any ... )--Mario R.

Lynne said...

I'm in the 4th category too. Our dog Teddy had dilative cardiomyopathy and had to see a cardiologist regularly and was on a number of cardiac meds. We managed to keep him alive about 3 years longer than the doctors expected. Our 13 year old Maggie has numerous medical problems, takes expensive meds, and is starting to go downhill. But we'll do all we can to make her as comfortable as possible for the rest of her life.

Diane said...

What is sad is if it's a case like Ghepetto, who was 11 when he ended up with colo-rectal cancer. There was nothing that could be done. Same with my beagle, Sniffy, just a year later when I took him to the vet because he had a fever and was listless. In less than 3 weeks I had to have him, too, euthanized - cancer again. But when there is a possibility of help/treatment I will do anything I can. I want Mackenzie to have as much of a comfortable life as I can possibly give her. She doesn't deserve to be sitting in a cage - by herself - at the SPCA. She was there for 14 months, 11 years old. Because she was older and/or blind. And, as it turned out, almost completely deaf and also had arthritis and a flea allergy. Cosequin took care of the arthritis. She no longer crouches when she walks, and she can sit completely down instead of a kind of crouch-sitting. She can - and does - wander around my small place at will. Well, except when I feed her. Because she won't get 'up' on anything so has to eat on the ground. And if I left her with her food without the pet gate, Jenny, as sweet as she is, would walk in and start eating her food.

So I'm with you. Do as much as you can possibly do to help them.

One note on comments by others who think you shouldn't spend much helping your pet instead of people: a coworker - actually a boss, sort of - once commented on my helping my dogs with their health problems instead of the poor children in India. He was Indian and had seen the poverty as a child and it bothered him. I just stared at him open mouthed. Because, since he was a boss, I couldn't say what I was thinking:"My animals are here and need me. If what you saw in India bothered you so much, why are you here instead of back in India helping them?" Fortunately, one of the other people there commented "because her animals are here." End of discussion.

Julia Buckley said...

Sandra, what BEAUTIFUL cats!! We've spent a LOT of money on our cats over the years--for surgeries, medicines, blood tests, etc. We do not have pet insurance.

We've also had times, though, that we really had no option besides euthanasia because, sad to say, it was the least expensive choice and we had no money. In those cases the cat was always elderly and it was clear that they might not live much longer anyway--still, it was never an easy thing to do.

A vet once told my mother, when we had to euthanize our sixteen-year-old dog, that it took a compassionate person to put down an animal before it suffered unduly. I thought the vet herself was compassionate for saying that to my weeping mother.

There is no doubt that our pets steal our hearts, and that saying goodbye to them is not something we ever anticipate having to do.

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