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View Full Version : Pets, Vets, and Debts


Noon Cat Nick
April 26th 08, 06:07 AM
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2008/04/25/ST2008042501556.html

In the bad-luck lottery for pet care, Jennifer Freeman hit the jackpot.
Over seven bank-account-draining months two years ago, the D.C.
resident's four cats came down with several ailments: urethra blockages,
gum disease, constipation (hey, it happens). Before she knew it,
Freeman, 31, had forked over more than $11,000 for surgeries and
veterinary fees, was buying bottled water and prescription pet food for
her feline charges and was wondering just how much more she could take.

"On my end, the cash register was just spinning," Freeman says. "Half of
my take-home pay was going to pay vet bills." Upon receiving yet another
$1,000 bill for a series of tests and procedures, a sobbing Freeman told
her veterinarian that the next time one of her cats got sick, he should
put it to sleep, because she couldn't afford it.

"The vet seemed a little stunned," says Freeman, whose cats are alive
and mostly well. "I think he didn't think that money was a big
consideration for me."

Money, it turns out, is becoming a bigger consideration for almost
everyone when it comes to pets. Americans spend an enormous sum on
health care for their dogs, cats, birds, fish, ferrets, gerbils,
lizards, potbelly pigs and other assorted pets: more than $24.5 billion
in 2006 alone, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
(If you're into comparing vast amounts of money, that's greater than the
gross domestic product of more than half of the world's countries.)
Though care for all pets is included in the figure, the nation's 81.7
million cats and 72 million dogs account for the majority of vet fees.

A generation or two ago, visits to the vet were limited to getting
rabies shots and treating the occasional broken leg or bite wound. These
days pet owners are offered an alphabet of treatments, from acupuncture,
aromatherapy, behavior counseling and chemotherapy to prescription
drugs, root canals, surgery and X-rays. Spot, heal thyself, is not an
option.

And with veterinarians providing ever more medical solutions for all
creatures great and small, owners find themselves having to choose
between paying hefty bills and performing the moral and emotional
calculus that leads them to decide to put down their pet. Many are
finding it increasingly hard to make that choice.

"The human-animal bond has grown so much that people are often willing
to spend the money instead of making the very difficult decision to
euthanize the animal," says David Kirkpatrick, spokesman for the
veterinary association.

Yet although pet owners welcome medical advances that may add months or
even years to their animal's life, the associated costs often leave them
feeling as if they are being asked to play God.

"There are so many options for people that it can create angst and
guilt," says Anne Sweeney, 44, a pet owner who lives in Mount Airy with
her husband and three children. "If there's a treatment out there, you
feel like you have to do it."

Sweeney speaks from experience. Ally, the family's greyhound, died in
2006 after treatment for a bout with bone cancer that included drugs for
pain control, a course of radiation and the eventual amputation of one
of her legs. Ally lived for 2 1/2 years from the disease's diagnosis,
and Sweeney doesn't regret the steps the family took to keep her alive
and control her pain or the approximately $5,000 they incurred in
health-care fees. But now a cancerous tumor has been removed from Coach,
another of the family's dogs, and Sweeney isn't sure she would take the
same treatment path this time if it becomes the only option. The
financial implications of doing so certainly would factor into the decision.

"I'm a dog freak. I cry every time I see a commercial showing dogs in
the pound," she says. "But I also know my limits. I do think you can go
overboard."

The quandary for owners has grown as families have begun to see animals
as integral members, says Lorri Greene, a San Diego-based psychologist
and the co-author of "Saying Good-Bye to the Pet You Love" (New
Harbinger Publications, 2002). And choosing to euthanize a pet can be
especially traumatic for owners. "If they are thinking of it [the pet]
as a child, it becomes a very difficult decision," she says.

In recent months, as the economy has teetered and money has tightened,
Greene says she has seen "more and more owners who are feeling guilt"
about what they can or can't afford for their pets and "a lot more
people who are reluctant to throw extra money around."

Liz and Nick Chandler of Leesburg fell hard for Sadie, the shepherd-Lab
mix they rescued seven years ago. But Sadie was also "a money pit from
the very beginning," says Liz Chandler, 64. The dog suffered from
separation anxiety and had to be taken to a pet day care that started at
$300 a month and eventually climbed to $500. There was also obedience
training and treatment for heartworms and Lyme disease.

"The bills came in a flash every time she had a little crisis," Chandler
says.

In December, Sadie became sick. She was diagnosed with cardiac cancer,
and the illness progressed quickly. So did the bills. Overnight hospital
stays, ultrasound and blood tests: $2,400; fluid drained from chest and
overnight monitoring: $1,100; platelet count check, antibiotics, herbs
to jump-start her immune system: $800; ultrasound and fluid analysis: $735.

Cha-ching. Cha-ching. Cha-ching. Cha-ching.

As satisfied as the Chandlers were that Sadie was receiving excellent
care, it didn't lessen the financial impact. "It cost a fortune. But we
were worried about her and didn't want to think about the money,"
Chandler says. "This was our child to us." Six weeks of expensive
treatment, and Sadie's outlook had only worsened. The couple ultimately
decided to euthanize their beloved pet.

The next time the Chandlers adopt a rescue dog (and, yes, they say they
want another one), they will take a closer look at potential medical
problems and will investigate whether pet insurance is worthwhile.

Veterinarians say that they are offering more options (including
treatments previously available only to humans) because pet owners are
demanding better care and want more, even if it adds to the cost.

"Consumers are able to seek out the level of care they are comfortable
with," says Peter Glassman, a veterinarian and director of the
Friendship Hospital for Animals in Tenleytown. "If a pet owner really
wants human-level care...then it follows that they are going to have to
pay for it."

Glassman says that vets have a responsibility to explain choices and
treatment options to pet owners but that it's not always possible for
them to predict the result of treatments or how much additional care
will be required.

"It's not like taking a car in and changing the muffler," he says. But,
he adds, pet owners who can spend more on their pets are likely to get
better results. "For those who can take advantage of it, the value is
there," Glassman says.

Not all of the nation's 83,730 veterinarians, however, think that
spending more and more is the answer. Nor are they all pleased with the
direction their field is heading in or comfortable with the explosion in
pet health-care costs. Perhaps none is more outspoken than James. L
Busby, the author of "How to Afford Veterinary Care Without Mortgaging
the Kids" (Busby International, 2005) and a Minnesota veterinarian.

"The trouble is that many veterinarians don't give you all of your
options, only the most expensive ones," he says. "And they shame you if
you don't want to pay for them. They say, 'Don't you want what's best
for your dog?' "

Busby insists that vets are over-vaccinating, overtreating and
overcharging for their services. He rails against what he says are
unnecessary vaccines for Lyme disease and takes vets to task for
advocating the maximum care in all instances. He is not exactly Mr.
Popularity among his colleagues.

"I'm a lone dog," he says. "I've had three or four vets say good things
about me, and the rest of them throw rocks. If I wasn't 68 years old and
didn't give a damn, I'd be in a tough spot."

Busby recognizes that most owners don't have enough information about
their pets to know when to accept a vet's recommendation and when to
challenge it. His book and Web site ( http://www.oldcountryvet.com), he
says, give owners "the knowledge to say no to their veterinarians.
People have got to say no."

Ultimately, individuals have to sort through the ethical, emotional and
economic dimensions of owning pets to determine how much to spend on
them -- and when the cost is simply too great.

"The embarrassing answer is that if I had to do it again, I would
probably continue to pay," Jennifer Freeman says about treatment for her
four cats. "I accepted responsibility for these cats, and some of those
responsibilities aren't pleasant. Now, do I have any plans of getting
more cats? Absolutely not."

barb
April 26th 08, 03:42 PM
That's a very disappointing but genuine dose of reality. It's a shame
because many more people probably would adopt many more animals but have to
consider the cost of both well and sick pet care. Vets are, after all,
doctors with much the same training as humans' doctors. Their education is
expensive as is their overhead if they have a practice other than in their
basement.

Barb

T
April 26th 08, 08:47 PM
In article <[email protected]_s22>,
says...
> In the bad-luck lottery for pet care, Jennifer Freeman hit the jackpot.
> Over seven bank-account-draining months two years ago, the D.C.
> resident's four cats came down with several ailments: urethra blockages,
> gum disease, constipation (hey, it happens). Before she knew it,
> Freeman, 31, had forked over more than $11,000 for surgeries and
> veterinary fees, was buying bottled water and prescription pet food for
> her feline charges and was wondering just how much more she could take.
>
>
>

I went through about $4,000 over a year ago and the ultimate end effect
was having to euthanize three cats.

After watching two of them suffer before the euthanization I decided
when my eldest cat started getting sick to euthanize rather than treat.
Randy was 18 years old and had a large mass in his belly.

For things like blockages, gums, etc. I'll fork it over. But if the
treatment only prolongs suffering, it's euthanasia time.

FirstHit
April 26th 08, 10:20 PM
On Apr 25, 10:07 pm, Noon Cat Nick >
wrote:
> http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2008/04/25/ST20080...
>

> Busby recognizes that most owners don't have enough information about
> their pets to know when to accept a vet's recommendation and when to
> challenge it. His book and Web site (http://www.oldcountryvet.com), he
> says, give owners "the knowledge to say no to their veterinarians.
> People have got to say no."

I went to the website above to learn about the book. At the site
there is a link that shows the back cover of the book. It is:
http://www.oldcountryvet.com/files/backcover.pdf

I noticed that he suggests you use over-the-counter wormers. What do
you guys think of that? I have heard that can be dangerous.

FirstHit

cybercat
April 27th 08, 06:07 PM
"Roby" > wrote
> I no longer believe there is much chance of "curing" cancer in cats.
> Recently, a board-certified cat specialist discovered her 12 year old
> cat had cancer. Her practice has treated feline cancer for years.
> She hoped to save her own, ended up euthanizing a couple of months
> later. Cancer is terrible.
>

Just curious, Roby, but what part of the country are you in?

cybercat
April 27th 08, 10:51 PM
"Roby" > wrote in message
...
> cybercat wrote:
>
>>
>> "Roby" > wrote
>>> I no longer believe there is much chance of "curing" cancer in cats.
>>> Recently, a board-certified cat specialist discovered her 12 year old
>>> cat had cancer. Her practice has treated feline cancer for years.
>>> She hoped to save her own, ended up euthanizing a couple of months
>>> later. Cancer is terrible.
>>>
>>
>> Just curious, Roby, but what part of the country are you in?
>
> Cleveland, Ohio.
>
> By the way, I've used the services of all the specialists (vet
> oncologists, specialty clinics, etc) around here ... including
> the Small Animal Clinic at Ohio State. No joy.

I asked because my doctor (not vet, but doctor) thinks that we will find
eventually that many cancers come in part from pollutants in the air and
water, such as those found in large industrialized cities, like Baltimore,
where I am from. And Cleveland. And many other places.

You look at maps of cancer incidences in humans and see that the highest are
clusted in these areas, and I mean per capita, so that population density is
not an issue. He thinks these substances, plus perhaps viral triggers are to
blame. That we will find out that the most virulent cancers have combination
causes, if that makes sense.

I am really sorry about your cats. I know that had to be heartbreaking.

T
April 27th 08, 11:54 PM
In article >,
says...
>
> "Roby" > wrote in message
> ...
> > cybercat wrote:
> >
> >>
> >> "Roby" > wrote
> >>> I no longer believe there is much chance of "curing" cancer in cats.
> >>> Recently, a board-certified cat specialist discovered her 12 year old
> >>> cat had cancer. Her practice has treated feline cancer for years.
> >>> She hoped to save her own, ended up euthanizing a couple of months
> >>> later. Cancer is terrible.
> >>>
> >>
> >> Just curious, Roby, but what part of the country are you in?
> >
> > Cleveland, Ohio.
> >
> > By the way, I've used the services of all the specialists (vet
> > oncologists, specialty clinics, etc) around here ... including
> > the Small Animal Clinic at Ohio State. No joy.
>
> I asked because my doctor (not vet, but doctor) thinks that we will find
> eventually that many cancers come in part from pollutants in the air and
> water, such as those found in large industrialized cities, like Baltimore,
> where I am from. And Cleveland. And many other places.
>
> You look at maps of cancer incidences in humans and see that the highest are
> clusted in these areas, and I mean per capita, so that population density is
> not an issue. He thinks these substances, plus perhaps viral triggers are to
> blame. That we will find out that the most virulent cancers have combination
> causes, if that makes sense.
>
> I am really sorry about your cats. I know that had to be heartbreaking.
>
>
>

The cancer correlation with pollution is becoming more and more of an
issue. When you consider how many of us have traces of bisphenol-A in
our bloodstreams it's scary.

That said, they're unlocking and awful lot of the secrets of cancer. And
an old saying goes that in order to vanquish ones enemy you must know
the enemy.

We're seeing this on two fronts now.

Stan Brown
April 30th 08, 04:57 AM
Sun, 27 Apr 2008 21:40:48 -0400 from cindys <cstein1
@rochester.rr.com>:
> And the reality is that a lot of people simply cannot afford the
> veterinary care possibilities which are currently available. Twenty
> years ago, it was much cheaper to have cats and dogs because the
> medical treatment options were more limited, and you couldn't
> provide your cat/dog with treatment that didn't exist.

This is what scares me about the prospect of getting a kitty again.
(It's ten years since Dexter the Wonder Cat died, but until recently
I've been in rental housing.)

I'd love to have a furry friend or two, but I dread the prospect of
this kind of terrible choice because I have next to no discretionary
income.

--
Stan Brown, Oak Road Systems, Tompkins County, New York, USA
http://OakRoadSystems.com
Shikata ga nai...

MaryL
May 3rd 08, 10:27 PM
"Stan Brown" > wrote in message
t...
> Sun, 27 Apr 2008 21:40:48 -0400 from cindys <cstein1
> @rochester.rr.com>:
>> And the reality is that a lot of people simply cannot afford the
>> veterinary care possibilities which are currently available. Twenty
>> years ago, it was much cheaper to have cats and dogs because the
>> medical treatment options were more limited, and you couldn't
>> provide your cat/dog with treatment that didn't exist.
>
> This is what scares me about the prospect of getting a kitty again.
> (It's ten years since Dexter the Wonder Cat died, but until recently
> I've been in rental housing.)
>
> I'd love to have a furry friend or two, but I dread the prospect of
> this kind of terrible choice because I have next to no discretionary
> income.
>
> --
> Stan Brown, Oak Road Systems, Tompkins County, New York, USA
> http://OakRoadSystems.com
> Shikata ga nai...

Have you considered fostering? You would have furry companionship, and the
shelter or rescue group is responsible for bills. Of course, the "down"
side of this is that you also have to be prepared to give up your new
companion (probably to be replaced by others) if a permanent home is found.
Foster homes are greatly needed, so you would also be performing a great
service.

MaryL

Stan Brown
May 5th 08, 02:27 AM
Sat, 3 May 2008 16:27:19 -0500 from MaryL -
OUT-THE-LITTER>:
> "Stan Brown" > wrote in message
> t...
> > I'd love to have a furry friend or two, but I dread the prospect of
> > this kind of terrible choice because I have next to no discretionary
> > income.

> Have you considered fostering? You would have furry companionship, and the
> shelter or rescue group is responsible for bills. Of course, the "down"
> side of this is that you also have to be prepared to give up your new
> companion (probably to be replaced by others) if a permanent home is found.
> Foster homes are greatly needed, so you would also be performing a great
> service.

It's an interesting idea, and I know the local no-kill shelter is
bursting at the seams, but I don't know if I could let myself in for
giving up one cat after another like that. But I'll give it some
thought.

--
Stan Brown, Oak Road Systems, Tompkins County, New York, USA
http://OakRoadSystems.com
Shikata ga nai...