When love is not enough to save your pet... what next?
In my first job out of vet school I worked nights, alone, at a small regional emergency clinic on the Pennsylvania-Delaware line. But I wasn’t exactly all alone—I had two techs with me at all times. They were far more experienced in the ways of medicine and the world than I, newbie vet that I was.
After the first economic euthanasia (euthanized strictly due to lack of funds) I remember blubbering in the back room. The pet had been young and fixable. The clients had been rude to me. And I was confused as to how to handle the whole mess. I was crouching by the loud clang of the towel-drier—so as not to be overheard (or so I thought), when an old-timer tech came in and straightened me right out.
“You know,” she said, “some people will just never understand that love is not enough to keep their pets alive. So when they feed you that line, the one where they call you heartless and cruel, keep in mind that the only cruelty perpetrated is theirs—by inflicting their mistakes on your conscience and their own pet.”
I will never forget that lecture. I think wise techs are among the wisest people in the world, if you ask me.
Since that time I’ve learned to handle these inevitable situations better. But economic euthanasias will never fail to stress me out. As a matter of fact, I have one brewing in hospital right now: the calico kitty I wrote about three days ago.
I don’t doubt that her owner loves her—but her love will not save this cat. A plasma transfusion, expensive drugs and endoscopic retrieval of her gastric foreign bodies might. Short of that, I’d prefer to call it quits than to see this cat continue to suffer the possibility of a long-shot recovery with the half-a---- care she’s getting right now.
But enough of that diatribe; you’ve heard enough about that already. I want to get past the nasty feelings such conditions provoke and onto the real story here: what next…?
You can’t always fix every case, even if you had zillions of dollars. Barbaro is proof enough of that. But giving every case a chance is another story altogether. As a vet, of course I’d like to find a way to allow every owned and cared for creature to receive a good chance to survive a horrible emergency like Kitty’s. That takes one thing over all others: cash.
Take the following eloquent quote, for example (lifted from one of your comments):
“So far he's only once swallowed something he couldn't pass. That time, he spent several days in the hospital having it surgically removed. The bill was horrifyingly high; I put it on a credit card, and spent a long time paying it off. But after he came back from the hospital, I knew that if he did this again, I just wouldn't be able to pay for surgery a second time. So I worried greatly, knowing that if I had to take him to the hospital, I would find myself pleading for someone else to adopt him and pay for his care -- I wouldn't be able to authorize any care unless someone else would guarantee the bill. Would I have to have him euthanized because I couldn't pay?”
This is where most of us are at risk of finding ourselves some day. Unless we have huge disposable incomes or lots of credit available to us, there’s always going to be some price-point that we won’t be able to meet. What is it? One thousand? Five? Ten? Twenty?
Even vets are not immune. Our peers’ goodwill will only go so far. Ultimately, I’m as capable of racking up a ten-thousand dollar bill after one horrific hit-by-car as you are.
So what’s the answer? Apart from the education, will and luck that lead to pet-dedicated savings, nothing but a high disposable income will solve the problem for good. Except maybe…insurance.
As much as I fear the evils of insurance in vet medicine (intrusive as it can be), I see no other way to curb economic euthanasia. The ideal product for me would consist of a high-deductible insurance that would kick in after I’d already spent $500 per claim. For you it might be $1000 or $2500. Whatever your level, most of us need something to make appropriate treatment possible in the direst emergencies.
I can point fingers all I want at owners of underfunded calico kitties everywhere who wait until payday before taking their pets to the vet. But where would I be now if a dog mauled my new baby Frenchie? I’d be scared s---less of my mounting bills for bloodwork, transfusions, surgery, oxygen therapy and other intensive care.
Like a wise old tech once said: “Love is just not enough.”
And I just realized this applies to me, too.