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The high cost of loving an animal

Oboe at the vet

Oboe at the Vet's

I know there are people out there wondering why anyone would spend twelve hundred bucks to save the life of a bird that could be replaced for $75. It’s a reasonable question. Reasonable enough, in fact, that I asked it of myself several times last week.

If Oboe died, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t shell out $75 for another lovebird because, let’s face it, lovebirds are annoying. Oboe’s a brat. He bites my nose. He poops in my hair. He squawks in my ear. He wrecks my stuff. He taunts my cat.

Oboe the Lovebird and Simon the African Grey

But he gives me kisses. He nibbles the tears off my face when I cry. He runs up and down my body in the bathtub. He splashes and plays in my bathwater. He sits on top of my computer screen and puffs his little green chest out and squawks at me with pure enthusiasm.

I love how exuberant he is, how joyfully he lives his life. I love watching him practice his extraordinary flying skills. I even love watching him eat. If there is something in his bowl he doesn’t want, he doesn’t just nudge it aside like the bigger birds do – he ejects it with such vigor it ricochets around his cage.

I love how confident and smart and funny he is. I love how he comes to me for cuddles. I love tucking him in at night and uncovering him in the morning.

Simon and Oboe

I adore his stubborn, cheerfully obnoxious personality. Oboe has a wicked case of Oppositional Defiance Disorder. If I want him to do something, I either have to convince him it was his idea, or I have to very skillfully bribe him, or I have to convincingly pretend I don’t care one way or the other.

I remembered all these things last week as the vet bills kept mounting and I kept handing over my credit card.

That's Oboe in the middle

I remembered watching him hatch. I remembered hand-feeding him as a scrawny little naked baby bird. I remembered how lonely he was when his big brother and sister learned how to fly before he did, so I brought him downstairs and he helped me make a pizza. I remembered watching him learn to fly. And I remembered teaching him to come when I called him (but only if he felt like it, of course).

Most of all, I remembered the time he flew away and enjoyed an hour of freedom, flying around the neighbourhood, perching in trees, chattering with the wild birds. And then he flew down and landed in my hair and let me bring him home.

So, when he was injured and at the vet’s and his brave little heart was pounding in his little green chest, I had no choice but to be philosophical about the money. It’s only money, I told myself. And I meant it.

But I do wish it weren’t so much money. It cost way more than I was bracing myself for, and I’ll be digging into my RRSP to pay for it. Coincidentally, there was an article in the Citizen last week about an increasing number of people giving up their pets because they can’t afford the vet bills. I also came across this eye-opening story in the Washington Post: Pets, Vets and Debts, in which a renegade vet urges people to start saying no to their vets!

16 comments to The high cost of loving an animal

  • Making the decision to euthanize a pet is almost as difficult as pulling the plug on a loved human family member. And the vets we went to when our cat developed a very fast growing, invasive tumor, was good enough not to push us in any one direction but was not forthcoming about his chances of survival until I pushed and pushed hard. It was going to be a lot of money (which we didn’t have at the time) but we would have found a way to pay for it IF there was a chance the cat would have a good life. But at that point? The chances were slim. We made the hard choice.
    And I miss him every day. I’m glad to hear Oboe is healing and seems to be feeling better.

    • I’m sorry about your cat, donna lee. It’s not always easy to know where to draw the line…and it’s easy to nudge the line a little bit further and a little bit further and a little bit further. I’ve had to put a few animals down, and it’s an awful responsibility trying to decide when someone else’s life is no longer worth living. Especially when you have to factor in your own financial interests. Far better when the cards are on the table and the writing’s on the wall and it’s obvious what you need to do. Good for you for pushing your vet to give you the hard answers you needed to help inform your decision.

  • Manon

    Your post was well timed. I just brought my 3-year old miniature dachshund to the emergency veterinary hospital on Saturday morning. Diagnosis: a slipped disc in his back. That’s a after an MRI that cost $2100 (only $1500 if I had waited until Monday). Then, emergency surgery. Total bill: $7000. While we can afford it, I was still shocked by the cost and felt sorry for the people who can’t afford to pay this kind of price to have their pet taken care of. Injuries to the spinal cord require immediate attention, as the longer you wait, the more irreversible damage is done to the point where the animal will become paralysed. I knew we could not wait if we wanted him to recover fully, and as it is, the prognosis is excellent. But the cost is staggering…
    It is also ironic that my daughter has been waiting for an MRI for 6 months, but I was able to get one in a few hours for a dog. If you can afford it, our pets get a better quality of care than their owners do. I wonder if I could take my daughter to the vet? :)

    • Oh wow. You certainly put MY vet bills in perspective! (And you scared the bejeezus out of GC, who hopes he never has to make a decision like that.) So interesting about the MRI. I wonder if that machine just sits there idle when there are no animals scheduled for it, even though there are long waiting lists for humans needing scans. I understand some hockey teams own MRI machines too.

      It seems to me like gouging for the vet to charge $600 more to perform an MRI on the weekend. I can understand charging a little more, but $600 extra for an hour?

      I’m glad your lucky well-loved dog is going to be okay!

  • grace

    Our vet has mentioned that dialysis and kidney transplants are available for Lucky: our EIGHTEEN-year-old cat. While we are comfortable and actually paid for the amputation of another (younger and otherwise healthy) cat’s leg to remove a cancerous tumour we are simply not going to go the route of dialysis when needed. I have spent more time with this cat than any other living creature and love him with all my heart: he deserves to live out whatever time he has left in peace and comfort. Which explains why the cat bed by my desk contains toys and Lucky’s very own hot water bottle to curl up with.

    • Duncan’s vet has mentioned the possibility down the road of dialysis and kidney transplants too. But she’s a practical woman, and I didn’t get the impression she thought that was a realistic option, because it’s not. And Duncan’s 11! Lucky’s 18! Just keep loving him and making him as comfortable as you can. He’ll appreciate that WAY more than a kidney transplant.

  • While visiting my dad, we went shopping for yarn. When I handed over my credit card to the cashier, I commented to Dad on the cost of my hobby. “It’s cheaper than golf” was his response, comparing it to his own hobby. We all spend money on what we deem important, and if you are a pet owner, that is where some of it goes. If you are an art lover, that is where some of it goes. If you are a clothes horse, that is where some of it goes. Sometimes we have to set painful priorities, but it is still our money, to spend as we see fit.

    Glad Oboe is doing better – he is a champ!

    • The problem is when we’re yarn lovers, art lovers AND animal lovers!

      I agree with you though, to a point. I do believe we have a certain financial obligation to our pets. We owe them basic veterinary care. If we can’t, or aren’t willing to provide it, then I don’t think we should have pets. The question is, where do we draw the line? Routine veterinary care is a basic right. Beyond that, I think I agree that each person needs to draw their own line, depending on their circumstances and priorities.

  • Dave and I are facing this very dilemma right now with Mopar. He’s got an eye infection I’m trying to treat with a home remedy a) because he’s 17 and hates going to the vet, b) we don’t have the money for the test the vet will want to run to tell that – yes it’s an eye infection.
    Also – I know his kidneys have begun to fail – he’s showing all the signs – and the vet will want to run tests to confirm it – then comes the cost of treatment. He’s 17 and he’s had a good 17 years – I’d rather just keep him comfortable and let him pass gently – or if life becomes too painful – give him peace.
    But – i completely understand the desire to fork out the cash – our pets are our children – we want the very best for them. And I do think a lot of vets take advantage of that fact – they are a business after all.
    My vet is pretty good – she knows my funds are limited – and will usually give me options – ie teaching me how to test Tux’s blood sugar at home. I with there were more vets our there like her.

    • Yeah, the cost of testing is ridiculous, especially when it’s just to confirm what you already know. And when your cat is nearing the end of its natural life expectancy anyway, it makes more sense to take a palliative approach than to aggressively treat illnesses.

      I’m finding that Duncan’s kidney disease isn’t that expensive to treat, at least not yet. He’s on a more expensive diet, and I give him Vitamin B12 injections which don’t cost much. Other than that, I’m not really spending much….except, of course, more frequent checkups and more frequent blood and urine testing. So yeah, I guess it is adding up. Now that I think about it, it’s about $350 every three months for vet checks and testing alone.

      I think you’re on the right track with your plan to keep him comfortable and let him pass gently when the time comes. We humans have a tendency to fight death tooth and nail. Animals are much more accepting of it when the time comes.

  • I’m sorry to hear about all this stress you are under. It is so hard when your pet is sick, let alone thinking about how much each treatment is going to cost! I remember when our dog started to have a strange limp. I handed over the credit card for x-rays and an assortment of tests, only to reveal squat. But, you just have to make the best decision you can under the circumstances. The bills can be astronomical! For this reason, a whole new market has started to open up — pet insurance. You’ve probably seen the brochures at your vet’s. Like car insurance, you pay a monthly fee so that you’ll have coverage for a big expense that may or may not happen. Anyhow, so glad to hear that Oboe is feeling better!

  • Hi Julie. I’ve heard mixed things about pet insurance. I’ve heard of people purchasing it and then finding out that it doesn’t cover whatever happens to go wrong with their pet.

    As for Oboe, thanks – he’s coming along nicely. I think his breathing is improving, and he’s chirping more, so that’s a good sign. He definitely seems happier and more energetic.

    I really hope he will be able to fly again someday. He loves flying.

  • Whatever the price, it’s worth it. Pets bring such joy and love into our lives. Cheap at any cost.

  • …my parents kept putting a ‘cap’ on how much they would spend on keeping their pets healthy. They never actually stuck to it, but they would discuss it for a few minutes when one of their pet cats, or dog, got sick. I know they spent hundreds on their two cats, and a few thousand on their dog.

    At the moment they have one cat left, the other cat and the dog basically died from old age at 18-years old and 20-years old respectively. They’ve decided not to get more pets after Scully, the last cat, passes on, but I think they will, and I think they’ll set another cap on the Next One as well.

    I’m sure it’ll give them something to talk about while they’re at the vet.

    I’m not sure what I’ll do if / when Cooler, my cat, ends up with an illness with a high price tag. My mother has set up an account for me / Cooler at the vets, but I’m not sure I could ask her to pay for a treatment that cost thousands, or hundreds.

    I’ve had Cooler basically since she was born, I have a photo of her when she was just a few minutes old. Hopefully I’ll never have to go through what you and Oboe are going through, because I don’t know if I could justify the cost… pets are, essentially, a luxury.

    They’re not disposable by any standard, but when could I possibly justify putting $400 into a treatment for her, when there’s Victor to be taken care of as well?

    I think you’re doing the right thing with Oboe… but I’m not sure I could do it with Cooler. But I won’t know for sure until something goes wrong.

  • Caring for a toddler and/or teenager (they are the transition periods into and out of childhood, I believe, and thus very similar) is not to be measured with anything but, well, joy . . . and aggravation. But they sure do command our attention and humor. It’s almost as refreshing as traveling because their change is so rapid that you get to see a new picture each day.

    Oboe appears to BE one of these transitions.

  • I completely under stand why you would shell out the money.

    He’s not just a $75 object. He’s an entire personality, a family member, and a friend. There is no other HIM.