Saturday, August 28, 2010

How Much is Too Much

Because of Romeo's bladder issues, we've spent a nice chunk of money at the vet's office this week.  (Incidentally, he is all better now.  Three more days of the antibiotics, and we can put this behind us.)

Which made me start thinking about vet costs.  I would of course rather NOT have to spend lots of money at the vet's office, but that first day that we brought home pets, I knew that we were going to sometimes have to do it, and that it was for the health of our animals, and that it was just going to be part of life.  It's part of the price-tag for having our furry companions and it's one that I'm willing to pay.

However, I've had several discussions with others, and we've all seen articles discussing the cost of vet care, enough to know that not everyone views these expenses in the same way.  I don't believe that most people think it's excessive to take your cat or dog or rabbit or whatever to the vet for vaccinations, and for the occasional sick visit (like Romeo's bladder infection, for example.)  It sounds to me like the disagreements come in when the expenses go higher - you have an animal that has cancer, a heart condition, diabetes, etc.

I'm in a position to know.  I have mentioned several times on this blog that I have a cat with congestive heart failure.  We manage it with daily medicine, though in theory it has drastically shortened her life.  To GET to this point, we had to spend thousands of dollars at the vet.  Oh, it didn't all get presented to us at once, or I may have passed out cold on the floor, but it is expensive to diagnose something like this.  (Ironically enough, treatment is far less expensive than diagnosis was, though I am NOT complaining!)

First, there was a trip to the emergency vet in the middle of the night, with a cat who was undoubtedly dying - she was gasping for air and not able to get enough oxygen.  If we'd not taken her in that night, she would have died before morning, I'm sure of it.  Then there was a three night hospital stay for her, in which she was on oxygen, and getting numerous tests done.  There were x-rays.  There were echo cardiograms.  There was a lung wash procedure.  (At this time, they were leaning towards heart trouble, but hadn't completely ruled out pneumonia either, because she had that as a secondary issue.)  After she finally got to come home, there were prescription drugs, and follow-up visits, and a trip to an animal cardiologist up in Akron, Ohio.

I have had several people imply, or outright tell me, that I was foolish to spend that much money on a cat.  Especially one who was "just a shelter cat."  (As if it would be any different to spend the money on a purebreed?)  I've seen news articles that question how much is too much, and when it is responsible to make the decision for "economic euthanasia."  I've seen the comments made by readers to these articles (someday I'm going to learn not to read the comments.  It never takes me to a happy place.)  Many, many people feel that it is irresponsible to spend large sums of money on an animal.

And this is where I am going to have to disagree, with one caveat.  If you've ever had to make a decision for economic euthanasia, I DO NOT JUDGE YOU.  I refuse to second-guess someone's decisions, because I was there.  That first night that Charlotte was hospitalized, I came VERY close to making that decision.  I think it all comes down to your financial situation at the time.  At the time, my husband and I decided that we could afford it; yes it was painful, but it was not going to put us in the poorhouse or force us to seek out government assistance to survive.  We were lucky and it is not my place to judge anyone who is in a different situation.

 BUT.  Back to my disagreement.  I think that the argument that irritates me the most is the stupid statement that you shouldn't spend large amounts of money on an animal, that it is irresponsible, and that the money would be better spent on charity.  There's so many things wrong with that attitude.  Let me count the ways.

1.  It is my money.  I'm the one that busts my butt at work to earn that money.  I'm the only one that gets to determine how to spend it.  I choose to spend it on my animals, not shoving it down some stripper's drawers or buying the latest gosh-wows.  Does this make me a bad person?  I think not.

2.  That animal is my responsibility.  It is not irresponsible to get them vet treatment, in fact, it is the very opposite.

3.  That money isn't going to charity anyway; if I'm not spending it at the vet's office, I'm spending it on something else to benefit me or my household.   Yes, I make donations to charity, but the amount of my donations and the frequency at which I make them is no one's business but my own.

4.  I'll bet that the person suggesting that I would be better donating the money to charity spends money on non-charitable causes too.  It's easy for them to fall back on the "you should donate your money to charity" argument because it sounds good.  It sounds much better than "I am a judgmental prick who thinks that I have some kind of say in how you spend your money, and am going to try to make you feel guilty for spending it in a way that I disapprove of."  I only have two words to say to someone like that, and it's far from appropriate on a mostly (sometimes?) family-friendly blog, so I will just leave it to your imagination.

The decision that I am comfortable with is that whenever possible, I will preserve life.  We are probably going to come to the point for many of our animals, that we will be forced to choose to put them to sleep.  I would like to think that it is because the animal is incurably ill, or  that we have no reasonable expectation that they will have a good quality of life, even after treatment.   I do not ever want to be put into a position that I have to make that choice for economic reasons.  God willing, I will never have to.


  1. Your furry friends are very lucky to have such caring humans! We have been in the same position before (different ailments), and have also done all we could for them.
    Stopped by from the Blog Hop,

  2. A long time ago, when my husband and I were new Greyhound owners, I saw an interesting discussion on Greytalk about having the discussion with your spouse or significant other about what you'd do if your dog had a catastrophic illness while the dog is healthy, before your emotions are fully engaged in a decision that you have to make. It stuck with me, even though I couldn't bring myself to have the discussion with my husband for a couple of years after that. When we did have the conversation, I realized that it's complicated. There are so many factors that play into the decision. If I had a relatively young dog and the treatment had a pretty good chance of working, I'd figure out where to get the money from. But honestly, when I look at Lilac sleeping on the floor right now at almost fifteen, I realize that dogs just can't live forever, no matter how much I want them to. If I were told she had cancer right now, I'd make her as comfortable as I could for as long as possible, but then let her go. One of our former hounds was so absolutely terrified of being at the vet's office (he was just an odd, nervous kind of guy) that I prayed I'd never have to leave him overnight at the vet. He'd have stressed himself to death over it. I don't know that I could have put him through that, even if I had unlimited financial resources. Fortunately, we never had to find out. I had the sad experience of losing my heart dog, Treat, to a spinal tumor, and we spent a heck of a lot of money, but I realized that I couldn't spend more money on a very uncertain procedure that had a very slim chance of helping her.

    I guess I've gone on and on here, but you raise a very good question. If money weren't an option, I'd always try to make them better, but I've also realized that sometimes money and intentions aren't enough, and that it's better to just let go, even though it's really painful. I think the important thing is to think about it ahead of time and to truly know what your limits are.

  3. Ugh- It's a tough call, and a tough topic. Props to you for handling it with such eloquence. I think you're right on for not judging people for their monetary cap. I think the biggest variable in this isn't people's devotion to their pets, but their idea of a big number. It's exactly like you said- is this number going to make a significant(life changing?) financial impact on my family? Ugh. It's not a fun topic- but I think you have a really great position. :)

  4. Hi,

    We found your blog through the blog hop.

    I really enjoyed this post. We ran into something similar in early June - since it's such a long, involved story, the shortest I can describe it is: Layla swallowed a toy, the emergency vet wanted to do exploratory surgery to see if there was a blockage, I couldn't afford anything close to what they asked for, so they had me literally terrified that my lack of money would cause her to die from something as simple as swallowing a $3 cat toy. It was the worst feeling in the world. I have money to take care of the dogs and their basic vet care, but it showed me that in the case of a true emergency, I do not. If something else happened, and no family members or friends had any money to lend us, where would we be?

    It ended up working out and she didn't need the surgery, AND I found a local vet who has a small surgical center in their hospital who will work out payment arrangements. But they were the worst few days I've been through.

    I agree with everything you've said though, particularly with how ridiculous the people are who think it's their business what you spend your money on and how much.

  5. It really is a difficult topic, isn't it? Houndstooth brought up an issue that I didn't - and that is the age and disposition of the animal. I do think that I would have made a different choice with Charlotte if she had been 15 instead of the 3 that she was when all of this started.

    Or if she acted like she was afraid to stay at the vet's overnight. (She wasn't. In fact, I think she liked them better than she likes me, heh.)

    I think that every situation is going to be slightly different. As terrible as the topic is, unless something goes terribly wrong in our OWN lifespans, the truth of the matter is we're going to be forced to deal with end-of-life issues for all of our animals.

    Urgh. I think I just depressed myself. Time to go and think happy thoughts.

    Thanks for dropping by, everyone, even if my post was a bit gloomy this morning!

  6. Hi! I'm Cokie and I found your blog through the Saturday Pet Blog Hop.

    This was a really good post. I wouldn't judge anyone either way. People are different.

    Even I have found myself thinking for a second, "They spent THAT much money on their pet!??" But then, as you said, it could easily have been a new car or a trip to Europe, and what's going to give them more joy? Those things or more years with their much loved pet (or the peace of mind of knowing the did EVERYTHING they could have done)?

    It's an individual choice and it's one's own business. And it's a hell of a thing to have to go through.

    As with human medicine, I hope some day soon the insane costs of medical treatment will come down to manageable levels and these decisions will be moot.

    Have a wonderful weekend!


  7. (Fiona's Mom here.) Hi! We came via the BlogHop and are sorry we haven't been by before. Wow. You hit on a topic that is near and dear to me. My husband and I don't have kids (of the human variety), and are in the lucky position to be able to provide good health care for our pets. Two years ago, our standard poodle was diagnosed with bladder cancer, and some moron (we were in an extended stay in our motorhome at the time) asked why we didn't put the dog down immediately. My husband about smacked the guy. Uh. Lessee - the dog wasn't in pain, had a great quality of life, and with some experimental procedures, there was the possibility that he could be cured and live for another 5-6 years (which would have been his normal age range). We spent a fair amount of money, drove 500 miles (round trip), made medical history (one of the first dogs in the US to have a stent put in from his kidney to his bladder) and he had a good quality of life for another 6 months. Unfortunately, the cancer got the better of him, and when we couldn't keep him comfortable, we put him down. It sucked to have to put him down, but I couldn't put a price on the pleasure that I had (and I believe Ben, the dog did, as well) in the extra time that we had with him. In short, I agree with you - I think that when you take on the responsibility of a pet, you take on the responsibility to do everything possible to keep them healthy and enjoying life. And everyone had their own definition of 'everything possible' - and certainly money plays a big part in defining what is possible. But yeah, it is an individual choice, and if I choose to spend money to try to keep my kid (as all my pets are) as healthy as possible, it is most definitely no one's business by mine. As for people who think that they have a say in how I spend my money? Unless they earned it for me, they don't have a say.

    Okay. I'm done ranting now! ;-) And I'll be back.

    -Dr. Liz (mother of Fiona and Abby the godlendoodles - who usually leave their own comments!)

  8. Gah! I left a big long comment (the gist of which is, I totally agree with you - it is no one's business other than my own how I spend my money, and yes, my pets' health is a VERY high priority) and google just barfed at me. Anyway, I came here via the BlogHop, and will be back - I'm sorry I didn't find you sooner! Usually my dogs (Fiona and Abby) leave their own comments, but this is an issue near and dear to me. I joke that I've put my vet's kids through college (and while that may or may not actually be true), and I wouldn't have it any other way.

    -Dr. Liz (Fiona and Abby's Mom)

  9. Hi. We found you on the blog hop.
    Good Post and a difficult question. I haven't had to deal with this topic yet as Kassa is my first dog. I have thought about it though and it is a heart wrenching topic with a lot of variables. I think you are absolutely correct. It is your money and it is not for others to judge how you choose to spend it. I hope that it is a while before I have to make the decision as to when the proper time will be to let go. I feel for you.
    Take care

  10. Great post. It's a tough subject, and I think you covered it eloquently. I agree with everything you said - it's frustrating when people don't understand and think that the call they would make is somehow better than yours. I had a co-worker going through a serious health crisis with her dog, and another co-worker kept making comments about responsible use of money and the like. It was none of her business, and it's the pet owner's decision to make after weighing their own situation, their pet's prognosis, and the like. Thanks again for such an insightful post.

  11. We agree with everything you said. How much you choose to spend on your animal is no ones business but your own. You could spend it on worse things, but for the care of a loved one. Is there really any arguement? We would always do whatever it took, no matter the cost, for the care of our animals until there is nothing left we can do and then we will decide. They mean everything to us. You should never be made to feel bad with what you do with your money and your family. I can think of more than a couple words for that fine piece of work who said otherwise.

  12. What a difficult thing to have to go through.

    Thanks for stopping into the goatherder`s blog! Glad to meet you!


  13. I really feel for you. What you choose to do is such a personal decision. We filled out the form for our Opie with the rescue foundation. They laid it on the line for us as to how much vet bills could cost. Additionally, I have a dear friend who has a diabetic poodle that may have some other issues as well. This is her only child. Our pets become part of our families. How we deal with them is our family business. When I look into Opie's big brown eyes I know that I dont' really have a monetary limit. We spent upwards of 500+ on him the first month due to some dietary issues. Hindsight I was a nervous Nelly about his issues, but I wouldn't change a thing. He's healthy and I'm grateful. If he became ill, I know I would go as far as I could to save him. Ultimately, though, you are absolutely right. It is a deeply personal decision that is no body's business but the family's!

    Love visiting your blog. Come see me at my blog.

  14. Hi,
    I am your new friend Animal Lover. Thank you for becoming a follower! I have become a follower of yours as well. I love dogs and cats and every animal I have ever met. Almost all the animals that I have had all of my life have been rescue animals. I will feed anything that comes to my house for food and or water. I keep 7 containers of fresh water out everyday of the year! It would probably surprise most but almost every one of those waters is used by wild life.
    I have had to face putting one down many times and even when there is no better answer, it is still one of the hardest things you will ever have to do for an animal!!! It almost kills me too!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Happy to meet you. Do come back to my blog and say Hello!!! Lets meet!!
    XXO, Bambi (dog) Fern, her Mom--- me

  15. Lets see if my comment will go through today!! Glad I got to you last night in Tom's email. For me blogger has been very finicky for the last 3 days!! It let me blog today and it wouldn't yesterday!!
    What did you think of the picture I sent you last night?? That was Joker a rescue dog that came to me when he was 5 and a half years old. We spent 7 years together before I had to let him go.
    XXOO, Bambi & Fern

  16. Joker was such a beautiful dog! He looks very much like my Argos. :)