The High Cost of Pet Ownership

I’m an animal lover through and through. Every time I meet a dog I begin speaking in ‘doggy talk’ while petting them profusely. There is not a cat that has happened by me whose ears weren’t scratched while running a hand over their long silky soft backs. I’m the crazy pet owner who has ornaments of her pets, has included her pets in the family’s professional photos, and celebrates their birthdays.

I adopted my first pet when I was 21 years old. He was discarded on the side of the road along with his litter mates when he was just a few weeks old. Luckily the asshole who tossed him was caught in the act by the police. The owner made the Pittsburgh, PA news when it was reported he opted to pay the fine verse bringing the momma to the shelter to nurse her pups. I was floored and knew I had to drive an hour away to get this puppy immediately.

Chief1I had no business adopting a dog when I was fresh out of college and new to the working world. However, I made it work with the help of friends. I named my pup Chief and he lived quite a life in our new state of Indiana. Returning home from a trip when he was 2 years old the airport baggage crew forgot to load him on the plane December 30th during a snow storm. He spent hours freezing on the tarmac before being flown to a holding area overnight in Pittsburgh, PA. Yes, I did have a total shit fit and filed charges against the airlines. They reimbursed me the $50 for his plane ticket, because they are assholes too.

Fortunately, the rest of Chief’s life was pretty quiet. We moved from Indiana to Texas and back to Indiana. He was a package deal for my husband when we met, a two-for-one if you will. He was my first baby and helped welcome our first child when he was born.

When Chief was about five years old he started eating very small bites of dog food at a time. It would take him HOURS to eat a whole bowl of food. He often threw up bile, always in a corner. We raised the issue with his vet many times but were dismissed as it being a nervous habit, he was ‘anxious’. We tried pheromone sprays and anti anxiety pills but he kept on hurling and finally we believed the line they kept feeding us, ‘he was just a neurotic dog’.

Over time we added another child. Our kids were now three and four years old and we decided to add Bernese Mountain Dog - TheShitastrophy.comanother dog to the mix. Chief was about 9 years old and was truly just my dog, having very little to do with the kids. After a long search we decided to rehome our Bernese Mountain Dog, Lexi. She was imported from Belgium to be bred as part of a program to increase the genetic lines in America, however she was found to have a bone chip in her shoulder. The breeder was not sure if it was congenital so she opted to not breed her and rehome her instead. We accepted Lexi into our home at 10 months old and paid for her shoulder surgery. What we got was a loving dog who had major gastrointestinal issues that cost us thousands of dollars (not counting the shoulder surgery) within the first few months of her ownership. It was as awesome as it sounds.

Because we were adopting a new dog, who had known orthopedic issues, we changed veterinarians to our current stellar amazing veterinarian, Morris Animal Hospital. Dr. Morris has extensive experience with orthopedics. I brought Chief in for an evaluation with Dr. Gayle, an associate of Dr. Morris’, prior to Lexi’s arrival on the scene. I figured I should evaluate the office and since Chief’s teeth needed cleaning why not. Dr. Gayle palpated Chief’s belly and he almost took her nose off, clearly something was up. The same something that was somehow missed by his previous shitty vet for the last four years.

We agreed to have Dr. Gayle (who rocks) perform an ultrasound on Chief while he was under anesthesia for his teeth cleaning. I really hadn’t put much thought into what the issue was because I had yet to realize how bad his previous doctor was. The day of the cleaning came, I dropped the kids off at preschool and came home to bask in two hours of alone time. And then my world came crashing down. Dr. Gayle called to tell me that they had found a very large mass in his stomach. I had to decide, while he was under anesthesia, if they should go ahead and do surgery, with no guarantee of him living, or just put him down. It appeared the mass had ruptured and he was bleeding out. $2700 later we learned Chief had a 9.8 lb tumor in his stomach, a record size for the office. My husband had to go down and see it for himself, it was that big of a deal. Apparently it was like a football. Since the dog only weighed 63 lbs, I was floored a tumor weighing so much could be in his abdomen, and clearly had been for a very long time. Never once was it suggested to have an ultrasound, or any other test, performed which could have found this tumor before it came to such a deadly point.

Bernese Mountain Dog - TheShitastrophy.comChief lived two more years thanks to Dr. Gayle and the team at Morris Animal Hospital. After Chief’s passing we remained a one dog house for a short time until we brought our next Bernese Mountain Dog, Bear, (who you all love) into our home. Bear was no cheap pup either. He began limping when he was about 10 months old and required two extensive orthopedic workups to establish he had some puppy growth plate problem. The good news, he would literally grow out of it. We continued on in pet ownership bliss with our two Bernese Mountain Dogs for the next three years.

It all came to a screeching halt when Bear needed not one, but two CCL (the dog version of an ACL) repairs in one year. That was awesome, and expensive. But we LOVE OUR ANIMALS. We would do anything for them, and apparently we really wanted to finance a new wing at the vet office. So of course we had both injuries repaired at approximately $3K per knee. Luckily we have dog insurance (VPI (now Nationwide) that I highly recommend) and so we received a large portion of the bill reimbursed, thank god.

Lexi started declining in health just as Bear was recovering from his first ACL repair. It was identified that she too had torn her CCL and would possibly need surgery. She was now seven and a half years old, which is considered a senior pup in the Bernese dog world. Dr. Gayle ran some blood work and we decided to wait and see on the surgery. However, she began to rapidly deteriorate and no amount of pain medicines were working. Finally one morning I rushed her to the veterinarians and they did an ultrasound. She had tumors throughout her abdomen and was bleeding out. It was time to say goodbye to my big girl. I was again heartbroken. You can read all about that moment on Huffington Post, A Heartfelt Goodbye.

We maintained a one dog house for six months, but something was missing. Bear was moping around and the kids missed having two animals. We decided to adopt another dog. This time we opted to not get a Bernese Mountain Dog due to the short life expectancy and the issues we had with Bear’s knees. We instead adopted an English Creme Golden Retriever from a reputable local breeder. My sister and sister-in-law had Golden Retrievers and they were awesome dogs. It seemed like a natural fit for our family.

Marley entered our house as a ball full of energy and hasn’t stopped moving since we got him. He is a sweetie and the kids love him. He is now 6 months old and continues to bring smiles to our faces. However, recently he became really sick and I brought him to our awesome vet again. Dr. Gayle took some X-rays and ruled out an obstruction, but by chance she noticed how misaligned his hips were. Even I could tell looking at the x-ray, and lord knows I’m not a specialist. Marley’s parents are PennHip certified, the gold standard for dogs, so I was surprised to hear there was an issue. But it’s me, and I should have known.

This past week we had Marley evaluated by Dr. Morris, the orthopedic doctor, and had him PennHip certified. It turns out that not one, but both his back hips are in bad shape. While his parents hips were deemed 90% on the PennHip scale, Marley was graded 10%. Put another way, the scale for them is from .3 – 1.0 (with 1.0 being absolutely the WORST). Marley’s left hip is .78 and his right hip is .81. That’s bad.

The diagnosis means he will not be able to have his hip dysplasia managed longterm with a pharmacologic intervention, the only scenario is for him to have a full hip replacement. The cost for each hip is almost $5K. I am heartbroken. The breeder has been outstanding since learning of the issues and we are working with her on a resolution. However, the cost for the surgery will fall on us, and insurance will not cover it since it is a congenital defect.

After having told our children my son, who has high functioning autism, has volunteered to get a job sweeping floors in a factory and offered us the $210 in his wallet he received for Christmas. My daughter just sobbed and begged us to get the surgery. Ultimately he will have a hip replacement at Ohio State, five hours from our house. He is only 6 months old now and will have to wait until he is older for the surgery due to his bones still growing. Until then he will receive pain medication and I am going to look into water therapy.

I love my pets, and I realize that they are four legged blessings in my life, but seriously could just one of the animals NOT cost thousands in medical interventions? I told the kids our next pet is a hamster, or a rock. I’m so over this shit.

 

Golden Retriever - TheShitastrophy.com

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  1. Jen Martens says:

    If he is less than 8 months old, he may be a candidate for a double pelvic osteotomy (used to be a triple pelvic osteotomy). It is a surgery done on young pups when hip dysplasia is caught early, to try and correct the alignment of the hip joint. It can be quite successful, and while I don’t know the cost through OSU, I suspect it would be lower than the Hip Replacement. Might be worth getting a consult at OSU, sooner rather than later, so you don’t miss the window if they determine he is a candidate. Good luck and hope it all goes well!

    • We are meeting with a surgeon in two weeks to see if this is a possibility. The cost is the same as a full hip replacement, which sucks.

  2. Lance says:

    I’m so sorry.

    One of the reason we are so well matched and connected as friends is our live of our furry children. Buddy the golden retriever turned 10 in November. We rescued/adopted him in 2009. We call him our son. We’ve spent thousands on general upkeep of him. A year ago we thought he had the cancer, it turned out to be severe arthritis in his hips. Hang in there and keep having the huge heart that makes you, you.

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