Here’s an ethically challenged case for you: Three over-size Maltese dogs in varying degrees of early geriatric distress…owned by perhaps the carpiest client I’ve ever met. These three train wrecks are on their last legs—and far from being tearful over their advanced deterioration, this woman couldn’t be less stressed about their impending demise.

This“retired” owner (I don’t think she’s ever worked) chronically cries fixed-income poverty, yet she just spent the last two months in Aspen and plans on another in London before the Summer’s out. Her dress is always expensive and, not surprisingly, she’s accompanied by a different servant at every visit (I can’t imagine she keeps help for very long with her attitude).

I could care less what she spends on herself, but what she fails to spend on her pets is beginning to approximate animal cruelty. Here’s the scoop:

The dogs are males, unneutered, and one suffers chronic symptoms of benign prostatic enlargement (fixable by fixing). All put up with the typically devastating periodontal disease of their breed. In fact, two have multiple abscessed teeth—painful, no doubt—and one’s molar is perpetually dripping pus. Their coats? A tangled wreck of crusty, flaky skin (easily alleviated with a simple schedule of baths and routine brushing). The smallest one used to be the biggest but his dramatic weight loss over the past year has altered his status—and now he fights with the others…frequently.

Their owner is generally unconcerned about everything except the obvious: the bad breath and the ratty skin. Blood in urine? Pus in the mouth? Fighting injuries? Severe arthritis and renal disease? Each time I beg her to submit them for dentals, she whines,“I have no money, Doctor. Please do not suggest procedures and medications I cannot afford!”

Yeah, right. Can she afford a trio of injections and cremation? That’s their best bet if she refuses everything else.

Sometimes I can’t help thinking: “What is my role here?” This is the tune that plays through my head when she carts in her disintegrating dogs once a year.

Is it the rabies tag that only I can provide via vaccination or titers? In this case, I think so. If that little scrap of county-issued postcard-paper didn’t her mailbox once a year, I seriously doubt she’d grace us with her presence.

Still, it’s my job—my moral imperative—to do my best to get her to see things the way I do. Yet, somehow she’s immune to my explanations and exhortations. Even those issues she brings up as crucial (the skin) get explained away (by her) as soon as I mention the [“Impossible!”] solution. (Which raises the question: What are servants for if you can’t get them to wash your dog once a week?)

The hardest part of this case is not merely the frustration involved in being intentionally misunderstood by a less-than-doting parent, it’s the nagging issue of what I should do cases like these—cases of blatant neglect, if you ask me.

But unless I can show this old battleaxe is engaging in outright cruelty, I don’t think there’s a thing I can do. Call Animal Control? I don’t think so. According to our culture’s warped standards, she’d have to beat her dogs senseless for the term “cruelty” to apply.

Teeth rotting out of their heads? Failure to therapeutically neuter? Untreated skin infections? Could be worse…I guess.

Sometimes I wonder why it is that people get pets in the first place. If they can’t handle the most minimal healthcare responsibility then why bother taking on the daily feeding, watering, walking, etc.? I guess that presupposes she does any of these. That’s probably what her servants are for.