Red this morning. Animal Care And Money: My Code Of Ethics
Red is feeling fine again, his appetite has returned, so has his energy. Our vet's advice, discussed yesterday, was right on the button: bland food, antibiotics, probiotics, lots of water. I got to sleep last night, no dread mess to clean up, no rushing outside at 3 a.m in the hopes of making it. I am grateful to Cassandra at the Cambridge Valley Veterinary Service for encouraging me to bring Red in to see them, when I didn't really want to spend hundreds of dollars (I spent $90.)
Yesterday, I wrote about the growing dilemma many people face over the rocketing rise of veterinary costs – up 47 per cent for dogs, 83 per cent for cats in the past decade. I described my growing hesitation to go to the vet, even when – as yesterday – it is warranted. More than a third of pet owners in America live below the poverty line, many simply have abandoned the idea of veterinary care.
I think sometimes medical technology firms and animal rights groups are working together to make it harder and more expensive to be with animals.
A farmer down the road (they rarely see vets) told me of his favorite vet, "Doc" Miller, who charged $10 if he fixed the dog or cat, nothing if he didn't. (He charged $5 for a cow or horse visit, $10 if he was kicked.) Those days are gone, so is "Doc" Miller.
This issue isn't a case of pure greed or good and evil. Vets do not make a lot of money – between $60,000 and $70,000 on average. Their costs are very high and often include up to $200,000 in college debt. It takes a long time to become a vet, about six years. People who become vets do not do it for the money, they tend to love animals. It is short-sighted to blame them for the system they work in.
Vets will say in private they dread suggesting euthanasia to anyone, even when it's the best option. I do think some vets are quick to suggest or pass along the cost of expensive tests or equipment on to vulnerable patients.
It's a case of systems, not individual veterinarians, just like human health care.
Veterinary care is becoming an enormous corporate system with expensive technology, large staffs (and insurance), new kinds of medications, some dubious, more and more regulations, and most important, increasingly emotionalized pet owners who have lost their grounding and see their animals as surrogate children and are willing to spend staggering amounts of money to prolong their loves or treat them.
The emotional issues involving animal care are staggering, little discussed, and hard for many animal lovers to openly acknowledge. Vets are not trained to talk about money, and most of them don't. Nor are they good social workers. To keep up with their client's demands, they often buy outrageously expensive new technology and then have to retrieve their costs.
They are trained to diagnose and heal, not to deal with emotionalized people who project their neuroses onto their animals. They don't like to talk about money or the death of animals. Animal lovers face enormous bills without much warning or opportunity to think. And many animal lovers are so torn they just don't know what to do in the heat of the moment, when their animals are suffering.
Yesterday, I was flooded with messages from people asking what my ethics are when it comes to veterinary care. As you know, I don't care to tell other people what to do, I can only write about what I do. I am not interested in arguing my beliefs or yours. We all do the best we can. If you don't agree with me, that is fine with me, do what you think is right.
If it is useful for people to know what it is that I do, I'll relate my ideas here. Every dog, cat, horse, human and issue is different, there is no all-encompassing idea to cover everyone and their animals.
You have to do what is comfortable for you to do. I'm afraid there is no book or video that will do your thinking for you. I certainly won't, that is the American disease, although I sometimes do try and challenge people to think. The "left" or the "right" can't help you, neither will a book or video. You don't need to do what I do, you will have to think about it yourself and with your family.
And don't forget therapists and psychologists. If you are stuck, frightened and can't let go, don't be shy about getting help. I had 20 plus years of therapy and it saved my life. Free advice online from strangers is not generally a good substitute. I meet pet owners all the time who could benefit from professional counseling, few of them know it. Animal love is a powerful force, and it drives many people to the edge and over.
My Ethics For Veterinary Care
1. Talk to the vet before there is trouble. Make she (most like to be a woman) will listen to you.
And think about your limits, resources and life before you have to make tough decisions about animals and money.
How much money do you have in reserve? How much do you wish to spend? How much debt do you wish to acquire? Will pet insurance save you money or entice you into spending more than you should?
Most importantly, what are your limits? This is something husband and wife, partners or family members should all talk about and know about. Do not ever lie to your children thinking you are protecting them, they will hate you for it.
People are shy about discussing money and reluctant to seem uncaring about their animals. I needed (and need) to get over that. When I took Fate in to have her foot checked, I told the vet to do whatever she needed to do to discover the problem and treat it. So that cost $400, and nothing was found. Fate was running around l like a fool a couple of days later. Not the vet's fault, my fault.
And don't care to purchase health insurance. If I can't afford it, I shouldn't do it. It seems strange to have to say it, but dogs are not people, neither are cats.
In the back of my mind when I took Fate and Red to the vet, I was thinking I've been through this 1,000 times with my dogs, border collies, Labs and mutts. On a farm, the working dog, the active dog will cut their paws, twist their ankles and joints, vomit and gag, limp and shake, eat gross and infected things, step on glass or pointed objects. Next time, I will look to make sure nothing is embedded, and if it persists, I will make an appointment and tell the vet I want to be conservative and moderate.
Perhaps X-rays can wait a day, or we can skip some pills. In any case, if I'm going to spend hundreds of dollars, I want to know it in advance, so I can make a good decision. Ethical vets will discuss costs gladly, but sometimes, I just have to ask.
If I didn't wish to spend $400 on a sprain, I don't wish to spend $5,000 on a malignant tumor
I know a man who took $20,000 from his retirement fund to keep his cancer-stricken Lab alive for four years, and another woman who took her daughter's college tuition savings and spent $23,000 on surgical procedures for her dying and very old cat. Both people were proud of their decision and saw this spending as acts of loyalty and love.
I see it differently.
If it is carefully considered, that is one thing. If it is a spur of the moment decision, made on the floor of a veterinary office, it is reckless and dangerous.
When I brought Red in for his diarrhea, I said I didn't want to spend four or five hundred dollars off the bat, as it happened I ended up spending $90. But I thought about it and was ready to forestall more expensive testing, which was not suggested. That kind of thinking means Red will get more health care, not less.
It is imperative to set limits and think about finances before hand, and not in the trauma and moment of animal distress or an emergency. Watching Fate limp so badly, I would have agreed to almost anything to stop her pain, so the conversations with the vet need to occur outside of an emergency.
Your love of a dog or cat is not measured by how much money you are willing to spend, but the kind of love you give them, how much thought you are giving to the animal's welfare, and to yours.
2. To me, it is unethical to spend many thousands of dollars on a dog or cat, no matter how much I love them. That kind of excess is rarely about the dog, it is often about the human. it is not about what the animal needs, but what we need.
I do not believe in subjecting animals to traumatic and invasive major surgeries that will cause them great suffering and anxiety.
I have experienced extreme financial pressure, and I do not believe it appropriate or healthy to go deeply into debt because of a pet, that is not what having a dog or cat is about for me. If Red could understand human foibles and motives, I am certain he would not wish me to go into debt to keep him alive for a while. That is not about service, and is out of sync with the glorious history of dogs and people.
I have a right to consider my own welfare and security. So, I think, do you.
I will not subordinate my own safety and welfare or that of my family for the welfare of a dog or cat. That seems wrong to me, unnatural and unhealthy. I know people see that as the purest kind of love and loyalty, but I believe it diminishes the dignity and worth of being human, and it distorts the true nature of the human-animal bond.
We live in balance and harmony with animals, for me, it must be a balanced relationship. I do not criticize any person with a working or other animals who chooses to euthanize the animal rather than spend money they don't have and can't afford. That is love out of balance for me, I understand many people feel differently.
3.The first conversation I now have with any vet is about my animal's end of life. I make it clear what my boundaries and limits are. If the vet is uncomfortable and believes that animals should be kept alive by any means at all costs, I thank them for their time and go find another vet.
When Lenore, Rose and Izzy were gravely ill and in great pain and confusion, I did not consult specialists or agree to multiple surgeries and expensive treatments, that is just another kind of abuse to me. I am wary of playing God in this way and subjecting animals to traumatic procedures they can't possibly understand or agree to.
My vet understood my feelings and limits in advance, so when the time came for the dogs I loved to leave us, we moved quickly to the most merciful and quick euthanasia. I'm not worried what the vet will think of me, and don't want to hear all of the many options available to the dog or cat past a certain point. My vet respects my position and helps me to do what I think is the right thing, for me and the dog.
This belief has often drawn considerable criticism, especially from people who say they are supporting the rights of animals, but are, in fact, not. They have sometimes accused me of being a murderer, taking the curious position that they love my animals more than I do.I do not discuss these decisions with other people, that is a path to madness and confusion and uncertainty. These are intensely personal decisions, and I take responsibility for the ones I make. I don't really care what other people would do.
Since animals cannot give their consent to our too-often cruel, debilitating and expensive medical procedures, I need to be an advocate for them. I do not subject them to the pain and cost sick and aging humans are forced to endure in our sometimes thoughtless society. My job is love them, treat them well, offer them the best lives I can, and do the best I can for as long as I can. We are all going to die, and we all have to right to die with as much dignity and comfort as possible. I accept that my dogs will not live long, they are dogs.
Few human beings have the chance to die that way in our world, we can still give this great gift to the animals we live with.
Our medical technology has too often fooled us into thinking we can fight death, or greatly prolong our lives without sacrifice. Therapy work for the aged and for people with dementia suggests that we prolong life with little thought to the kind of life we are offering, a life too often devoid of comfort or meaning.
I don't ever wish to do this to a dog of mine, just as I don't wish it for me. I'm happy to spend money on regular laser and message treatments for Red, I can afford them, and they work.
I love Red dearly, as much as I have loved any animal. If he had malignant cancer, extreme kidney disease, or crippling arthritis or some other chronic and painful condition, if he could not live the natural life of a dog, especially a working dog, I would seek to euthanize him as soon as possible.
I don't have a dollar limit on veterinary care, but I would certainly not exceed more than several thousand dollars, and then only if I had reason to believe the treatments would be effective. And I don't much like spending $400 or $500 every time a border collie steps on a rock. I need to be clearer on that.
We live in a world where many millions of children starve and freeze and have no health care of any kind, I will not spent many thousands of dollars on a dog or cat. We all have our own sense of ethics, that would violate mine. I respect anyone who makes a different choice, it is not for me to tell them what to do, or to have others tell me what to do. Maria's position is somewhat softer than mine, but not by much.
She argued successfully to go ahead with an amputation of Minnie's leg, it ended up costing $2,000, more than we expected.
We both are glad Minnie is alive, I still doubt our choice. We are both clear on not spending money we don't have.
But most often, we are in accord on perspective, it is essential in my mind to the idea of living well with animals. We need a wiser and more mystical understanding of them than this idea of keeping them alive forever and at all costs.
So that is a general outline of my ethics when it comes to my animals and veterinary care. Over the years, it has taken clearer and firmer shape, and I am comfortable with it. When I have to make this decision about limits – it is increasingly necessary in this world – I look in the mirror and respect what I see. I hope this is of use to people whether you agree or not.
And I am grateful to the Cambridge Valley vets for taking such good and swift care of Red. For all of this, there is no source or person I trust more with my dog's health than my vet. I do not ever take advice from strangers online, or seek answers and remedies there. I can't think of a more uncaring thing to do to the animals I live with.