Tuesday, August 29, 2006

George Carlin was right: getting a dog is purchasing a small tragedy

I am sitting bleary-eyed in front of my computer at 3:30 in the morning because Buster has no clean blankets to go in his kennel. The first set is in the wash, where I wisely threw them at 1:00 a.m., the first time I got up to clean out the poopy mess. The second set is still in the kennel, which I removed from the bedroom and placed in the laundry room after it became apparent shortly before 3:00 that he had once again befouled the inside of it with watery diarrhea, a mere 2 hours after I'd cleaned the whole thing out. The blankets in the washer are waiting for a load of clothes to dry before they can be dried themselves; hence the poopy blankets waiting in the kennel.

This all started Saturday morning, when Buster dropped a soft poop in his kennel before I took him out for his morning walk. We figured he'd eaten something bad and headed to Bend for my father's birthday; our poor dog-sitter spent the whole night dealing with exactly the situation I now face. Buster had a little bit of diarrhea when we got home Sunday afternoon, but it seemed to have cleared up-- yesterday morning he took a dump of normal consistency and we hoped fervently that we had avoided having to take him to the vet. (This happened a few months ago and the dog nearly died of dehydration thanks to a nasty intestinal infection. Vet bill: about $800.) But now it's back.

Contrary to how it might seem, I am not writing about this because I enjoy talking about shit. The fact is, I am contemplating this dog's mortality and feeling very, very guilty for doing so. His repeated illnesses coupled with the significant cost of regular maintenance mean that one more big health issue could leave us in the unfortunate position of choosing between our dog's life and our own financial security.

Any animal-lover is appalled to hear that we are seriously contemplating having our dog put down for financial reasons. It sounds selfish, doesn't it? Consider this: Buster has Addison's disease, an adrenal disorder that necessitates monthly vet visits for a hormone injection and blood work to monitor his electrolyte levels. This routine maintenance costs $200-$400 every month. When Buster was diagnosed, we discussed our options with his vet, who told us simply, "If he gets this shot that costs $80 every month, he will be fine." He neglected to mention the bloodwork he would perform at each visit, the urinalysis, the bladder ultrasound if he couldn't get the dog to pee-- all of this stuff is expensive. The best-case scenario each month costs $200, and we can count on an additional $200 if Buster is uncooperative or his levels are off.

It has been about a year and a half since Buster was diagnosed, and his care has cost us almost $7,000 since then. We chose to save him when he was in crisis, but we feel the vet did not paint us an accurate picture when he described the cost of the monthly care Buster's disease would require. He told us only about the injection, which would have cost under $100, and instead we are facing bills each month anywhere from twice to five times the amount we expected to be paying.

To put it simply, we cannot afford this dog anymore.

Having chosen to save him when his untreated disease represented an imminent threat to his life, we are now in the regrettable position of having to think about putting down a dog who, when he gets his shot, seems completely healthy. Since he was diagnosed and began receiving treatment, he is happier and livelier than he's ever been. I love this dog dearly, and it hurts me unspeakably to say this, but I think if we had had an accurate idea of how much it was going to cost just in regular maintenance (not counting the big crisis episodes, whose combined total is around $3,000), we would have chosen to have him put down back when he was so gravely ill.

Buster's care has wiped out any savings we've managed to accrue. His first crisis, the one that resulted in his Addison's diagnosis, cost us all of the money we were given as wedding gifts. It wouldn't be unfair to say that his health problems are the reason we couldn't afford to go on a honeymoon, and a significant reason why we haven't bought a house yet. We love him, but where do we draw the line?

It is indescribably painful to have to put a monetary value on the life of a dog who is a member of our family. We feel betrayed by a vet who seems to be more a salesman than an honest provider of veterinary care, and we just don't know what to do.

How much is too much to pay for a pet you love?

3 Comments:

Anonymous Jonathan said...

We had a family dog when I was young that had Cushings disease - a form of cancer.

My parents pumped all manner of horrid drugs into him because they couldn't face losing him, and he ended up bloated with patches of hair falling out.

Following that "formative" experience, I would have no qualms in getting an animal put down as soon as anything serious affected their quality of life.

We have the same situation at home at the moment - my other half wants to buy chickens, but I know she will not let me kill them when they stop laying eggs...

6:13 AM  
Anonymous Liz said...

OMG... I have been contemplating this very issue. My dog Bill is old (14) but reasonably healthy, and he is a wonderful, loving companion and I adore him. But the medications that keep him healthy and pain-free are keeping me in debt. I have been agonizing over "what do I do?" and at what point do I stop being a bad person if I euthanize him because I can't afford him? I haven't figured it out yet. Is Buster still with you? Thanks for a great blog. lizagna@yahoo.com or lizagna.blogspot.com
Liz

12:37 PM  
Anonymous Liz said...

OMG... I have been contemplating this very issue. My dog Bill is old (14) but reasonably healthy, and he is a wonderful, loving companion and I adore him. But the medications that keep him healthy and pain-free are keeping me in debt. I have been agonizing over "what do I do?" and at what point do I stop being a bad person if I euthanize him because I can't afford him? I haven't figured it out yet. Is Buster still with you? Thanks for a great blog. lizagna@yahoo.com or lizagna.blogspot.com
Liz

12:38 PM  

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