'How Far Should We Go to Save Our Pets?' Seriously?

Patty Khuly, DVM
July 18, 2008
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Ouch. Hits home on this, my Sophie’s first week of radiation for her brainstem tumor. This article was emailed to me by a dozen or so supportive parties, some shocked, some impressed that I’d agreed to submit my dog to brain cancer treatment.

None of us here should be too shocked, however, that owners are willing to pony up—big time—for their pet care when conditions prove treatable. It’s a “no duh” kind of statement to say that our responsibility to our pets should extend to their medical care, even if that sometimes includes chemotherapy, radiation or radical surgery….within reason.

Those last two words prove the sticking point, though. What is reasonable given the complex calculus of their comfort, our finances, our emotional state, the vagaries of technology and pathology, etc.?

The author of the above-mentioned article in last Sunday's Boston Globe takes a stab at the question using the seemingly extreme example of a cancer-stricken goose named Boswell.

It’s one thing to set the scene with a sick boxer puppy or a family’s aging Labrador retriever, it’s quite another to risk disengagement (or worse, advance the “kook” factor) with a quirky MIT professor’s pet goose getting radiation treatment for his leg cancer.

$20,000 on a goose? Get real, we might say. But after reading this piece I trust we can all agree that Boswell’s care is no more or less extraordinary than what I’m doing for Sophie. Nor is it any more or less worthy than the decision to deny a pet this kind of treatment after a realistic look at the available resources, an animal’s individual limitations and the potential complications.

However you see it, though, the unasked question lingers: Is it fair, given our planet’s dwindling resources, to commit our personal finances, our emotional resources, and our time and energy to such limited, potentially selfish goals?

I hate that question. For me it’s a non-starter. Not only do I believe our pets are our personal responsibility who deserve this consideration, I deny any logic that would pit personal resources against those of the collective only when it comes to our pets.

Is radiation for Sophie Sue any more or less wasteful than paying someone to cut my hair? Cook my food? Grow my vegetables? Cut leather seats for my luxury SUV?

I don’t think so. But the question remains…how far is too far? Luckily for Sophie, as for Boswell, the answer to the question remains, as it should, a personal one.