Saturday, April 3, 2010

No such thing as a cheap pet

When St. Bosco was four, we learned firsthand the issues with getting a dog from a backyard breeder when, after several months (and several hundred dollars) of testing the dermatologist determined that he suffered from an incurable auto-immune disorder. He remained a strong and central part of our family for six more years until he was taken by cancer just shy of his tenth birthday, almost exactly as the veterinarian had predicted.

Following a brief, but deeply heartfelt grieving period we were ready to give it another go with another dog. No more fluffy purebreds for us --- this time we were going to our local shelter to adopt the good ol’ American mixed breed, known for their steadfastness of health and hodgepodge of traits. It didn’t take long to find our next forever dog in Darby. One look at his foppy self in his kennel run and we were hooked (look at that face --- we were goners).

Naturally, three days after bringing him home, he tested positive for parvo. We buckled down, followed the vet’s instructions to the letter and six weeks later once again had a healthy dog, ready for neutering.

Oops --- another surprise. Darby turned out to be cryptorchid. So much for the cheap, easy neuter. His condition made it a longer, more complicated surgery as the vet had to search around for the undescended testicle. Naturally, this translates to a higher cost, but one we were willing to pay. Finally, with both parvo and his neutering out of the way, we could look forward to a long, relatively unremarkable life with our doodlebug.

Until this week. What began a year or so ago as a little gimping along after a hard day of play slowly evolved into seeing a dog who appeared in distress far more often than someone not quite five years old should be. With his lush, lovely backyard and a hallway that doubles as a canine runway for chasing the resident felines, it was painful for us to now see him limping almost as often as he was walking. We went to the orthopedist and received the bad news: Darby has a bad knee that most definitely needs surgery for him to have a relatively pain-free future.

I suppose we aren’t that much different from other pet-parents in the mix of emotions we felt; guilt, for not getting him in sooner; relief, that it isn’t anything worse than a knee, like a back or hip issue; stress over all that we will need to do post-surgery to keep him calm and allow his leg to fully heal; and sadness that we aren’t able to explain to him just what will be happening and why it is important to do this for his long-term health and happiness.

Throughout all of our discussions, and there have been many over the past week, there was one item that was barely worth mentioning --- the cost of treatment. We may have quibbled over the benefits of an exercise pen versus a crate for post-op recovery or how thick his recovery bed should be for maximum comfort, but there was no disagreement on spending our hard-earned funds on taking care of the little guy. Beyond a brief chat of what we would put off doing on the home improvement front for another year until the tax-return man comes rolling through again, talking about the cost of his health was pointless.

Pets cost money. Period.

Even if you take care of all of the little things like vaccinations, altering, food, shelter, toys and treats, stuff comes up. They come down with a hereditary disease. They fall and break something, or eat something they shouldn’t. They fall or get injured in some seemingly improbably way. They get into a scrap with someone and end up on the losing side. Not all that different from having kids.

When we choose to bring companion animals into our homes and lives we have to accept that there will be times when they will unexpectedly cost more than we anticipated. That’s the lesson here. All the pre-planning in the world won’t change the fact that stuff happens, so plan to have a plan for when it does.

After all, we’re all they’ve got.

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