Saving Old Yeller

I ask you, what wouldn't you do for this little snugglebunny?

I ask you, what wouldn't you do for this little snugglebunny? Source: The Barrie Hardymon Audrey Archives hide caption

itoggle caption Source: The Barrie Hardymon Audrey Archives

I'm happily engaged to a Kansan — he grew up on a real, live farm, with pigs, cows, sheep, and a whole herd of barn cats. He seems to love my little fuzzbucket, Audrey (see above! SEE!), with all the enthusiasm a big strong bald man can muster for a super furry Persian spoiled brat...er... cat. Imagine my horror, then, to find out that in his youth, his family had to dispose (YES, DISPOSE) of some of the aforementioned cats. This, to a young woman raised in the relatively disconnected suburban universe, was cause for a tear or two, and some soul searching. We've worked it out since then, don't fear. But I'll tell you, living with a man who lived on a farm puts my deep, obsessive, probably unhealthy love of my kitty in perspective. A raft of articles appeared last weekend about how far we will, and do, go for our pets — suffice it to say, after a staggering vet bill and some dog psychotherapy, Old Yeller probably would have made it. What's wrong with us? Are we crazy, disconnected, lonely? Have we gone too far in our pet-people relationships?

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Having grown-up on a farm as well, I have 2 different perspectives.

1) It's ONLY a Dog! (Cat, Gerbel, ... etc)
It's NOT your brother or sister. As such, I've said "good bye" to several animal companions over the years. Some just "wondered off" (never to be seen again), one killed in front of me by a passing car!
2) But, ITS still family!
After living with an animal for 16 years I had to choose between "extraordinary measures" and putting the dog to sleep. Rather than spending money I didn't have. I chose to put her to sleep. (Not an easy choice.)

Sent by Harold | 3:03 PM | 7-22-2008

These people are just nuts. A walk in the woods with a pistol used to be considered a merciful method of putting an animal out of its misery. Kitty Chemo?!? Are you insane? Just get another cat!

Sent by Xavier Onassis | 3:12 PM | 7-22-2008

I wonder if this is a question that can really be answered. Until you are in a situation where your beloved pet is looking at you to help them, you really cannot answer. We love our dog Ginger and often find we go to great lengths to make sure she is healthy and comfortable, almost more than you would would for a human who can articulate what is wrong with them.

Sent by lisa marie | 3:14 PM | 7-22-2008

the first thing i did when i adopted my dog fro the shelter was to buy health insurance for him. it isn't very expensive but it does help out.

Sent by Oregon listener | 3:14 PM | 7-22-2008

Where do I draw the line? I have a 14 year old Labrador, and care for a 31 year old horse. We have regular vet visits for dog and horse. I draw the line at maintaining the dignity and comfort of each. It's hard to think that it is unlikely either will be around to see the winter.

Sent by diana schatz (pronounced, "shots") | 3:15 PM | 7-22-2008

With so many homeless pets in shelters and on the street - does it really make sense to keep an older pet alive artificially for a few more months? Why not let them go and give another pet a home?

Sent by Doris | 3:15 PM | 7-22-2008

Cats and vets. I'm obviously not the only one who spent way too much money keeping my cat alive for an extra 3 months. We had the barium X-ray series, surgery for a blockage, then we cleaned her teeth (hoping that she would start eating again) and then, finally, we decided no more. We cajoled her to eat, loved her, and pampered her for 6 more weeks. On July 1st Bizzy had her final visit to the vet. I grew very fond of my vets and I certainly appreciate all they did for Bizzy, but I would not want any of my other 3 cats to go through this again. If the cat stops eating, we'll have her put down.

Sent by Vicki Glassburn | 3:16 PM | 7-22-2008

I am not judging, however... I would like to what rationale the pet owners use to justify paying these exorbitant amounts on an animal when you can see all the human suffering in world or even in your city. I'm trying to understand.

Sent by Mark Hoover | 3:17 PM | 7-22-2008

My beloved 10 year old dog was diagnosed with cancer this week. She had surgery last week and was just transported to the vet by pet taxi (from doggie daycare) for preparation for an endoscopy tomorrow. There will also be an ultrasound and chest x-rays. She will need more surgery--probably next week--by a specialist. I know that an oncologist is also being consulted. I know I need to decide what my financial limit is, but right now I'm willing to spend a lot to keep her healthy. I will not allow chemo because of the quality of life issue. I am only willing to spend what will give her a good rest of her life.

Sent by Debra Greenstein | 3:18 PM | 7-22-2008

I adopted a cat from a no-kill shelter. He had a urinary blockage 5 years before, and they got him the operation. He has to be on a special (not terribly expensive) diet, and he otherwise has had no continuing issues or any special medical expenses beyond that initial operation. He's the most wonderful, loving cat, and I am so grateful that he is in my life. I draw the line on pet medical expenses by asking two questions - Will there be continuing medical problems that stem from the larger issue, and will these problems dramatically lower the pet's quality of life? My vet told me that an animal only cares about quality of life, not quantity of life, and that's the most important thing to keep in mind when making medical decisions.

Sent by Karla | 3:19 PM | 7-22-2008

I don't draw the line on care for my pets. Luckily, I am able to afford the medical expenses for my dogs. I have a 12 year old Chesapeake Bay retriever mix who last year had pneumonia about 8 times. In addition to one 10-day stint in the vet ICU, we also spent our spring break in 2007 driving him to a vet school 10 hours away. The care for him since then has included 2 different types of antibiotics daily (among a few other medicines). The good news his he has rebounded incredibly from the brink of death. He is the happiest, most loving dog and gives our whole family so much. I have to mention that he has also had 2 ACL surgeries. We take our dogs on walks every day and they are not overweight. I love my animals and my children and husband feel the same way.

Sent by Molly! Goodyear | 3:19 PM | 7-22-2008

There are many things you could have done holistically to have avoided him ever getting the urinary infection. Taking him off wet food is one of them. I have the name of several holistic vets that can help at very little cost. I have an excellent vet that is very supportive of any of my holistic treatments and is careful to not do procedures without talking to me or that he feels are not worth the cost. Consequently, my whole family uses him and we refer clients to him constantly.

Sent by Christina Mueller | 3:21 PM | 7-22-2008

As a veterinarian working in California, I see a huge caseload of people whose pets ARE their children, and many times whose pets are cared for more than their children. The field has grown vastly over the past 15 years, and gold standard veterinary medicine is the only consideration for most people. When I have to discuss money with a client, I often am made to feel bad for thinking money is a concern for them.
On a side note, the "sex change" for urinary obstruction is not a sex change operation, but a re-routing of the urethra. Please stop calling it a sex change.

Sent by Lisa | 3:23 PM | 7-22-2008

We had a daschund with a bad back when our kids were young and money was tight. The operation would have been too expensive for us to be able to provide for our family, so, despite the pain, we had the dog put to sleep. If the same thing were to come up today to either of our daschund puppies, I would have to do the same thing. It would be difficult, but, as a working person, I can not afford to do any differently.

Sent by Chris Conley | 3:23 PM | 7-22-2008

Our Clumber Spaniel became paralyzed in his hind quarters and required spinal surgery at UT vet Hosp. Some $3000.00 later, he is learning to walk again. Worth every cent.

Sent by Eugene F. Corcoran, Jr. | 3:24 PM | 7-22-2008

I love my two current cats, just as I loved all the cats I've owned in the past. I also live in a country (the U.S.) in which people -- not cats, not dogs, but living, breathing adults and children -- suffer and sometimes die because they don't have access to basic nutrition or medical and dental care. Spending $25,000 on "kitty chemo" seems like pretty clear evidence that whatever moral compass this country used to possess has spun off the charts. "Skewed values" is an understatement with breathtaking implications.

Sent by Matthew Stratton | 3:25 PM | 7-22-2008

My cat is older and has bladder stones. I had to have him in the vet's office four times this year for the stones and then for an intestinal blockage. I was also guilted into getting his teeth cleaned (which included extraction of 3 teeth mid-operation!!).This has added up to more than $3000 this year (it was really the first time we took him to the vet outside of regular shots, etc).

In hindsight I am angry that my vet's office didn't approach a discussion about the cost of these treatments earlier. Not until I was at the emergency vet in the middle of the night, facing down a possible exploratory operation for $3800 did anyone broach the topic of "you might need to put this cat down".

I am glad it worked out, and all he needed was a barium enema to clear things up.. but it has really hurt my pocketbook this year.

When I talk to people about these costs, I say "well at least I have no children!" Although somewhat sarcastically. I am not sure that paying out so much money repeatedly is a good practice going forward.

Sent by Sandy Matuseski | 3:25 PM | 7-22-2008

We often refer to our cat, Lobo as our best behaved child. He is a 12 year old tuxedo cat who recently had a urinary tract blockage. After 4 days in the vet hospital on a catheter, we received our whopping $1300 vet bill (plus another $250 in follow-up appointments). I admit, I was shocked, but it was worth every penny. He is as good as new, and back to playing with our children (he is also a guard-cat to our son, who is terrified of dogs). Since he had never been to the vet before in his life, it seemed to be worth it, if you averaged it out over the years.

Sent by Samantha, Gig Harbor, WA | 3:26 PM | 7-22-2008

I had the sex change performed on my neutered cat, Pumpkin, about 10 years ago due to urinary blockage. He recovered well and spent another 4 healthy years with us until he started to decline again from suspected renal failure. I spent approximately $3-4,000 during the initial illness and surgery but chose to euthanize him when he lost half his body weight and kidneys began to fail. He was 14 years old and I loved him very much, but I had to weigh the cost of trying to keep him alive a second time. I was fortunate to have very level headed, loving vets to aid in my decision making both times, unlike your guest today. That is sad to hear. I do not regret either decision I made.

Sent by Jill Norris, St. Charles, Mo | 3:26 PM | 7-22-2008

I can understand thinking of dogs as people, my husband and I have had our dog since he gave him to me as a gift before we were married, and now that he is nearing the end of his life the feelings of attachment we have toward him are very strong in part because he has been a part of our relationship since the beginning. We will grieve for him when he is gone and he will have a revered place in our backyard.

Sent by Angie H | 3:26 PM | 7-22-2008

How does all this square with the many who don't go any distance at all for their pets? What about the people who abandon their pets when they move? Or fail to spay or neuter? Or drop them in shelters for failing to match the furniture? If there is this developing culture of treating pets as children, why are millions of pets euthanized at shelters every year? Why the inconsistency?

Sent by Corinne | 3:27 PM | 7-22-2008

I'm a photographer and was shooting products for a pet store just after Katrina hit. I was taking photos of pet clothing costing upwards of $200 and $300 dollars. It's shocking to see the amount of money people are willing to spend on their pets - why not sending money to support the poor, or disenfranchised kids? I love my dog, but his collar cost me less than $20 and he doesn't wear clothes. His fur is enough...

Sent by Ramona d'Viola | 3:27 PM | 7-22-2008

My sheltie and I lived for the last months of his life in Western Massachusetts, where, at the regions best veterinary research hospital, I discovered he had inoperable cancer. In a hilltown near Amherst where we lived, I found a vet who did palliative care via acupuncture for my dog for months. Every time he was treated he perked up, was more engaged with me and others, and was better able to get around. Well worth the several hundreds of dollars (vet hospital and acupressure combined) to give him relief.

What I didn't know was when to say when. the last 2 weeks of his life I wouldn't want to do again. It hurt him when I had to carry him downstairs to take care of bladder and bowel functions. At last the signs were clear. I took flowers with me on that last trip to the vet, held him on my lap while he was euthanized. I turned to look at him and the last image of him is on the floor, still, lifeless, but with a large bunch of flowers. He was my family and best friend in a "foreign" place.(We had come from AZ.)

Sent by Roberta Burnett | 3:28 PM | 7-22-2008

i live aboard a sailing vessel on the westcoast of oregon. there is a large explosion of people living with dogs on board their boats. dog poop, leashless rude dogs, coupled with lonely dogs barking in cockpits endlessly are ruining an otherwise quiet, peaceful experience.

Sent by bob shafer | 3:29 PM | 7-22-2008

My precious Miss. Piggy (a Japanese Bobtail-Tabby) died at 17 years this spring. We payed an average of $500 for two operations about 3 years apart to remove cancerous tumors. It was well worth it for us. We also discovered a pain medication that is a gel applied in the inner ear that would have been very useful on her last recovery. If you have ever tried to wrestle an animal in pain to give them pain meds then you know how useful this product could be.

On another note, we have a 22 year old Malayan Turtle (they commonly live to be 35)named Curtle. We are in the process of upgrading his home to give him more swimming room this summer. When I was about 10 (17 years ago) to my horror, our dog got a hold of our turtle and ate off the front and back end of his shell. We took both pets to the animal hospital (actually, I walked my turtle the mile or so, all the way crying, to the hospital before my dad could rush home from work to take us). The dog had to have his stomach pumped and Curtle got "plastic surgery", the doctor re-formed his missing shell ends with some kind of fiberglass solution. The last of the fiberglass fell off when I was in high school and I am very thankful that this procedure was imagined and done, although I have no idea how much it cost because I was so little at the time. BTW, yes, turtle shells have nerve endings and can bleed. Please be careful before you consider taking a wild or pet shop turtle into your care. It is a big commitment.

Sent by Kristy Tumlinson | 3:30 PM | 7-22-2008

I have three pugs in addition to a six year old son. I can say without a doubt that I love my pugs as much as my son and would do anything for them. If they need me to be there for them I am just like I am for my son.

Sent by Christine Portland, OR | 3:30 PM | 7-22-2008

I had to deal with this issue twice recently -- one, a cat who it turned out had a tumor pressing on her trachea -- the vets did not encourage but did state that we had options such as surgery, chemo, radiation...none of which made sense for a 15 y.o. cat. This is quality of life?

The other, has just been diagnosed with chronic kidney failure. I am happy to do every other day subq fluids, and Mirtazapine as an appetite stimulant, but I would never consider dialysis or kidney transplant -- again, a 15 y.o. cat, where's the quality of life?

Of note: I am a palliative/hospice nurse. I see a parallel of technology taking over -- just because we CAN do something doesn't mean we should

Sent by Miriam | 3:30 PM | 7-22-2008

Why we love pats so much and they same time we do nothing to save other animals which are be slather like wolfs for example. What a wired the human being is....

Sent by Andrew | 3:30 PM | 7-22-2008

Ghandi said, "We can tell the evolution of a society by how they treat their animals."
I believe I am quoting that correctly....
We are seeing how much they provide to the healing of our families, prisons, aging homes, lonely individuals...we are just starting to give back what they give us!

Sent by christina cliff | 3:30 PM | 7-22-2008

A few years back, our dog was let out of our backyard by our neighbor. Being like a child to us, we were devastated. We put an ad in the newspaper with a $1000 reward for his safe return. We were broke and couldn't really afford the reward, still we wanted to do anything and everything we could to find him again. In the end he was returned to us. The party that found him had not seen the ad - luckily. We gave the family $150 to cover the food, toys and treats they had bought for him. Scout serves as an integral part of our family; I'd like to think we'd spend almost anything to save him. I hope I don't ever have to ask "how much is too much?"

Sent by Blake | 3:31 PM | 7-22-2008

I've seen a woman carrying a cat in sling baby carrier. I've also come across a carrier I thought was for a baby except there were no leg holes??? I quickly found out it was for a dog. Come on now this is just ridiculous.

If you can't afford the possibility of a pet then do the responsible thing and don't own one.

I agree with your guest. Once you have children you find that your children uhhhh definitely trump the pets.

Sent by Anna Harrington | 3:33 PM | 7-22-2008

I'm a small animal veterinarian in San Francisco, and it's unfortunate that people have been put in uncomfortable situations by their vets when owners' financial concerns and the pet's quality of life come into play. The most important thing to do is simply ask--ask for an estimate to see if treatment is financially feasible, ask what your vet feels are all possible humane options, etc. and if you have an honest, compassionate vet (for both you and your pet), you should receive an honest, compassionate answer. It often can be difficult to judge whether an owner will become offended by automatically being presented with an estimate of costs or whether s/he will appreciate such a gesture.

Sent by Margaret | 3:34 PM | 7-22-2008

I had a beautiful Rottweiler, Greta, who became diabetic. My husband and I ran a restaurant, and every day during our 5 mile walk, Greta and I would stop by to say hello. It was a mystery to me how Greta became so overweight which resulted in diabetes. Later, I came to find out that all the cooks and waitresses would feed her prime rib, cheese cake and steak during our daily visits. Greta eventually had to be euthanized because of the diabetes; we celebrated her life by throwing a Christmas party for the entire Veterinarian chain at our restaurant (in lieu of paying the vet bill.) Greta was a great friend and I think of her often. She was quite famous in our small town of Denison, Iowa.

Sent by Robin Buchanan | 3:35 PM | 7-22-2008

Rasputin was found by me in a dumpster, beaten and dying, sleeping in 80 degree weather with the three raccoons that beat him up. I have before and after pictures that may be interesting to your listeners.

Sent by John Bakkila | 3:36 PM | 7-22-2008

My husband and I recently lost our small parrot. She was (unusually) completely bonded to the both of us; had her own likes and dislikes (though we aren't Prairie Home Companion fans she'd sing along to it, so we always left it on)
She became eggbound even with no nest box or other bird companion, and we spent 5 days at 3 different vets trying to find a vet that could help her. We ended up spending over a thousand dollars, and the last place we went gave us an estimate of 14k, although it ended up being less since she died during the procedure. We would have spent 5 times as much to have her still with us today.
We still have a cat, and I even though we love the cat, I can say with certainty that the love/ relationship is entirely different between the two pets. I don't think we'd spare no expense on out cat. Our bird was such a person, and we miss her dearly.

Sent by amelia g | 3:37 PM | 7-22-2008

Fascinating topic! Our cats do, indeed, feel like family members. They bicker and play. The must be separated at mealtimes in order to enforce weight management. And we have taught them to use the toilet! We have a neutered male cat that has recently had a couple bouts of urinary issues. Because he has learned to use the toilet, we were able to recognize his second bout immediately. We watched him hop up on the seat, position to pee, then finally jump down without doing anything. We had him at the vet's office within 30 minutes (it just worked out that way) and we discussed putting him on a prescription diet that adjusts the pH of his urine to prevent UTIs. We allow our pets to interact with us at just about everything. We do draw the line when they want to help us cook dinner!
As far as medical care, we believe in prevention. We regulate weight in order to avoid diabetes in old age. We would rather not have to spend money on such treatments as insulin or prozac! We will take our cats adventuring. The aforementioned male enjoys getting out and about in the car and exploring new destination. People have commented that he is more like a dog than a cat. He does, in fact, walk on a leash because he has outgrown the cat harness!
We believe that our animals are smarter and more trainable than many people give them credit for, but they are still pets. They may watch the TV, but they do not have favorite shows. They can manipulate us into certain actions, but they are not conniving, merely conditioned.

Sent by Jacq | 3:39 PM | 7-22-2008

I recently lost a dog named Scout. He was a great boy and only two years old when we had to put him to sleep. During the two years of his life he was at the vet's for several procedures. He had eye surgery for an inverted eyelid problem that was genetic. He had several visits for a small cut on his paw that went abcess despite our keeping it clean and dry. He had a hematoma on his neck from standing up in his extra large kennel (he was 105 lbs) and hitting his neck.

We were happy to get such great care for him from our excellent veterinarian hospital. At the end when he became ill, we took him to the emergency vet thinking he had eaten something innocuous. They kept him overnight and did many tests before we discovered that Scout had drank antifreeze. We tried the treatment they have for antifreeze. It cost $1,000 for each treatment. He never got better and started having seizures, so in the end we had to make the right decision and let him go. It's still really hard and although we probably spent $4,000-$5,000 on his care in two years, I cherish his memory and wish that we could have kept him longer!! He will always be the best dog I ever had!!

Sent by Jennifer from Charlotte | 3:39 PM | 7-22-2008

Recently I took my dog to the emergency hospital for an allergic reaction. The vet examined her and told me he would give me a quote as to the expense to treat her. I told him that he should just go ahead and treat her because I couldn't imagine a number he would give me where I would say not to treat her. He told me that by Arizona law he had to give me an estimate that I need to sign before he could treat her. It ended up being over $500 and I felt very fortunate that I could afford it.

Sent by Joan Laubach | 3:40 PM | 7-22-2008

I have had many pets in my adult life as I enjoy them. Currently I have 2 cats Zoey and Vincent and they are great. I have put other pets down before and usually I make the decision based on number one, can I afford it and number two, is the animal going to like having tests and all those trips to the vet? Most animals I have owned do not enjoy the vet and their quality of life diminishes pretty rapidly when dealing with a long term illness. The vet visits alone create a lot of stress. So based on past experience I do put the pet down when their quality of life is failing.

Sent by Jennifer Pigeon | 3:40 PM | 7-22-2008

I once spent a sum I could not afford ($1800 or thereabouts) to have surgery done on my 6-year-old miniature Schnauzer. Why? My son had been horsing around and fell on her, breaking her pelvis. I went to the loan shark for my SON, who would have been devastated to think he had been responsible for the dog's death. The dog's disposition was never the same after her ordeal, but she adored my son completely, and the remaining 6 years of their mutual lovey-dovey relationship was worth the exorbitant interest and financial stress. If I had fallen on the dog, I would have regretted it, but I would have let her go.

Sent by Penny Schmitt | 3:41 PM | 7-22-2008

would we have a radio program about the financial choices people make to spend $20,000 on a kitchen remodel? or $50,000 on a car?

Sent by sally | 3:41 PM | 7-22-2008

It's a member of the family, but it's also a pet. Unlike humans (sorry Dr. Kervorkian, we've got to make sure our humans suffer), animals can be euthanized, which is done to end their suffering. And sorry Bob Barker, but there's lots and lots of healthy loving animals killed every day in pounds because people don't follow your advice (spade and neuter). Take lots of pictures, end your pet's suffering, and go save one from the pound. Within a few days you'll love it almost as much as the beloved one you had to put down, and there'll be a whole new adventure in your life.

Sent by John George | 3:44 PM | 7-22-2008

We have just adopted a dog with heartworms. We knew she had them, but this is the best dog in the world and just because someone couldn't be bothered to give her a "pill" once a month, doesn't mean she should be put down. I have spent nearly $1000 so far on the HW treatment and some other problems, and I have to say this sweet dog is worth it.

Sent by Pat | 3:44 PM | 7-22-2008

I work with the French Bulldog Rescue Network and we have many available dogs, but many of them have special needs, which is code for expensive medical bills. I adore my French bulldogs but I sometimes wonder if all the money that we raise could be used for other purposes.

I grew up on a farm which the phrase "Culling" meant putting to sleep or worse. I love my animals, but I try to be realistic. To save money,we do research to see if any vet studies are available (my late Gussie was involved in a study of Cushings disease in dogs -- I would not have spent the money without the available vet school researcher to help me with the bills.

Sent by M. Smith | 3:45 PM | 7-22-2008

I'm working my way through some of these issues now. One thing I haven't seen in the comments above is how expenses can kind of sneak up on a pet owner. Very few people begin by spending thousands of dollars at the vet! And at the time, very few people consider how else the money could be spent -- the urgent question is how to alleviate the pet's suffering.

I used to think I would draw the line at a chronic pet ailment -- until I had a cat whose kidneys failed, and we tried a dietary change, then meds, then subcutaneous fluids... and then gave up when she stopped eating and tried to hide (up the chimney, but that's another story). At each step, it was just a little more cost, just a little more time, just a little more attention, and it was not easy to draw a line.

Now I have an elderly cat with hyperthyroid -- which is treatable with medication, at about $30/month, and regular blood tests to adjust the dosage. He appears to have an abscessed tooth; I'm waiting for a call from the vet to find out whether that can be treated or if he's just too fragile and this might be the last straw.

I have a child, and had to give up a dog because the dog was not safe with kids. We did our best to find the dog a good home; it was hard, and I cried, but there was never any question that our daughter's safety was paramount.

Sent by Robin | 3:46 PM | 7-22-2008

I think the gentleman in the conversation is a little bit harsh on animal lovers. We have overpopulated the planet, destroyed the environment, and lost our social abilities. So what if dogs have adapted by charming us? Isn't it better if some of us have animals instead? Would he rather spend the money on war, welfare, I don't know what he would RATHER have us do???!!!

Sent by M. Smith | 3:48 PM | 7-22-2008

The way I look at our pets is WE chose to get them, they are dependent on US because of that decision and we should do all in our power to take care of them. We had one quite a few years back who was hit by a car and needed specialized surgery. She got it! We scrimped on that one!
She was the BEST dog. Several years later she developed cancer in her sinuses and we chose at that time to let her go. It was more merciful to do that than keep her going knowing her quality of life would not allow her to do the things SHE loved to do. I fight tears as I write this. We now have 3 dogs and love them dearly but not a one can hold a candle to Rascal. I still miss her and look forward to seeing her when I go. If there is no dogs allowed in heaven I don't want to go!

Sent by Kim B | 3:48 PM | 7-22-2008

Years ago, my wife took our German Shepherd Dog in to our vet for euthanasia because he had severe problems including hip dysplasia, kidney problems and old age. We could not afford the care for him with a new baby in the house. When she got there the vet was not in, but the attendant took the information and had her sign the paperwork. She met the Doctor on the way out of the office while he was returning, and gave him an uncharacteristic small smile, instead of her usual mile-a-minute happy conversation.
The Doctor sent a letter to us a couple of days later expressing his sympathy and how touched he was at our bravery for making the decision. My wife called him to tell him that it was the kindest note that she'd ever received. All three of us wound up in mutual tears during the call. He knew that there was no real choice for us and said that my wife's smile had touched him.
Needless to say, three more household animals later, his is still and will always be out veterinarian.

Sent by jr smith | 3:49 PM | 7-22-2008

I have no human children, but I have 3 dogs and a cat. I have the luxury of being able to spend whatever it will take to keep my dogs and cat healthy and happy.
I learned the hard way when an old cat I had needed chemotherapy. I went for it and spent a LOT of money. The cat's last months were miserable, it was not worth it keeping him alive. Especially since I couldn't communicate that he'd feel better after he felt worse.....
So, even though emotionally I look at my pets as children, I realize that they are not my species. They are animals. They live in the moment so I live in the moment with them and trust that I would know when it's time to let them go. But until then, I'd clean out my savings and charge up my cards to keep them alive if I thought they would have a good dog/cat life. No lengthy hospital stays, no chemo. But meds, and treatments... you bet.

Does it make sense that there are children in my town with no health care and I'd spend oodles on my pets? Maybe not, but I can only deal with that which I can control.

Sent by April Green | 3:50 PM | 7-22-2008

I am hearing comments such as "epidemic" of spending too much on pet medical care and being manipulated to spend more than you can afford. I think epidemic is a bit dramatic. To me, an epidemic is something that spreads without prejudice through a population causing tragic and catastrophic consequences that we have little control over.

As far as being manipulated to feel guilty and spend more than you can afford...well you can't be manipulated unless you allow it to happen. Feeling guilty because you don't love your pet enough??? Please! You know, and ONLY you know where your pet stands in your life. As a whole are we really that concerned about what the vet or anyone else will think of us if we don't sell our souls.

Personally, I would spend whatever I possibly could to care for my dog and cats and I believe that is a personal decision that each individual pet owner has to make without...again, having someone try to make you feel guilty or question your practical intelligence for spending too much money on a pet. I'll spend what I spend and anyone else can spend what they'll spend to take care of their precious animals. I'm not asking anyone else, taxpayers or otherwise, to foot the bill. So why do they care?

If a person cannot afford at least minimal care for their animal such as vaccinations, neutering, pest control (fleas)then for the sake of the animal, just don't get one.

Sent by Jeannie Jeffers | 3:51 PM | 7-22-2008

My husband and I have 2 dachshunds. One of which lost her eyesight this past spring. We chose to not have experimental treatment for her as it was very expensive with too many risks (including death) Our other dog needed emergency back surgery a month ago or he would've been paralyzed. We ended up spending $3,000, but he is young, a year old and extremely healthy. We also knew that his probable outcome was very favorable. We were right. He has a great quality of life now with few problems. I guess what I believe is that one needs to make each decision based on facts and well reasoned risks vs. rewards for each individual pet and owner.

Sent by Suzanne Roberts | 3:53 PM | 7-22-2008

The aspect of this discussion that says or implies there are better things to do with money than spend it on animals is so very offensive to me.
People spend big money on luxury cars, Rolex watches or $15,000 on a 1-week vacation and no one comments that the money could be better spent on social justice. In fact I bet people who are willing to sacrifice for a pets medical care are also generally more generous to social Justus funds.
I rescued a strange dog who had been hit on the freeway, she cost me 8 thousand dollars. She is a great dog, she has a limp, she is very happy and she has been a very good influence in my life. It took me 3 years to pay off the card, I am glad I did it, though it hurt my wallet terribly.
I am actually a cat person, and I have done lots of stuff to rescue cats both domestic and feral.
I agree that prolonging life in the face of great suffering is a bad idea. But animals also don't feel sorry for themselves.

Sent by jane Cleland | 3:55 PM | 7-22-2008

Obviously, this is a much more complex issue than a simple "how much would you spend?" It has to do with our schizophrenic relationships with animals in this culture.

I feel the bottom line is always compassion...do what is most compassionate, whether euthanasia or treatment. It's very sad that we even have to deal with euthanasia.

For the person who asked, "what about human suffering?" They are not mutually exclusive and I can be compassionate to both humans and animals (as well as spend money on both causes).

I think we need to move away from a traditonal masculine anthropocentric view of the world...it's violent and destructive...notice how many of the posts from men lack compassion versus those of women.

Sent by Theresa | 4:00 PM | 7-22-2008

I grew up on a farm and this has affected how I think about pets. In the 18 years living there, we had about 15 dogs come and go (many went by being hit by cars or log trucks) and many more cats... so many I couldn't really give a fair guess at numbers. The cats usually died from being attacked by the dogs we had or the neighbors had or by wild predators (racoons, coyotes, bobcats).

Now that I live in the city, I have three cats and take care of them pretty responsibly. But (oh the horror) I do let them go outside... As some people say, animals don't care about "quantity of life, they only care about quality." I did spend $375 on one of my cats when she had seizures after eating crab... the vet didn't find anything wrong with her and she would have recovered fine at home (without crab), but I was willing to part with the money for a relatively young and very friendly cat.

I actually decided NOT to go into the veterinary field myself because I didn't want to deal with "crazy pet owners" because I knew that I couldn't in good conscious do a $1,500 CAT-scan for a pet. The farmer in me says, "they're animals, and as long as the lives they had until the end were happy, that's the best you can do."

My boyfriend, on the other hand, grew up with a mother who raised show dogs (Shelties) and he has three cats, two of whom he treats like children. We have vastly different reactions when one of my cats doesn't come in at night. I go to sleep... he wakes up every two hours to see if they returned. And God forbid one of his cats gets outside at all! The frantic pacing and yelling, the raising blood pressure... it's just all too much for a pet who is usually having a great time with their newfound freedom.

His oldest cat is 19 and has a severely rotted tooth. Extraction is the only option -- but at 19 there is a big risk that the cat won't wake up. So instead we just keep monitoring him and as long as he still goes upstairs every day to sit on his favorite cushion, I think he'll be alright. Once he stops, it'll be time. This conclusion was reached in part because boyfriend doesn't want to be the responsible party for the cat's death. He doesn't want to have the vet do the extraction and have something go wrong. To me, this isn't completely "right." If the pet's quality of life would be improved if he survived the extraction, wouldn't that be best? But boyfriend would be so guilt-ridden if his decision caused the cat's "early" demise (I quote "early" because the cat has already live an incredibly long life).

Sent by Leah in Oregon | 4:23 PM | 7-22-2008

That wonderful Ghandi quote is:
"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.

I didn't hear the whole show, but I didn't hear anyone mention how much our beloved animals give to us in terms of unconditional love and loyalty, things that are worth more than anything money can buy.

I lost my 15 year old doggie friend about a month ago and I am now suffering exactly what I feared--I miss my lovely, peaceful time spent with her each day, which she made brighter beyond any human being because there were no strings attached. Many ancient cultures have revered their animal and treated them with the respect and love they deserve. Mr. Katz claim that the animals can't speak to us--that is true if you only hear words spoken out loud. When the time came for me to let my dear dog go, I knew it because in her own way she let me know that it was her time. I let her go because I loved her, I did not keep her alive to prevent my pain. I think if we pay attention we know what is right for them.

Sent by Beth | 4:28 PM | 7-22-2008

This story couldn't have been aired at a more relevant or difficult time for me; I was on my way home from dropping off my 4 year old cat at the vet when I heard it. He swallowed some sewing thread and has a mass in his stomach, possibly trailing into his intestines, and will need an $800-$2000 operation if he's going to live. I have no debt, but only $3500 in the bank, and my last day at my job is on Friday, with no new source of income lined up.

So now my boyfriend, my dad, and NPR are all trying to gently talk me out of saving my cat's life. I'm just beside myself.

Sent by Lauren E | 4:29 PM | 7-22-2008

Children are more expensive and from a legal litigation standpoint, more of a liability because you can always put your acting out pets to sleep!!!

Sent by M. Smith | 4:29 PM | 7-22-2008

Your guest was Spot (arf, arf) on -- since the 60s many have funneled their affection to pets. It's so much easier (and less challenging) than loving interactions with people.

But why contrast discretionary money spent on pets and vets to money spent or not spent on hungry and uninsured children? Why not contrast to the money spent on travel? On high definition TVs? On lattes? Or even on gifts to public radio? I live for the pledge week that begins, "Think about sending this year's donation to a hungry family." The fact is, most of us spend our money on things we like, be it pets, trips, restaurants, or NPR.

Sent by Chas. Jones | 4:50 PM | 7-22-2008

Years ago, I held my 2 year old cocker spaniel in my arms as the vet put him to sleep because of kidney failure. If I would have had the means and it was possible I would have consented to a transplant to save his life. But that was not the case.

I now have a twelve year old cocker/brittany mix and if faced with a serious illness with him, I would take into account my financial situation, the expected outcome, and quality of life he would be facing before I made any decisions regarding what I would do for him.

Like a previous commentor, I wonder why money spent on pets is being isolated as a "waste of money" by so many people today. There are an infinite amount of ways to waste money.

And I am tired of self-righteous individuals implying that every dollar I spend on my pet (yes, I do call him my child too) is taking money away from a more deserving individual. I venture to say, that the companionship, comfort, and love that my dog provides me - which in turn helps keep me sane, healthy, and a productive member of society is more deserving than some people I see on a daily basis.

Sent by Melissa | 4:59 PM | 7-22-2008

I have spent $4000 to fix a cruciate in my lab/german shepherd mix.. who, at 2 years old, was otherwise healthy and without the surgery (his meniscus had flipped over on itself) would have been in pain for life..
I also adopted a 6 year old diabetic dog, knowing i would end up spend a small fortune on insulin & needles. Why? because I was responsible for them! The diabetic dog was my foster dog and had been returned when the new owner could not handle the responsibility.

The question about why spend money on "just animals" when there is so much suffering in the world is ridiculous. Its the same as why even have pets (THAT money could be donated to a good cause)? Why have children when there are so many in need of adoption? Why put in a pool when there's a lake nearby? Why donate to political campaigns when soup kitchens are out of food?

I take my responsibilities very seriously - whether they be animals, relatives, or friends/family of choice.

So long as the care enhances their life (clearly losing my home to pay for surgery would result in a reduction in their quality of life :D), I'll do what's necessary to make sure it's done.

ps - we have had to make the tough decision to put a dog to sleep, but did so because it was cruel to keep her alive.

Sent by wendy curry | 6:35 PM | 7-22-2008

Having just spent over $10,000 to save our mastiff, I found today's program very interesting. We desperately wanted to alleviate our dog's suffering. Some vets were more helpful than others. We got so tired of running from one to another and felt that our dog would not be able to make one more trip or withstand one more test, so we stopped. Of course it was partly about the money as we are not wealthy but it was mostly about not putting her through any more trauma. She is currently holding her own. If it turned out to be cancer in addition to the infectious disease with which she was diagnosed, I would not put her through chemo. It is also a SAD commentary on our human relationships that we turn to our pets for unconditional "love".

Sent by roxanne | 6:44 PM | 7-22-2008

Neil, I was driving and unable to call. In the mid-60's I got a Air Force dog through the re-training process (Smokey Joe)who had received special Purple Heart and Silver Star for saving over 49 soldiers in Vietnam. Cutting a moving story to the end...went we had to take him for emergency medical treatment from Socorro to Albuquerque NM (over 90 miles) we were escorted by State Police cars going as fast as we could travel...he was treated at the VA hospital and is buried in the NM Memorial VA cemetery and his death for ever changed decades of politician control of central NM by a certain old time family..

I still tear when I remember him as my own son! And in this case, even the government spared no expense in an effort to save his life!

PS I do plan on writing the whole story as an essay

Sent by Joe Kingsley | 9:02 PM | 7-22-2008

My parents had a dog that they adopted from an animal rescue. She was a wonderful dog. She developed cancer later in life and my parents paid for the cancer treatments for her for a long time. When I came home she still had that happy enthusiasm for seeing us. When I came home from college one christmas break and she obviously was not happy, my family made the choice to put her down. We were able to prolong the time we had with her, but had to make a decision when it came to obvious pain and suffering.

Sent by Joshua Kraus | 9:35 PM | 7-22-2008

Twenty one years ago, I started to work in a small veterinary clinic. The owners were young and progressive. Back then more clients looked at their pets as "back yard" pets. Now things have changed with more and more clients look at their pets as members of the family. In our offices, we believe in presenting what is "best for the pet" leaving the final decision to the owner as to what they can provide. It would be wrong for us to decide, without first presenting the options to our client, what we think they can afford. What one client may think is completely reasonable another may not. With that a client that has to make a tough decision, after knowing the facts, should not be made to feel guilty for that decision.

Sent by B Mathews | 9:58 PM | 7-22-2008

Why are people so upset about the amount others spend on pets, especially veterinary care, but not about how much other people spend on, say, clothing, vehicles, nice houses, entertainment, and so on? Could not all the money spent for any excess in our lives go to help the poor? Yet it seems the argument is often about caring for animals versus caring for people, as if it's not possible or acceptable to do both. Perhaps those who are so bothered by people choosing to spend money on pets should reexamine their own lives and see if there are more resources they could personally put toward helping the poor.

Sent by Kelli Gaskill | 11:02 PM | 7-22-2008

I'm a veterinary cardiologist (yes, there is such a thing). There are also veterinary surgeons, ophthalmologists, dentists, neurologists, internists, etc. Specialty medicine is becoming more expected by clients. It is not an option for everyone. I don't feel that I "manipulate" clients into coming in to see me for specialty services. It is not for me to decide whether or not open heart surgery, cardiac catheterization, pacemaker implantation, ultrasound and the costs associated with these procedures are appropriate for the client (only they can decide what their financial priorities/constraints are). It is my job to let the owner know what the options are and what the costs associated with the tests/treatments can run and then it is their choice as to whether or not to proceed.

Sent by Stacy | 12:37 AM | 7-23-2008

I believe that when we decide to take a pet into our homes we make an implicit promise to them that they will have a better life than they would otherwise have. Any domestic animal has been stripped of some of their natural selves - the inability to form natural relationships with their own species, often a limitation in space and repression of natural behaviors. This for the sake of their relationship with us. This is not to say that domestic animals are unhappy in their domestic life, but we as owners have a responsibility to compensate - offering special comforts and a longer happier life including all necessary medical care. That said, the only limit can be the happiness of the pet. This is not to say a chronically ill pet should always be forced into a regiment of constant veterinary care - it depends on each animal. It does however mean that the life of an animal we've consciously chosen to take upon ourselves should never be limited by our pocket books alone.

I, myself, have done something most think unthinkable and spent hundreds of dollars as a poor student on surgery for a pet rat. It was worth every penny to see her returned to good health and the very obvious satisfaction it afforded her.

Sent by Kate | 10:27 AM | 7-23-2008

This show came at a very important time for me, as my husband and I are currently in the middle of deciding what is best for our 10 year old Rottie who is experiencing multiple health issues. We adopted him as a rescue over 5 years ago and he has proved to be one of the best animals either of us has ever had. Our veterinary bills continue to rise as we seek to provide him with the best possible care. Though I agree that prolonging life at the expense of an animal's suffering is not o.k., I also believe that having compassion and empathy for a living, breathing creature who has been a companion for years at a time, IS the responsible thing to do. Dr. David Katz made the comment that it disturbs him that people are spending thousands on their pets' health care while many children in this nation do not have health insurance. While I respect Dr. Katz and his opinion, I feel I must rebut. People make choices everyday about how they are going to spend their money. What about people who spend thousands of dollars on expensive shoes and clothes, unnecessary accessories for fancy cars, enormous televisions and other elaborate material things? People choose to spend their money in different ways. This subject is about choices. Why should people who choose to spend money on a beloved family member (no matter what species) be singled out as uncaring toward less fortunate humans? Why should an animal companion receive less than adequate care? They provide us with unconditional love, so why should we not do the same for them? I personally feel that there are far worse things out there that people choose to spend their money on that should be going toward caring for less fortunate humans or even animals in need. But however much I may disagree with what they buy, the key to my point is that it is THEIR choice because it is THEIR money. My husband and I choose to spend our money on our animals who we love dearly. That's not to say that we don't spend hundreds of dollars every year donating money (and our time) to numerous charities which work to help and support human beings, because we do. We also choose to spend our money on our living and breathing animal friends and companions. Those are our choices. Singling out animal caregivers as wasting money seems like an unfair sweeping judgment.

Sent by Sarah Anderson | 10:43 AM | 7-23-2008

After reading Jon Katz books and all the time and money he spent on one of his border collies plus moving to the country to help the dog, I think the comments by Katz were disingenuous !!! He seemed to sneer at others who would take care of a pet they promised to care for. I think everyone has to choose for their own situation. I understand people who have promised an animal that they will take care of them and deciding to spend the money to keep an animal well and comfortable (not a poor quality life).
While herding a couple cows my border collie got caught in the forked remains of a sapling a beaver chopped down. She flipped twice in the air and struggled to have her coat ripped severely. Fortunately she had no organ damage. After 5 operations and a net loss of approximately 25-30% of her skin on both sides and back, she is now back catching balls, going for walks and happy as she can be. It was not cheap and we were fortunate to be able to help her. It came out of our budget for house repairs. This doesn't mean we are scrooges to the rest of the community that needs help!

Sent by Virginia Randolph | 11:19 AM | 7-23-2008

It seems an awful lot of people are good at spending my money. How many of you have nicer than basic cars, a flat screen TV, expensive clothes, etc?

Let me remind you...I earn the money so if I want to spend it on a car, a trip, new clothes, gambling, taking care of my pets or burning $100 bills it's MY BUSINESS. As long as I'm meeting my other financial obligations I am not accountable for you as to how I spend my money.

I do not own a dime to anyone - not because I make a lot of money, but because I don't live beyond my means. I didn't buy a house I couldn't afford, I don't drive an expensive car (I don't actually own one), don't own a flat screen TV and that leaves me disposable income for things that are important to me. My cats fall into that category.

I also donate 6% of my GROSS income to charity every year so please don't lecture me that there are starving children in China.

There is one difference between you spending money on a TV vs my spending money on my pets. My pets are living creatures that have feelings - they can feel both joy and pain and they count on me to take care of them. You have no moral responsibility to your SUV or TV -its just a thing, but when you adopt an animal you have the duty to do the best you can by them within your financial ability.

Sent by 2CatMom | 11:34 AM | 7-23-2008

I am not sure why the show was so eager to criticize those people who are willing to spend money on taking care of a living being. Why not focus on the millions and billions of dollars that are wasted on cigarettes, gambling, alcohol, boats, IPhones etc... . The money for these things could also go to a greater good such as human health care but the show did not opt to focus on those spending habits. If people set their priorities such that their pets are of value to them then they should be free so spend their money any way they wish! As an NPR member and an avid listener I was extremely dissapointed in the obvious bias of the show and the mocking of those of us who would rather spend our money on alleviating the suffering of pets rather on worthless material goods that are clogging our landfills and poisoning our environment!

Sent by Lorinda Fallini | 12:25 PM | 7-23-2008

Your guest spoke of some differences in the mentalities of suburban versus rural dwellers. I think this speaks to the concept that most city folks have been so far removed from the food chain so to speak. All the meat and dairy is neatly presented to us without any work or guilt. Some people don't even handle raw meat anymore as we have begun to eat out more and our foods have become pre-packaged and microwave ready. It's no wonder we cannot sometimes look at sick and dying pet and push aside our emotions by thinking to ourselves: "if I was in the wild I might have to put your down just to eat you."

Sent by charlie | 12:57 PM | 7-23-2008

I paid for a sex change for my cat to solve a urinary tract problem. It cost me $400, and he's had no problems since. He was so young, it was an easy decision for us. I don't at all regret that $400. But $2500, that's a different story. Look for a cheaper vet!

Sent by Rebecca | 4:40 PM | 7-23-2008

I am listening on podcast. I am sorry that your first guest's experience with one unsympathetic veterinarian has caused her to generalize to my entire profession and make misleading statements about a "sex change" operation. As for expense, it is clearly a personal decision and, as much as we hate to think about it, we all have to make decisions based on economics. I have always tried to empathize when clients have had to make this incredibly difficult decision regarding whether or not to treat a pet.

Sent by Wendy McIlroy, VMD | 4:41 PM | 7-23-2008

I really took offense with the guest suggesting that providing medical care for a pet is immoral because the money spent could help a person who is starving. I could make the same argument for every "non-essential" purchase made by anyone. For example, the dollars used to provide orthodontics care or teeth whitening procedures could be used for helping the less fortunate with several meals.

Sent by R Jenkins | 7:54 PM | 7-23-2008

My wife and I are unable to have children, so we give your love and affection to our pets, so it was nothing to treat a urinary blockage in our cat...and by the way, there is a prescription cat food that helps prevent this ailment.

And what's the big deal about the cost? People spend tons of money on hobbies--people buy gas guzzling Hummers, buy $3000 mountain bikes, soup up computers, buy astronomy equipment, and NONE of those things show love, or even affection.

Sent by Jason | 1:00 AM | 7-24-2008

I think that the comparison made between the amount that people spent on veterinary medicine and the lack of affordable or universal health care is a false dichotomy and the two cannot be compared. Of course the U.S health care system is appalling...
What people fail to realize is the amount that their health care would cost to them if they had NO health insurance. Pets do not have health insurance (although the pet insurance offered had improved somewhat) so people are often shocked when they see the estimate of their pet's hospital bill. I have worked as a veterinary tech for 10 years and think that it would be unethical to not offer the proper, treatment/ diagnostics that we can. Veterinary medicine (like human medicine) has come a long way in the past 25 years...If you have financial constraints my advice to you would be to convey this to your vet and ask if a more conservative approach may be tried. A good vet will always discuss this with you and quality of life should be at the top of the list. Just because we are able to do something for an pet doesn't always mean we should...For the people who think that spending money on veterinary care is ridiculous, remember that your pet is like a child, utterly dependent on you for care. I don't remember who quoted this but, "A society may be judged by the way it treats it's children and animals".

Sent by Jenn | 10:39 PM | 7-24-2008

We've had several pets throughout my life. We've never bought a pet - most were strays we adopted or ones we got for free from a friend.

The money we've spent on vet bills has been a lot - because we believe in getting proper shots and caring for them up to, but not beyond, the point where age and pain make life too much for them.

In 1993, my cat was injured - her lower jaw was broken. We spent $300 to get it fixed. At the time, one of my co-workers (a non-pet owner) said she would've put the cat to sleep. Well, after a couple of weeks, my cat was fine and she lived until 2007. That $300 for another 15 yrs was well-spent.

Over the years, we've dealt with leukemia, diabetes, and cancer in our pets. Every one of our animals seem to get at least one "big bill," ($1000). After that, they are usually so old or so sick, we know it's time to let them go. It isn't based upon "cost," but rather their needs.

As for the people saying pets aren't "worth" spending money on, the shelters are full of animals whose previous owners felt the same. I support our local shelters and do what I can to rescue abandoned animals wandering the streets.

Instead of saying, "How can you spend money on an animal when there are people starving?" ask yourself "What am I spending money on that I can instead donate to worthy causes?". As others have said, many of us pet owners who spend "too much" money on our pets also donate to many human charities too.

Sent by edam | 11:42 AM | 7-31-2008

You know, every time someone does a piece about the cost of medical or other care for pets, there are always those folks who have to chime in about how ridiculous it is to spend all that money on an animal. Then, there is always someone who has to chime in about how there are so many people starving and in poverty and somehow this is all the fault of those pet owners spending money on their pets. I guess NPR and the host of Talk of the Nation are no different. How I and everyone else chooses to spend my or their own money is nobody else's business. To give equal time, let's have a show about people who spend money on expensive cars, or boats, or any other kind of thing. Hey, why are you spending $50 on that steak when you could eat rice and beans for $2 and give the other $48 to the starving and poor? Somehow, it's ok to attack pet owners though. This broadcast was very one-sided (with the exception of some of the callers). Where was the guest with the opposing opinion? I think I'm ready to give up on Talk of the Nation--well, except for Science Friday.

Sent by Danie | 5:12 PM | 8-7-2008