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Medical costs for pets should be weighed

| Sunday, Aug. 28, 2005

Dear Dog Talk: I read with interest and sadness the letter from the individual whose 14-year-old dog appears to be at the point where being euthanized would appear to be advisable.

You note that the writer sounds like a caring owner who loves his dog a great deal. I would not dispute that. Your advice to consider a course of euthanasia was sound and humane.

What comes out of the letter to strike and disturb me, however, is the writer's declaration that he is unable to afford further testing of the dog's condition.

If there is one message that should be sent to potential dog owners before acquiring an animal, it is that care for them can be expensive and that one must be prepared for that expense. If a person is not prepared or able to provide all needed care, they should not contemplate ownership of an animal.

In view of this owner's financial limitations, did this owner skimp on vaccinations, heartworm, tick, flea preventive medications and visits to the veterinarian for checkups once or even twice a year• If he were unable even to undertake the expense of the veterinarian to determine what his dog's ailment is, I would bet that he did.

Dogs return to us an unquantifiable amount of unconditional love, devotion and affection. In turn, they should receive only the finest care. We owe it to them. We should pull out every stop to ensure that we so honor them.

If I had to go into debt, get a second mortgage on my home or borrow money from family members to provide the finest care to any of my three dogs, I would do so. It is the least that I can do for my dear friends.

Dear Above and Beyond: With all due respect, I appreciate your opinion but only partially agree with it. I do agree that prospective pet owners should be aware of and capable of affording routine medical care for their dog before acquiring one. But I don't think that the privilege and joy of dog owning should be reserved only for the financially well off.

I believe that every dog should be spayed or neutered. Fortunately, most -- if not every -- state has animal welfare organizations that help cover the cost of spay and neuter if a dog owner cannot afford the price that veterinarians charge for these surgeries.

I also believe that dogs need vaccinations to protect them against diseases, such as rabies, parvovirus, distemper, etc. However, there are varying opinions as to how often these vaccinations are truly necessary (if necessary at all).

Nevertheless, in many places yearly boosters are (at least for some of these vaccinations) state law. Many animal welfare organizations offer clinics where vaccinations are less expensive than at the veterinarian's office. Heartworm medications and flea and tick preventative products can also be purchased for a lot less than veterinarians charge. (Some even deliver to your home.)

I also think that you and I have a different philosophical perspective on medical care. Personally, I would not go into debt, get a second mortgage on my home or borrow money from family members to pay for high-cost veterinary care.

I have a specific monetary figure that I refuse to go beyond for any health issue that might come up with one of my dogs. I won't share that figure with my readers because it is personal. I also don't believe in putting dogs (or myself) through extensive medical treatments, such as chemotherapy, in order to extend life for a short period of time. If I'm ever faced with a veterinary situation that requires going beyond that figure or putting my dog through hell, I will opt for euthanasia.

With all due respect to veterinarians, most of them these days seem like businessmen/women with the bottom line always on their minds. Students go to veterinary school expecting to someday make a lot of money. In school, they are taught business techniques to reach that end. While I'm sure that they sincerely believe that it is "good medicine" to run every test imaginable in order to diagnose an aliment, it is also very good business.

My springer spaniel, Crea, recently had a tumor removed from her chest. The surgery was four hundred and some odd dollars. On the itemized bill, which I insisted on seeing before I agreed to the surgery, there was a $164 charge for a biopsy. When I asked why a biopsy was necessary for a tumor that was being removed, the answer was, "So that in case she gets another one we will know what we are dealing with."

My response was, "Crea is 11 years old, and this is the last surgery I'm putting her through. It doesn't matter what the tumor is."

I also disagree with your premise that the writer did not provide routine medical care for his dog. I bet he did. Hey, his dog lived to be 14 years old.

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