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.
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.
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.
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