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For the love of Dog, Chapter 7 | Pamdemonium
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For the love of Dog, Chapter 7

October 21, 2010

With the worst now behind us, when Pilgrim is acting especially adorable, or not, I gaze at him and say aloud, “Dude, you’ve got to stick around for at least two more years so we can amortize our investment.”

Over two years, the cost of saving Pilgrim will be about $8 a day. That doesn’t sound like much until you do the math, which I did.

The amount of money people spend on advanced veterinary care to extend the lives of their household pets is astonishing. Americans spend more than $12 billion a year on veterinary bills. Cats and dogs get MRIs, chemotherapy, complicated surgical procedures and guided radiation. Pets with arthritis even receive stem cell transplants to treat arthritis.

I figured when faced with a life-or-death decision, I’d act rationally but compassionately. After the last few months, I don’t even know what that means.

What I do know now that unlike medical care for people, the cost of advanced treatment for our four-legged companions is refreshingly transparent. At every step, we knew what each procedure would cost before the vet did anything and we had to approve it. Arriving at the all-night emergency pet clinic, we learned that initial X-ray would cost $109.50, additional X-rays would cost more ($196.50 for three) and a blood panel another $183.16. We green-lit the imaging but waited on the blood work in case Pilgrim’s back was broken or the X-rays suggested neurological damage.

Plenty of his doggie bones were not in their proper place but Pilgrim’s spine was intact. Surgery was the only option and the vet, a generalist, estimated the cost at several thousand dollars. If we were to kiss our fat, fuzzy, red dog goodbye, holding him as he began his journey to the Big Dog Park in the Sky, that was the moment.

The moment passed and something along the lines of, “We’d like to have a surgeon look at him,” squeaked out. We authorized the blood work and asked that they load up Pilgrim to keep him as comfortable as possible overnight. Before leaving, we reviewed the list of anticipated charges and put it on a credit card. The estimate exceeded $900 for about six hours of care.

Pilgrim was seriously doped. IV fluids ($106.70), two shots of Buprenex ($89.50) and two shots of another painkiller ($80.32). Hell, I’d have spent twice that for something to take my pain away.

In the morning, the total was $1,045.75, meaning we owed another $123.11.

At the specialty vet practice, the drill was similar. We checked Pilgrim in, reviewed and signed for expected charges for the day and night and waited to hear from the surgeon. We met with the surgeon the next morning, gave him the go-ahead and on our way out got a prospective bill for about more than I like to think about. I think we charged half; the vet practices use the high range as a starting point so pet owners aren’t surprised if the patient needs additional meds or whatever during surgery.

The itemized list for Pilgrim’s four-day stay is fascinating – and long. It resembles the stuff we get after our own hospital stays and surgical procedures but is much easier to read. None of that insurance chatter, what is covered, what isn’t, what is pending, what is beyond a customary and reasonable charge, gets in the way. The quantity of anesthesia suggests surgery lasted three hours. The bill contains itemized costs for daily nursing care, surgery screws, fluid therapy (Pilgrim wasn’t eating), three hours of post-op physical therapy, daily hospitalization and multiple injections.

With the three prescriptions for him at discharge, the total was $3,716.39. Honestly, I expected it to be more. By now, the running total was more than $4,700.

As Pilgrim struggled to rebound and Dr. Lisa suggested 10 sessions of physical therapy, we figured, in for a penny, in for a pound. Add an extra $874.33.

What price Pilgrim? With additional pain meds, anxiety drugs, antibiotics, a urinalysis for a UTI we thought Pilgrim had developed didn’t, the grand total came to about $5,900.

I gasp at the figure myself. “Pamela,” I hear my mother scold in my head. “That is ridiculous. How could you do such a thing?”

We are fortunate and could afford the emergency vet, surgery, and even specialized canine rehabilitation. Yet at times I feel guilt and even shame at spending such a sum on a dog when the needs of many humans are so vast. Forget about the world, I’m talking about hunger and homelessness right here in Nashville, non-profits that actually work in the community and struggle to raise funds, the random men who stop in our yard and ask for work, any work.

Rationalizing, I think, “Well, this was an acute injury, a discrete trauma, not an ongoing, open-ended thing.”

Whatever. The only explanation I have is that love, of people, for people, of nature, a field of wildflowers, of our pets makes us better humans. Love, a good friend told me during this time, can be costly.

Apologies for the loss in momentum. The eighth and final chapter should be posted next week.



Fran October 21, 2010 at 7:38 pm

Frankly having followed along with it all. I expected it to be much higher.

admin October 21, 2010 at 7:49 pm

Fran baby, I owe you a call but am SLAMMED which isn’t bad. Cost doesn’t include lost work time or the $150 or so we paid an overnight sitter so we could get some sleep a few nights but yes, it could have been much worse. Who needs a big vacation anyway?

admin October 21, 2010 at 8:27 pm

Oh yeah, and I am sure we got a deal on the rehab because it was a pilot program and they hadn’t figured out what to charge for it. Told Dr. Lisa when it was over we would have paid more because it made a huge difference.

Linda October 23, 2010 at 8:54 am

I guess you just have to put a disclaimer on the guilt and focus on the character development and becoming a better person part of things. Maybe factor in something about inspiring others with your story. Thus, helping us (at least me) be better humans. I defnitely got a contact better human high from your stories.

Amber V November 3, 2010 at 3:42 pm

Hi Pam!
I’ve been reading along since I found out about this series from Sarah Gilliam (I think she posted it on FB or Twitter). As an intense animal lover with four furry family members of my own I applaud you for all you’ve done for Pilgrim. I can’t even imagine.

admin November 3, 2010 at 4:32 pm

Thanks Amber! One more chapter to go but I am behind sked on that and everything else. And attention readers: Amber did the portraits you see sprinkled about here and on FB and allaboutwomen.org so if you need photog services…..

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