Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Pooches: On the Commitment of Dog Ownership and Medical Care

The past few weeks my students have been reading Of Mice & Men, and one of our most interesting discussions has been about Candy's dog. If you haven't read the book in awhile, one of the old ranch hands, Candy, has an old dog that he's owned since it was a pup. The other ranch hands see the dog as smelly and useless, and persuade Candy to get rid of the dog, by shooting it, and replacing it with a new puppy. Of course this is metaphorical for many other things in the story, but it has really had me thinking about the commitment many people have to their dogs. And whether there is a point where dogs do become "useless".

Coincidentally, it was around this time that we met a couple who had recently adopted a 2 1/2 year old Coonhound named Boone. I find their story captivating because from the moment they adopted their Boone, he was diagnosed with a variety of strange and expensive ailments. And while many people might not have felt an obligation to a newly adopted dog, they have continued to rally for him spending nearly $10,000 to give him a second chance. Here is Boone's unbelievable story:
Boone is a 2 1/2 year old black and tan coonhound that we adopted from the Animal Welfare League in Chicago Ridge July 3rd, 2010. It's been a long and expensive eight months but we wouldn't trade him for anything!

Poor Boone had a rough start before we adopted him and we've had some more obstacles along the way. He was about 10 pounds underweight (that has since been taken care of:). The day we adopted him we had him tested positive for heartworms. We had to keep him calm and basically sedentary for 6 weeks while the heartworms continued to break up and leave his system.
All seemed to be going well and Boone was adjusting to his loving new home great. Then one day in Sept. he started limping. We did the X-rays and there was nothing wrong with his hip but we did find a buckshot! The poor guy had been shot at some time. Maybe that's why he's terrified of thunder and other loud noises? 
Ok, we're back on track and everything seems good with him. Then comes Nov. Boone started having a cough. After a couple days of this cough we took him to the vet again. X-rays of his lungs revealed the beginning stages of pneumonia. We caught it very early and he was prescribed antibiotics and steroids. Ten days later at his check up all was good again.
 Then this past Jan (2011) the worst news came. One morning Boone was drooling (more than his normal ridiculous amount of drooling) and panting and a bit lethargic. That afternoon we took him back to the vet, again. They did some X-rays of his stomach and said they thought maybe his stomach was flipping and that we needed to get him to an ER vet right away that would be able to perform the surgery otherwise he would die within hours.They looked at his X-rays and said they didn't think his stomach was flipping but that it might have some kind of obstruction.
 Tuesday we got the call from the vet that Boone did indeed have a mast cell tumor growing off the top of his soft palate.He has this large tumor but the cancer still had not spread yet! Somehow by sheer luck of him being ill, the series of X-rays, and tests we found this tumor early enough!
Boone has now had 9 chemo treatments. He's scheduled to be finished with chemo the last Friday of April. He has responded so well to the chemo and has had no side effects. They actually increased his chemo dosage to the maximum because he's doing so great!
 The tumor is no longer visible upon oral examination by the vet! Also, Boone has bayed a few times this past week. He never had that hound howl/bark before and now he does. We're very hopeful! 
Since January we have spent close to $7,000 on all the vet visits, testing, chemo, etc.  Some have asked us about having insurance for Boone. Because of his heartworms he had a pre-existing condition. We were scheduled to have him retested on a Mon, and this whole situation of taking to him the vet and him ending up being diagnosed with cancer began the Fri before! Needless to say now insurance is definitely not an option. When the time for surgery comes we're looking at another $3,500- $4,000. We are just about tapped out but we've come too far to stop now and Boone doesn't deserve us to give up on him either. 
Boone's family has since set up a Chipin account found here.

 We're still amazed by their devotion to newly adopted Boone, especially as his care has become so expensive. I'm noticing that more people are treating dogs like family, so is the idea of dogs becoming "useless" is an antiquated idea? But at the same time, with vet costs being so expensive, how do most people balance devotion and cost?


Brenda said...

Wow, that's a tough one. Some people simply can't afford it, particularly now, with so many people unemployed. On the other hand, I have a similar story with my beloved Jessie (who passed away in 2004). She seemed to have one thing after another. She was hit by a car as a puppy in a freak accident. They did emergency surgery on her once as an adult when she had a mysterious "obstruction." Turned out there was no obstruction, but because they did surgery, they discovered that she had a massively enlarged spleen. It would have ruptured and killed her if not found so fortuitously (I felt like it was divine intervention!) Then, when she was 9 she was diagnosed with lymphoma. She was successfully treated with chemo (with virtually no side effects!), went into remission and died of "old age" at 13 years and 2months. I would have mortgaged my house for that dog.

Anonymous said...

I am in love with Boone!! But, I might be slightly biased toward hound dogs! I'm so glad he found such a wonderful family that will do anything to take care of him.

I do think more and more people are treating their pets like family members. I know ther are still people out there who see them as useless, but I think the hearts of people are starting to change.

Two Grad Students and a Pittie said...

Before we adopted Havi as two grad students on federal loans, our parents said that there are all sort of surprise expenses that come along with a pup. Dental Student's parents made us promise wed never "give up on her." $5,000 after learning she was never properly vaccinated, received check ups, heartguard/frontline, and her mysterious tummy problem, we kept our promise. Our "presents" to each other for anniversaries and bdays over the past year have been to save money in case Havi needs it. I never thought id be a crazy dog person, but theres something unique about someone always excited to see you when you get home, curling up to you at night, showering you with kisses when youre sad. I always am amazed that she was on a euth list, who could ever kill someone so amazing?! Boone is so lucky - Dental Student said when we find our credit card under our fianls papers well "chip-in."

PS Dental Student's goal is to read every "classic" book on the New York Times top 100 - he read Of Mice and Men last summer, def one of his favorite. Ill never forget reading it in English!

Anonymous said...

This question is closer to home than I wish it was. Charlie's been racking up the vet bills lately, and I'm still in the process of figuring out if he's hypothyroid or not, for which the blood tests are ridiculously expensive. Last summer I thought he had an impaction and ended up spending $1,500 for him to stay at the emergency clinic for 24 hours and after he passed a very large fart, was totally fine. I know that as long as it's at all feasible for me to spend money on his medical care and as long as his quality of life is decent, I would literally go to the ends of the earth for him.

Anonymous said...

And I had similar issues with Emma when I first got her, though they weren't quite as expensive as Boone. She was all beat up and needed quite a bit of vetting when she first came to me. Lots of blood work, lots of meds. And we're still figuring out her allergies and what medicine will work best for her.

And don't forget the thousands I've probably spent on dog gear and extras!

My pups are family and there isn't much I wouldn't do for them.

In Black and White said...

I try not to think about how much we spend on the pooches (though I do have to face it every year when I put together the budget, and I save extra every month for vet's bills).
When you think about spending that much at once though, it's got to be tough. Still, I know I wouldn't be able to stop myself. I'd decimate my savings account for Bilbo - although, perversely by doing so I'd be unable to save other pooches, since that fund is earmarked to some day (getting there sloooowly!) become a deposit on a house where I can fit in 1-2 fosters of any size!

Anonymous said...

My first pit bull, George, had parvo very young and at the cost of $3,000 I looked into pet insurance. Now, I have 4 pit bulls and 4 pet insurance policies. The cost to me is about $40-$50 per month per dog but the payback is unbelievable. I honestly don't know how they stay in business. One of my policies has already paid out over $2,000 this year for benign mass removal. I could go on and on because my vet knows I have insurance, they even wait for payment until I get the insurance payment. I too was unemployed for 8 months but somehow I paid those premiums because they were just to valuable for my family's expenses. The trick really is to get the policy as soon as you get the pet then there are typically no exclusions. I have checked around and I also believe the pet insurance I choose is one of the better coverages available.

Jennie said...

Sounds just like my poor dog. He was found running a rural road in Georgia. He had heartworms, a grade 4 luxated patella (surgery required), spent 6 months with horrible dermatitis, just spent 4 days in the ICU for pneumonia and almost died, and now he has an ear infection. Thankfully, we were able to cover the costs.

He's 2.5 years old, so if this is an example of how he's going to be his whole life, the next 10 years with him will be full of medical disasters. Needless to say, we're getting him some pet insurance ASAP.

Sarah said...

Pet insurance is the way to go. We spend about $100/month to cover our three. When Maggie needed surgery as a puppy to help her incontinence & UTI's, the insurance meant we didn't have to have the "how are we going to pay for this" discussion.

Passion 4 Pits said...

Wow, that is some serious dedication- he is a loved & lucky lucky dog. Thanks for sharing!

Antoinette Errante said...

I have heard very mixed things about pet insurance (e.g. that to get good coverage it is expensive enough that if you put that same amount of money aside every month you'd be better off. Would love to hear some recommendations. I too would mortgage my house for my two dogs. I think the exception would be if the outcome was grim or very painful. When I adopted Max he had everything under the sun a dog could catch in a kennel: kennel cought three different kinds of worms (which he passed on to my other dog Lola), c-diff. Poor honey was so stoic about it all. It was very expensive but he's totally worth it.

h(eather) said...

Rudie cost us $3000 the first month we had him, and it has been many thousands since, but not quite up to Boone's impressive bills.

I have a client that spent $20,000 on replacing his 7 year old dog's hips after it was hit by a car.

It's heartwarming to see that people put their furry family members on the same plane as the rest of the family.

Patty said...

When I adopted Sophie, I was in my last year of law school. I thought I would get a job pretty quickly after graduation and all would be well. In the meantime, I figured Sophie and I would be fine living on my very small student budget.

Yeah, things did not go as planned. The first year of her life, Sophie was one sick puppy. Giardia 8 times, coccidia 2 times, demodetic mange that spread quickly requiring lots of meds, stomach issues, uti, infection from spay and of course 2 e-vet visits for bug bites/stings and severe allergic reactions. Thank god for credit cards.

Of course, post law school the economy was not good. So the first thing I did when I realized no job was forthcoming, I got Sophie pet insurance. $35/month and it covers everything. I needed the reassurance that should something happen, Sophie is covered.

Thankfully we haven't had to use it so far :knock on wood: but it is there if needed. I convinced my sister and brother in law to get pet insurance for their puppy right after they adopted her.

Corbin said...

No amount is too much. People always ask why we don't adopt a second dog - and the answer I always give them is 1) We can't afford 2 vet bills right now, as Corbin is pretty accident prone himself. and 2) if we adopt a second dog, we wouldn't have the room to continue fostering... Vet bills can pile up so quickly. My parents pug, Harley, is on allergy shots - and so many people have said to my mom "Why not just get rid of him?" or "wouldn't it just be better to put him to sleep?" How can you do that? They are family members... and as a rescue volunteer, I won't adopt a dog out to a family that I don't believe will treat the dog as family. We are all that dog has, we are their family... they deserve the same in return! No amount of money could get in the way of Corbin's love for me and the great feeling it gives me to be his owner and have his unconditional friendship :-) This was a wonderful post!
-Corbin's momma Jenn

Two Pitties in the City said...

Antoinette--We have Pet Insurance on both our dogs, and it has saved us so much in the long run. Miss M's insurance is not very good, but when we had a several thousand dollar diagnosis, we only spent a couple hundred so we were happy. The trick is to get good insurance, and get it right when you get the dog so they don't have pre-existing conditions. We really like Trupanion pet insurance, and we wrote more about our research here: http://pittiesincity.blogspot.com/2009/07/poochestrupanion.html

Kim @ Yellow Brick Home said...

Pet insurance and the whole pre-existing baloney is such a crock! It makes me so mad.

Our Jack, at his first vet visit after he was adopted, confirmed that he had a heart murmur. There was no doubt in our mind that we'd do what it takes - he was ours now, and we had fallen in love with that sweet face. We had to dip into savings and shell our mucho dinero for further testing, only to find out he had a severe murmur, and he may only live to 2 years old.

Luckily, our handsome man will turn 3 this summer, with no signs of slowing down! I love a happy ending, but damn the insurance man.

Kari in Alaska said...

sounds to me like Boone found the perfect family :) I could never imagine my dogs becoming useless.


Daisy Dog said...

It seems like the high maintenance dogs always seem to rescue me because they know I will go the distance. First Sprocket with his neurological issues and arthritis, he had MRI spinal tap, weekly acupuncture for 18 months and more until he passed, then Roscoe with his addisons, and Daisy has had knee surgery, allergy problems, cancer and of course the ongoing happy tail. We initially thought Mouse also had neurological problems, but with a good diet and love he seems ok (knock on wood). So far his neuter was costly a it was a cyptorchid. Then there are the cats, Milk ate 6 inches of ribbon and .....But I love them so much and they bring me so much joy.

brooke said...

Lucky Boone! He has himself a great family!
I dont think any good pet owner would see their aging dog as useless. It makes me so upset when I do my weekly scans of craiglist to see old Great Danes needing rehoming. I cannot imagine giving Darwin up just because she was old.
At 2 years old, Darwin has racked up quite the medical expenses, most from between her first and second birthdays. And we're still going in to see her acupucturist (people still laugh that she gets acupuncture). But she's worth it.
I am a true believer in pet insurance and like our coverage with Trupanion. My only gripe is that they don't cover holistic medicine and acupuncture is the only thing that has helped her gimpy back.

Kate said...

Vet bills are always tough. I've heard people say things about how they wouldn't spend more than $500 on a pet and I can't but think that they're living in a fantasy land. Pets cost real money! We've had plenty of medical issues with our guys, and while we don't have pet insurance, we do save up quite a bit for their care. It's just something you have to plan for.

Best of luck to Boone!

Mia said...

I wish I could say that the idea of a dog becoming "useless" was antiquated. Being a rescue volunteer, we get so many senior pugs turned into the rescue. Some are because of medical costs, but a lot are just because people want a younger model. It is so heartbreaking to see these poor babies discarded like a sweater that's not in fashion any more. I wish there were more families like Boone's in the world.

Jess & Lilo

Unknown said...

I live in the country and that type of mind set is the norm around here. I can't explain how much it aggrevates me. I have a friend whose parents breed their golden who just happens to have never had vet care and lives outside. When she does have puppies they are raised in a shed and sold for approx. 500 dollars. This is something that happens alot nobody gets vet care and if your dog gets sick then it is often cheaper to take it out back to shoot it and just get a new one compared to taking it to the vet.

I find that many of these people shouldn't really have dogs. They do not care for them and basically have them just to have around. The animals recieve no vet care or even emotional and social care. Personally I think that costs should be weighed against potential length of life. I can't see myself paying for huge amounts of vet care for a dog at the very end of their life. I would see that they live comfortably until that day comes that I must take them to the vet to be put down.

Sorry for the long rant, this is a big issue for me because of where I live.

Anonymous said...

Wow. Boone's pawrents are super duper amazing peoples. I wish every doggie and kitteh could be taken care of like that. Boone is one lucky dog!

When they found out that my Angel Kitteh Sister Molly was born with a bad heart, they asked her V.E.T. abouts having an operation to fix it. They didn't think two times about how much it would cost. They just KNEW they were gonna do whatever they had to do. Most sadly, there wasn't an operation to fix her heart but they know now that they're willing to spend lots of green papers to make sure we're all healthy and happy.

Wiggles & Wags,

dm said...

two weeks ago we brought home a new puppy (we went to get a foster dog, came back with a puppy. long story). Two days later he went to the vet where he was diagnosed with pneumonia. We'd only had him for two nights and we had to shell out hundreds of dollars for xrays and anti-biotics. we didn't think twice.

Susan Campisi said...

Wow. That story gave me a lump in my throat. Boone is quite a survivor - well, with the help of his loving and devoted humans he is. The first few weeks I had Tommy he kept getting sick. Nothing serious thankfully but the many trips to the vet made me get pet insurance.

I think there should be a movement for health care reform for pets, too, so animals with pre-existing conditions can still be covered.

How Sam Sees It said...

We used to call Cisco our $10,000-dollar-dog - mostly because we quit adding it up when it reached that amount. I had so many people heartlessly tell me that I should get rid of her and get a new dog. I made a commitment to her, when I adopted her, to take care of her - the same commitment that every dog, horse, goat, etc. gets when they become part of our household. I can do without a lot of things if it means making them a little happier and healthier.


houndstooth said...

Boone is a lucky guy!

That's a hard question. I think the important thing is to talk about it with your partner and decide while your dog is healthy what lengths you're willing to go to. I also think it depends on the individual dog. I have a fifteen and a half year old dog here. If something major came up with her now, I'd make sure she was comfortable and not hurting, but I wouldn't prolong her life. A young dog with a long future ahead of it is a different issue. It also depends on what you're able to afford to do to take care of your pet, balanced with what the possible outcomes are. When my heart dog developed a spinal tumor, we were offered the option of surgery for her, but I've heard of several people who went that route, and it never turned out well. I couldn't put her through that because I wanted her to stay with me.

Two French Bulldogs said...

What a story. We are so happee he has a good home. There are so many doggies out there that need our helps
Snuggles and snorts,
Benny & Lily

RED said...

Wow. Great topics this week. I'm really glad I read this - I thought we spent a lot on Zeus, but this certainly puts it into perspective for me - ie, we made out pretty well. (Although we spent thousands, in two months- it was a big pill to swallow for sure). I want to adopt another pup, but the cost is what's keeping me from doing so.
It's heartbreaking to think about old dogs no longer being wanted. I do have to say though - and I hope this doesn't sound cold - but everyone's financial abilities are different, and for some, they might not be able to put $5000 into their dogs treatment for one reason we might not know. My superviser's dog was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 5. He and his wife spent close to $8000 on treatments- chemo, blood transfusions, etc. He also took half days from work 3x a week to drive his pup to receive said treatments. It broke his heart. His dog didn't respond to treatments and didn't get any better after about six months (of varying treatment methods). He died a few weeks later. It was heartbreaking, and he was lucky that they had the means to give Bauer the best treatment they had available, but it didn't work.
It is by far, the saddest part of owning a dog - if/when they are sick and/or old, and they can't tell you what they want or need. We are going to outlive our pets, but that doesn't make it any easier to bear. [sorry to be such a downer.]

Heather said...

Great story, thank you for sharing. Boone is so lucky to have found such loving parents.

Mary said...

Oh, poor Boone:( It is so touching to hear a story about people who are committed to their pet, through thick and thin. It really speaks to the idea that once you adopt a pet, you are responsible to him for his entire life. It's amazing that they caught his tumor before it spread because I have heard not great things about mast cell tumors. I hope that once his surgery is complete, Boone makes a full recovery and gets to live a long, healthy life with only routine vet visits. Keep us posted on him, will you?

Sue said...

For me, adopting an animal is a full time, lifetime commitment. We had to stop and think when one year for Christmas Rob brought home a young female gray cockatiel as a friend for our ten year old male. He paid $40 for the bird in a pet shop.

We'd had Holley for about six weeks when I found her lying on the bottom of the cage one morning unable to lift her wings. There was an avian vet in the area and Rob took her to his office on his way to work and left her there for examination. When the vet called me a couple hours later, he said Holly had a congenital injury to one wing and because she was a frequent layer, producing eight eggs each month, she had depleted her body of calcium.

He wanted to do xrays, and ultrasound and give her calcium injections. He also recommended that she take an expensive supplement daily. The total bill would be around $350.

We were on a very tight budget and we'd only had the bird a few weeks. I didn't know what to do. I called Rob and he said he'd call the vet.

When Rob drove in that night, I didn't know what to expect, but he walked in with Holly and she had had the complete treatment. When I asked, he simply said, "she's part of the family".

ForPetsSake said...

Money is always an issue. But priorities are equally weighed. I am one of those stubborn people that believes creativity can solve most any problem. For example, vet bills are expensive, so now I work for a vet.
Seriously, though - I prioritize the kiddos and do whatever I can to be sure they are healthy and safe.

ForPetsSake said...

And Boone and his family are awesome! What a beautiful commitment!

Kudos to the vet clinic that found the growth. Things like that can be difficult to spot on xray ;)

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