“Americans spent $11 billion to keep their beloved animals healthy last year,” according to the headline of a recent Oakland Tribune story, “but how much is too much?”
Good question. I’ve asked it myself.
I first asked it when I took Ozzy to the vet (yes, my son named him after the Godfather of Metal, and no, we don’t know what he is besides a good chunk of Golden Retriever plus “x” factor, our best guess being Corgi or dachshund).
He was about a year old, and on his beloved afternoon walk one day, he suddenly became lethargic, stopped on the sidewalk, and refused to take another step. I gave him a gentle tug on the leash, but he wouldn’t move.
The next moment he puked up some greenish fluid, and still, he wouldn’t budge.
Of course I was worried. I was anxious. The natural order of things had been upset. Ozzy bounces, he trots, he doesn’t hang his head and tremble. A minute after puking, he still wouldn’t move. So I picked him up, carried him home in my arms, put him in his crate and took him straightaway to the vet.
The vet x-rayed him and found a large blockage in his stomach – on the x-ray, it looked like his stomach had been filled up with a long balloon – “dachshund” flashed through my mind – he was uncomfortable, bloated, and was not able to relieve himself.
The vet told me she wasn’t sure what was causing the blockage, but that surgery wasn’t out of the question. That immediately takes you into four figure range for a rescue puppy we paid $400 cash for at a Petco adoption event.
As the vet took Ozzy into another room for further examination, I sat in the waiting room and mindlessly flipped through dog lover magazines.
Five minutes later the vet emerged with a smile on her face. It was a simple case of indigestion. No tumor had been blocking anything, no congenital GI disorder was coming to light. No, she just laid him on his side and pushed hard on his belly until diarrhea exploded out of him.
I was relieved. Grossed out, but relieved.
She said I had missed quite the mess. I said I hadn’t missed it at all.
The diagnosis: he picked up some funky bug at the dog park, and with his nose wedged in the mud or some other dog’s ass half the time, I can’t say I was shocked. She prescribed 10 bucks worth of antibiotics just to make sure to kill whatever it was that was ailing him.
And the fee for pushing on his belly and making his poop explode? Five hundred bucks; one hundred more than he cost.
Seemed steep to me, but I knew in my heart, even if had she said $3000 for some sort of surgery, I would’ve got on the phone with my wife, and in about 30 seconds, we both would’ve agreed it was worth it.
Back to the story in the paper: $3000 is play money. An appeals court in Northern California recently ruled that a man could sue his neighbors to recover the $36,000 he spent on vet bills after his neighbor’s kid shot his cat with a pellet gun. The cat’s tail and back legs were paralyzed, but after surgery and rehabilitation, the cat regained limited mobility.
Elsewhere in the story a man brought his ten year old son to a free adoption event in Concord, California. They left with a Chihuahua mix and a pretty good idea of a ceiling for any one time vet expenses: “I’d say not more than $250.”
We’ll see. We’ll see what dad’s ceiling is when that mutt needs more than a push on the tummy.
Striking the opposite note, a married couple took home a terrier mix and had this to say about potential expenses: “It’s a family member. It’s not a pet. It’s a companion.”
And, ultimately, of course, it’s no one’s business what you spend on your pet.
Is it any more or less of a folly to spend $36,000 on a racing bicycle or specialty bottle of wine or piece of jewelry or vintage furniture?
A piece of furniture doesn’t growl at a stranger who it thinks might be a threat to you, a necklace doesn’t like to be in the same room with you, just ‘cause you happen to be in it. You can’t teach a bike to high five you, and it won’t jump up on your knees to celebrate your return from work every day as if it hadn’t seen you in decades.
Ozzy’s only three now, but the writing’s on the wall. Guess I better open up another savings account: IRA, kids college… vet bills. ‘cause I know when that little guy gets old or sick, my wallet’s coming out.
And I haven’t even begun to think about what we’ll need to set aside for this little girl: