Hey freedom fighters! This past week was a tough one, as we had a close call with our dog Molly. We were facing a potentially huge vet bill, and some very difficult decisions. Fortunately things worked out, but the experience got me thinking about the amount of money people spend on their pets. From doggy daycare to costly medical expenses, we’re spending billions caring for our furry companions. It seems everyone has a different opinion on the topic. While we did what we felt was best for Molly and for our family, I gained a better understanding for anyone who is faced with the decision of prolonging the life of their pet, often at a great expense. You can read more about our experience below, and I would love for you to join in the discussion in the comments!
This week, we experienced first hand the truly difficult decisions that arise when a family pet is suddenly ailing.
Molly, our beloved 9-year old Havanese Shih Tzu, began walking with a pronounced limp last Thursday evening. My wife and daughter recalled that she had missed her step hopping out of the van earlier in the day, and while they didn’t notice anything at the time, we figured she must have tweaked something when she jumped onto the curb.
While she was clearly favouring her leg, she didn’t seem too bothered by the pain. As such, we decided to keep an eye on it for a day or so, in case the limp subsided.
In fact, it became more pronounced.
On Saturday morning, we took Molly to the animal hospital. The vet looked closely at her back legs, and informed us that at first glance, she appeared to have a full tear of the cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) in her back left leg. In humans, this is referred to as the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL).
He went on to explain that she would require surgery, should we decide to repair the injury. My heart sank. I’ll admit, all I saw was dollar signs, at least a couple thousand of them. Regardless, we decided to have a consultation with the surgeon on Monday morning, to get a more thorough diagnosis.
Is it Monday yet?
The weekend wasn’t easy. Plans were shelved, and let’s just say I wasn’t writing any blog posts. We dreaded having to break the news to our kids. After all, we assumed that by opting out of surgery, we would have to put Molly down. Their seemingly perfectly healthy dog, may only be with us for a few days.
While we didn’t want to present the situation as hopeless, we needed to prepare them for the possibility. Needless to say, there were lots of tears all around.
Bad to worse
Monday morning we returned to consult with the surgeon. He informed us that the ligaments in BOTH of Molly’s back legs were torn. However, it wasn’t from a freak injury as we had assumed, but the result of CCL ‘disease’, a very common degenerative condition which had likely been progressing for some time.
In short, Molly would require surgery on both legs, at a cost approaching $3500! Ouch. Furthermore, the recovery time would be at least 8 weeks, with very limited activity.
I should have been a veterinarian
Upon our initial visit to the vet, we shelled out $200 for an x-ray and some pain meds.
Meeting with the surgeon for 10 minutes the following Monday set us back $130!!
As we left, I scoured the parking lot for this guys Lamborghini. I mean, he’s pulling down about $800 an hour, according to my math.
I suddenly realized that I should have paid more attention in Grade 10 Biology.
Over the next couple of days, we considered every possible scenario. We, gasp, even thought of paying for the surgery.
Prior to this experience, I would have scoffed at anyone for considering such a thing, but after this week, I have more understanding for people who spend large sums of money on their pets.
It’s easy for someone to say they would never do it, but when faced with the decision, things become less cut and dry.
We don’t always involve our kids in major decisions, but we felt it was important this time. We wanted to hear their perspectives, to make sure everyone was on board.
My wife and I told the kids that we didn’t feel surgery was an option, but we didn’t make money the issue.
Instead, we expressed our concern with the lengthy recovery, and the trauma of the surgery itself. Of course, there was no guarantee it would prolong Molly’s life for any extended period of time.
I should mention that the vet noticed the beginnings of arthritis in Molly’s legs, which will only progress over time.
We explained to the kids that if they decided it was best that we let Molly go, we would do that.
Feelings of relief
The other option we discussed was asking the vet about the possibility of taking a ‘conservative management’ approach, and see whether Molly could manage with the condition, and still live a comfortable life, with little to no pain.
Over the previous day or so, I had noticed Molly already making adjustments to the way she moved, which provided more stability for her legs. I realized that while the torn ligaments had limited her mobility, she wasn’t experiencing any pain. The energy was still there. She still clamoured to play in the backyard and continued to follow us around the house, albeit more gingerly.
After discussing for quite some time, this plan made sense to everyone. We agreed that if Molly’s overall condition were to worsen, or if she began to suffer in any way, it would be time to let her go.
My wife contacted the vet once more, to get his opinion. He felt that a ‘conservative management’ approach was a very reasonable solution, and assured us that the condition wasn’t causing much pain.
Thankfully, things turned out ok this week. We did what we felt was best for our dog, and for our family.
Once the decision was made to forego surgery and take a wait and see approach, my wife and I felt a sudden peace about the entire situation.
While it would be dishonest of me to say money wasn’t a factor, (if the surgery was $200, we would have proceeded), we did our best to remove it from the equation, and take into account the many other important considerations.
Molly is still with us, but from the initial uncertainty our children were confronted with some level of grief.
I feel as though this was an important experience for them.
While it’s deferred for now, they have a better understanding of how to work through the emotions, and they know that when the time comes, they’ll be ok.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on pet ownership, and how much you’d be willing to spend on your pets, either for regular care, or to deal with a serious injury or illness.
I know there’s going to be a wide range of opinions, from “are you kidding me?”, to those who wouldn’t think twice about shelling out thousands.
Did You Know?
In the US, over $60 billion dollars was spent on pet expenditures in 2015 alone.