Sunday, November 19, 2017

Pooches: What We've Learned about Pet Insurance

One of the first pieces of unsolicited advice I always give to new pet owners is to apply for Pet Insurance.
Before you can develop any pre-existing conditions.
And with everything we went through with Miss M this past year, we have learned a lot about pet medical bills.
Though the biggest thing we found out:
It's not enough to just have Pet Insurance. You have to choose the right Pet Insurance.

Just from our experiences, this is a tale of 2 Pet Insurance plans: Miss M was on 24PetWatch and Mr. B has Trupanion. And seeing how making the right choice in the beginning can make a huge difference as your dog gets older.

NOTE (12.3.19): We no longer recommend Trupanion. They raised our monthly premium 40% without telling us. They claim that the increase is not due to age, but that they can increase the percentage given the types of claims for other pitbulls in our zip code, so they can never know how dramatically it can increase in a year.

Pre-existing Conditions
I enrolled Miss M in her Pet Insurance plan way back in 2007 when there weren't as many options out there.
To put this in perspective: The final Harry Potter books was just published. Britney Spears was still considered a positive role-model. And they just invented the i-Phone.
Simpler times.
When I was looking at plans, the biggest thing was checking the pre-existing conditions. Some plans won't cover conditions for certain breeds of dogs. You want to make sure to sign up before your pup has any major health problems.
But, it makes it really hard to switch insurance if you are diagnosed with anything.
At one point I had asked the vet about a urination issue--which we later learned was behavioral--and after that the insurance used that one question as a pre-existing condition where they would not cover illnesses involving her kidneys.
With that one strike against us, we always thought that we were stuck and we had to stick with her plan.

Your Policy Changes as They Age 
When you enroll in pet insurance with your young pup, it's so easy to skip the parts that talk about how your policy will change as they get older.

Most of the policies will have dramatic annual premium changes when they turn a certain age. We originally had Mr. B on Embrace Pet Insurance, which we liked a lot, but when he turned 6 years-old his annual premiums increased 40%! He didn't have any pre-existing conditions, so he wasn't tied to the plan and we were able to switch him over to Trupanion. Though as a 14 year-old dog, his current premiums are extremely high.

In our case, Miss M's total coverage drastically drops. Originally we could insure her up to $20,000, but once she turned 10 they would only reimburse up to $5,000. Given the costs of the co-pays and the annual premium, we only received about $3,000 back from her insurance.
You don't get any benefits for being a loyal customer.

Consider Total Coverage
I always thought it was enough that we were insured, and I never considered we would reach a point where our medical bills would exceed our insurance.
To put it all into perspective (and we know all costs differ depending on location, specific condition, and type of dog):
A visit and stay at the Pet ER can be $2,000+
It depends on a lot of factors, but in our situation a round of chemotherapy can be $5,000+ and an additional radiation dose is $2,500+. But the testing and procedures between and after testing can be as much as $600-1,500+ each time.
We had several rounds of testing.
Since she was older than 10, Miss M's coverage dropped to only covering $5,000, which is really $3,000 after co-pays and the annual premium.
Unbelievably, Mr B's plan with Trupanion has unlimited coverage. We met someone at the vet's office with the plan who told us they spent about $40,000 and they were still getting reimbursed.

Getting Reimbursed
I never thought about it when I signed up, circa 2007, but knowing when you're being reimbursed is a huge deal. 
Especially when you're dealing with thousands of dollars.
It took 2 months for Miss M's insurance to reimburse us. 

Ask About Add-on's
It turns out that Mr. B's insurance does cover some non-traditional therapy. If we had known this, we would have signed up long ago as we've had too many friends whose pups have ACL injuries and we would have wanted to prepare.
We unfortunately couldn't take advantage of it because we asked our vet if he seemed arthritic, and it was noted in our file as a pre-existing condition.

Pet Insurance vs. Just Saving Money for Emergencies
We have paid for Mr. B's plan for years and he has only turned in small bills a few times. 
So yes, we have lost money on his coverage.
At the same time, you never know what can happen, and I'd rather be prepared.
Despite all my years of saving, and being financially responsible, this past year was the most financially unlucky year of our lives. 
Baby K needed an emergency surgery on his large intestine and was hospitalized for 7 days. Our Developer decided not to honor contracts and has left us with a college-tuition's worth of needed repairs. Even our 3 year-old water heater gave out. All in addition to Miss M's illness.
It's a terrible feeling to have a sick pet and to be worrying about financial decisions.

These are just our experiences with the few Pet Insurance companies that we've worked with.
What are other people's experiences or things that we're leaving out?

Check our Facebook page for more photos, comments, and story lines beyond the blog.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Saying Goodbye to Miss M

Thursday we said goodbye to our Miss M.
It was sudden. And being Miss M, we were sure she would pull out of it like she had so many times before.
Because...she is Miss M.
Miss M always had the biggest personality in the room.
People loved meeting her.
Someone at the West Town dog parade said it best "I've met a lot of friendly dogs, but this one takes the cake".
The Friar even stepped out of the play at Shakespeare in the Park because he wanted to say hi to her!
She was the perfect dog owner for Mr. B and the best older sister for Baby K. She always made sure Mr. B was warm and well cuddled. As for Baby K, she was really gentle and patient with him from his first days in our home and we could not ask for better older siblings than Miss M and Mr. B. Though Baby K will never remember his life with Miss M, we are certain she has made him a better human as she did for all of us.
Miss M drills Baby K on his tummy time
We always knew she would be the perfect role model for Baby K. She had so much love to give that everyone she met instantly became her best friend. Even though people would judge her before meeting her, she always greeted them with a huge grin and a lick.
She always had the best expressions.
Sometimes we thought she was part goat. Or donkey. Or gorilla.
And she had the softest fur. People were always exclaiming that her ears were like velvet. She loved getting out there. We couldn't even think about things to add to her bucket list because she had already done everything. She had no regrets.
There is still so much to tell. And we still want to be able to tell it.
We haven't had a chance to write about their biking adventures yet!
We are grateful to everyone who rooted for her and loved her as much as we did.
Our Mazzy Star.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Pooches: On Walking with Senior Dogs (Dutchdog Doggyride)

As our pups have been aging, we're pretty sure that 13 is the new 8 --have you seen this celebratory frolic?
What has changed is that long walks have become a bit harder. Miss M has been doing so well since her cancer treatments (we go in for another re-check soon!) but it has been her hips that have really been bothering her. It has been hard because she really wants to go out and join on our family walks, but especially with the heat, some days are just harder.

Looking for Wagons
At first I thought we could just pop her into a big pull wagon. Maybe Miss M and Baby K could just ride together. Could you just imagine them in something like this? Or even all 3 of them in this!
But the more I researched, I found they weren't the best fit. A lot of the wagons had molded seats that wouldn't fit our big dogs, they had high sides that would make it hard, and painful, to climb in and out, and I even read about several wagons with such poor steering that they tip over!

DutchDog Doggyride:
At 60ish pounds, it's really hard to find good options for larger dogs. After much research, and seeing it on Elsie's page, we decided to go for the Dutchdog Doggyride.

What we Like:
-It's made specifically for senior dogs. It has a low step zipper entrance in the back so they can just step in without hurting their hips and without us having to lift them. We were also worried about getting them adjusted and whether they would jump out, but it comes with a tether clip at the top so they stay inside.
-It allows them to stand, sit, or lay. Miss M's biggest problem is that it often hurts her to sit, so she needed a wagon that allows her to stand without toppling over. Mr. B enjoys laying, and they do make a very comfortable cushion insert that you need to buy separately.
-It is extremely well made. It's easy to steer and it has big wheels that flow easily over cracked sidewalks and through construction.
-We can now carry other things. Walking two dogs and a baby and need to pick up milk? No problem! We actually use it a lot going back and forth to the business.
-The dogs actually like it. Do you notice grumpy Miss M actually smiling in all of these photos!

What we Don't Like: 
--It's huge! I know it has to be big to carry big dogs, but it's just like pushing a double-wide stroller on city streets.
--It only has a 110 lb capacity. Both of our pups can comfortably fit inside together, though they weigh just slightly over that amount. We're looking for ways to reinforce the bottom just in case.
--It's very expensive and it is definitely an investment. The cushioned pad is sold separately. Though after spending nearly a college tuition for Miss M's cancer, we figured if it kept our pups healthy, active, and happy, it was a good investment to make.

It's funny to see how much joy people get pushing the pups down the street as Baby K rides next to them in his little car. 
As we overheard someone on the street saying "Look how the dog gets that big fancy stroller and the baby just gets a plastic car. You can tell who came first".

Check our Facebook page for more photos, comments, and story lines beyond the blog.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Miss M's Not-Bucket List: Part I

When we first found out that Miss M was sick, we started thinking of all of the things that she still needed to do with the time left.
But, as we were thinking of things, we realized that there is so much that she has already done.
She has already stayed in fancy hotels, started her own dog group, starred in a pitbull calendar, and spent nearly every weekend exploring and experiencing Chicago.

There were only 2 things that we had been putting off that I would feel terrible about if we didn't have her anymore.
Number one: Getting family photos that include all of us. 
When Miss M was first diagnosed, we thought that this would be her last weekend with us, so we really wanted to make sure to get the photos.
We talked to Sparenga Photography who had also photographed us with the pups for their Unexpected Pitbull Calendar photoshoot that we wrote about here. 
It turns out, the day we had scheduled there was a huge snowstorm.
Actually this was only 1 of 2 days that it snowed this entire winter in Chicago (which is so hard to believe!). 
We didn't think we had much time left with Miss M, so we didn't want to reschedule.
We thought it would be tricky doing a cold-weather shoot with Baby K, but he actually likes being outside even in the cold.

We want Baby K to grow up having known the pups, and having the photos to prove it.
Stay tuned for the only other bucket-list item we had for Miss M!

The update!
It may look pretty, but there is a seedy underside of Chicago snow.
Check our Facebook page for more photos, comments, and story lines beyond the blog.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Pooches: Living with a Dog who has Cancer

Miss M heads to chemo in her lucky hat!
For the past few months, our life has been turned around when our very own Miss M suddenly became ill and we learned that she had a tumor on her heart. Everyone has been so supportive with her GoFundMe and well wishes on her Facebook page, and we've finally had time to process and give an update on how it's really been going:

On Being Lucky
I was always that person--constantly creating scenarios and scanning the pups for any mysterious lumps and bumps and thinking the worst. Little did I realize, that cancer isn't just the lumps and bumps we find, but it can also be growing internally.
Miss M's illness definitely snuck up on us. She had absolutely no symptoms until one day she just collapsed.
We could have lost her that day, but we do realize we've been lucky enough to have more time.

The Fear
Seeing Miss M so sick was scary. And this type of cancer is scary.
My biggest fear is that she could have another incident where the blood vessel bursts and she would be alone or we wouldn't be able to get her to the vet in time.
In the beginning, I was afraid to leave her alone. We also had to figure out the logistics of always having the car available to take her (which having one car and given the location and hours that I work, plus having Baby K to transport, has been trickier than expected).
Our cardiologist also told us that untreated, there was a higher likelihood of having a blood vessel burst and she wouldn't be able to do some of the things she loves best--like going on walks and meeting people--because it would be too exciting and it would put strain on her heart.
The cardiologist also told us the chemo would shrink and harden the tumor which would allow her to continue doing the things she enjoys.

What Happens with Chemo 
Miss M traveling to chemo in style
We wanted to maintain the quality of her life, and even though this was a tough year we thought we would always regret at least not trying, so we decided to go through with the chemo.
It turns out dogs respond really well to chemotherapy.
Miss M really hasn't had many side effects, and she has already completed her 5 sessions.
She would go to the oncologist every 3 weeks and she loved seeing people and getting attention. She comes back completely like herself, except the 3rd or 4th day after treatment she would be lethargic. And gassy...for some reason.
She didn't have a lot of nausea. She would typically throw up one time per cycle, but she's also a pup who throws up from eating ice-cream.
They told us dogs typically don't experience a lot of hair loss, and she was fine through her 4 treatments. It was just this last few weeks where the hair on her neck has started thinning. I think it's because she normally sheds all her hair at this time, but with the chemo overall hair regrowth has been a bit slower. I think it's also really noticeable because it's the white fur so you can see her pink skin underneath.
Otherwise, she is basically herself.

Why She Really Isn't Feeling Well
For awhile, Miss M actually has been sick, but it was completely unrelated to her cancer diagnosis.
It seems she was having some back pain.
I only found this out when I was home alone with Miss M and Baby K; she started panting and having trouble walking. I immediately thought the tumor on her heart had ruptured, and I sprang into superhero-mode carrying my 65 lb dog into the car, and Baby K, and driving back to the emergency vet.
After a 2 hour wait with a tired and hungry baby, we were told she had a severe pain in her back which caused her to have a fever.
I think it even goes all the way back here. They weren't sure what caused it, but they were thinking it could arthritis related. We've been making sure to monitor her, and keep her from overexerting herself. We've also had to shorten most of our walks.

What's Next
Miss M just went in to re-do all of her tests to see how everything has been going. It turns out, the tumor is now so small that they could barely even see it!
She will be moving on to a different type of chemo which is an oral pill she will take at home. We are supposed to go back every other month to do the full body testing.
While this is good news, we do know that it is not a complete cure. But, it does buy us more time.
While we are so lucky that things are going well for her, the hardest part has been when we make plans for the future. Just the other week we were talking about ideas for Halloween costumes for the pups to coordinate with Baby K, and we had to stop and think about whether there would actually be a next year.
And for now, we're enjoying everything together this year.

Stay tuned to our Facebook page for more updates.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Pooches: On the Evolution of Dog Bathing

We have spent years perfecting our dog baths.
It all began as an episode of the coyote and roadrunner between me and Miss M
Which later turned into an efficient multi-dog cleaning operation.
While we thought we had things down, what we didn't count on were some of the changes we needed to make as the pups have gotten older.
While it used to be enough to train the pups to jump into the bathtub, we want to be careful of the pups' joints as they age.
So they have graduated to the shower.
It's easier for them to step in, it already has the shower head attachment, and with the high walls they can't escape.
We put a scouring pad on the drain to collect all the hair, and it's actually easier than our former set-up.
Anyone else have tips for dog bathing?

How it started.
Stay tuned to our Facebook page for more photos, comments, and updates beyond the blog.
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