How Far Would You Go to Save a Sick Pet?

me with boots Me, aged about 10, with my childhood cat Boots

When my husband and I prepared to adopt a dog he asked me one question that really startled and upset me. “We need to decide how much we’re going to spend on this dog when it’s sick,” he said. He meant we had to decide the maximum amount of money we were willing to spend on it for medical treatment; if it ever had a health problem the costs of which exceeded that number, we’d automatically agree to put it down.

I was shocked. How could he suggest such a callous thing so casually? I’ve always been softhearted for animals, and the idea of putting a dollar value on their lives just seemed impossible. As it turns out, I’m not the only one who feels that way.

The Detroit Free Press reports of an event held by Michigan State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital honoring what they call their “miracle pets.” Now in its seventh year, the ceremony is held to bring together the families who held out hope for their sick pets, and who found it through programs at MSU’s Veterinary Hospital.

We’re not talking little issues either, like Chihiro’s ear infection last summer. These animals faced cancer, serious intestinal problems, and in one case, being impaled through the chest by a branch. In all these instances the staff at the hospital was able to save the animals; for the poor injured canine owners of a family of Irish wolfhounds donated their dogs’ blood for transfusions.

Of course this is all wonderful but I can’t help thinking that it must have cost a fortune, and probably didn’t buy many of these animals much time. Dogs especially have such short life spans and often don’t contract cancer until they’re already 6 or 7 years old.

The MSU Veterinary Hospital employs social workers who help owners plan out the expensive care for their pets. Thinking about that, I come back to the note on which I opened the article: how much would I pay to save my pets?

For those who brought their pets to MSU, the answer is sometimes in the thousands. I can’t feel any scorn for these people, however, because it’s not hard at all for me to imagine making the same decisions.

Yet something holds me back. Part of that is consideration of my husband; they’re his pets and it’s his money too, and he gets an equal say in what we do for them and with it. There’s more to it than that, though.

When I was in high school my childhood cat, who was only 7 years old, had congestive heart failure. We rushed him to the vet, though we knew this was it. He responded well overnight to his treatment, and the vet said that with medication they could keep him alive.

But not for long. One day soon he would have a similar attack and that would be it. As a family we made the tough decision to put him down. What’s the point in expensive treatment that would only prolong his life for a short time, especially when he’d be suffering for much of it?

I don’t know what I’ll do if I face such trauma with my current pets. I can’t outright say that I’d do absolutely anything to save them, but I can’t name a certain amount of money at which I’d stop, point blank. I just hope that when the time comes I’ll be able to make a decision that feels right, no matter how painful. And in the meantime I’ll focus on my pets being alive.

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