Service of Pets III

June 29th, 2011

Categories: Pets


On reading “Service of Pets II” last week, Catherine C wrote: “You could do a piece about health care & animals.” To illustrate what she had in mind, she wrote a magnificent guest post that follows. Her experience with vets is just the opposite of earlier coverage on this blog, “Service of Man and Beast,” where animals were treated more humanely than people.

Only one of the featured cats is Catherine’s–Dodger, lounging in the sun, above.

Catherine wrote:

We’ve had four cats. The first one, Sinbad, died of kidney failure when she was 15. We kept bringing each new symptom to the vet’s attention and kept asking whether it was kidney failure. They stonewalled until it was too late. She was a real pistol and they didn’t like to deal with her. Her end was traumatic.

We found another vet who specialized in cats. It became evident that a cat with failing kidneys could get along fine with the right treatment if the vet was proactive.

We still have our second cat, Dodger.

cat1Our third cat, Bimini, died traumatically of complications from diabetes, which we didn’t even know she had. Again, there were signs but the “good” vet kept attributing them to other things. She went into a diabetic crisis on our sailboat while cruising the Chesapeake and when we finally got to a marina and got her to a vet, she was really sick. We had to rent a car and cross the Bay Bridge at rush hour to get to the emergency veterinarian hospital, where she died after expensive efforts to save her.

Pumpkin, our fourth cat developed an inoperable brain tumor. By then I’d moved on to another vet and shopped very carefully to find her. It took a while to figure out what the problem was and it was expensive to get to that point. Then we allowed ourselves to be convinced that she could have quality of life if we did chemo. It was horrible and I finally got to the point where I couldn’t take it any more. My husband was hard to convince. And the specialists were not happy when we decided to pull the plug.

cat2The emergency animal hospital we dealt with, and where the specialists practiced, was not at all sensitive to the feelings of humans. It was all about money. I can’t even look at the place much less think about taking Dodger there.

My own vet was very sensitive and helpful but I’d think long and hard about heroic measures again.

There’s no doubt that vet care is expensive and Catherine told me that pet health insurance is inadequate. We’ve spent a fortune on the cats and dogs we’ve loved. That’s the trouble: We love them and do what we can to save them. What do you feel about heroic measures to save a pet’s life?


13 Responses to “Service of Pets III”

  1. Lucrezia Said:

    Bad vets exist, and it’s tragic when a pet goes through hell because of incompetence. There are many dedicated vets out there, and like doctors, much depends upon individual karma. Your vet could kill my cat(and a friendship could go bust) while saving yours. Much could depend upon his specialty as well as knowing what steps to take. The best vet is one who knows his limitations, and will swiftly give recommendations as to where the pet should be best treated, should he feel uncomfortable handling a specific ailment.

    I no longer have furry or feathered pets, but have had wonderful ones for the most part. Over and above knowing their trade, they appeared to have a deep affection for animals. Without that asset, I (and furry/feathered one) would have run for the hills!

  2. Frank Paine Said:

    Hi, Jeanne.

    As you know, I’m one who has been really attached to his pets as long as I can remember. My wife and I have had a dozen golden retrievers (presently two)over the last 30 years, and have dealt with this problem frequently. What makes it worse is that after the first two, we have made it a practice to adopt “seniors” (those over eight years old), which means that we have had to deal with it even more often than the number of dogs suggests.

    Let’s start with the good (at least for us) news. We’ve had a very good vet ever since we moved to Stamford in 1983, so he knows us and our dogs really well. Having a good vet, and having continuity with the vet is critical.

    From there, though, it’s really hard to make those decisions. I used to think that the critical issue was pain. It doesn’t make sense, much as we love the animal, to make a pet continue to live through really high levels of physical pain. Parenthetically, I feel the same way about humans, but that’s another story.

    One situation we went through, though, has made me think a little harder about this. One time, we adopted a pair of dogs that were very attached to each other. The male had been used as a stud dog by his prior owner, and had been badly abused. When he arrived at the rescue service, he was emotionally depressed. The female “adopted” him, took him “under her wing”, and brought him out of his depression. This is why the rescue service (these are truly wonderful people–we are four-time adopters from them) made a great effort to have them adopted together, and we agreed to do that.

    The male was a couple of years older than the female, and when he became 16-ish (very old for a golden), he became incontinent. He was not in pain–in fact, he made it clear that he was still enjoying his life–so we kept him going, as much for the sake of the female, as for him and us.

    That sounds wonderful on the surface, but I can tell you that the amount of work involved was unbelievable. And it’s a good thing that we were not inspected at that time by the Public Health Service. He finally died–of a brain tumor. He was a sweet animal, and we loved him (and her) dearly, but I don’t think we would do it again–it wore us out.

    This is a long winded way of saying that there is never an easy answer. We have put down ten dogs over these same thirty-odd years, and tears (real ones)flow every time. The pain question is still very important, but you also have to consider your own ability to handle the pet’s condition.

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:


    A neighbor rushed our cat to our vet when he’d been run over and we weren’t home. The vet sent kitty to a vet that specialized in such injuries. The entire staff at this emergency pet hospital, that was open 24/7, was trained to handle pet owners in distress. Our precious kitty had a broken leg and other injuries.

    Turned out he also had a heart condition we didn’t know about and we learned that tests for such a condition were prohibitively expensive and wouldn’t normally be administered, which is why we didn’t know this. Poor Cat–that was his name–died, but we had approved expensive tests, that were to go by computer from upstate NY to a NYC animal hospital where heart specialists would share their opinions–which he would have had later the day he died. None of this came cheap.

    The outcome wasn’t what we’d wished, but we were so impressed by this hospital and staff that when we were able to, we gave them a donation in hopes that they might treat another pet whose human parents couldn’t afford the care.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I so admire your adopting middle aged dogs who need a home and love.

    I have another friend who adopted a 16-year-old cat who had nowhere to go and was not sick. Her caretaker had died and nobody in the family could take her in. When she interviewed the family members about the cat they warned her that she was a chilly creature, wouldn’t sit on a lap, but was otherwise good company. When my friend took a spill and was laid up at home and couldn’t go to work, the cat stayed by her side and even crawled into her lap. The cat died two years later.

    I had a dog who when she got old, had a hard time walking and would do so very slowly. I kept asking the vet if she was in pain and he promised me she wasn’t, other than feeling stiff as people get when they age. He told us we would know. We rushed her in to the vet one Friday when she took a dramatic turn for the worse. He gave her some kind of meds–electrolytes perhaps–that gave us one more weekend with her. We knew it was time when we got home from work on Monday. I was grateful but you are right, Frank, there is no easy answer.

  5. Carol Said:

    Reading about all these losses of beloved pets was very upsetting. It made me want to turn off the computer and go play with my kitty, but she’s taking a siesta right now, so I’ll have to wait. I’ve had four cats over the course of many years. Cristobal died of lymphosarcoma at the age of eight. I used to drive her from Long Island to the Animal Medical Center in NYC every Sunday for treatments. It was so long ago that I can’t recall exactly what they did to her, but I distinctly remember thinking afterward that it all had been experimental, and I regretted subjecting my poor kitty to so much poking, probing and surgery. In retrospect I realized it was for me, not for her, because I just didn’t know how to let her go. Her sister Ariel had undergone her own trauma before her first birthday. Her rear left leg had to be amputated because, the vet said, she had been caught in a trap or hit by a car. Even though my husband and I were newly married and not exactly flush with funds, we were prepared to do anything for her. He even inquired about a prosthesis. It turned out that having only three legs barely slowed Ariel down. She lived a long full life (indoors from that point on), dying at the age of 16 from liver failure. After Ariel died I swore I could not go through that kind of loss again. But many years later a friend called to say her cat had given birth to just one kitten (very unusual) and I should come over and see her. Well, that little ball of white fluff had me at “mew.” Jeanne has met her and knows how beautiful and special she is. I can’t let my head go to the “heroic measures” place. Just thinking about it puts a lump in my throat.

  6. Hester Craddock Said:

    I find this kind of dilemma similar to what we humans face in increasing numbers.

    A few years ago I was in a leading New York hospital with a tick bite. A bunch of inept doctors spent money like drunken sailors on all sorts of obviously irrelavant tests, until six days later, I said, “Stop! Who is going to pay for all this nonsense?” I was told, “Don’t worry, the government will.” And it did — up to a point. But what a waste, and now I have less to spend in the future if I get even more expensively sick!

    Between demographic changes and medical advances, elderly formerly middle class Americans are now often faced with the disaster of bankruptcy for the surviving spouse when a dying spouse lives long enough to consume the couple’s savings. But heaven forbid that we speed up the death of the dying spouse in order to make it possible for the surviving spouse to live in something short of abject poverty!

    We had a cat that had a major problem. We took her to a hospital. The vets, especially one of them, were wonderful. The cat received great treatment, lived a few days longer, but didn’t make it. The bill was in the thousands. We had the money then. Now we don’t. I wonder what we would do today? Probably pay for the cat and become homeless.

  7. JBS Said:

    We’ve had to put two cats to sleep and since we now have three, I know that eventually the time will come for them, too. It breaks my heart each time, but I believe we’ve done what we can for each pet until there was no more to do. Each time I hold them until their hearts stop beating even though the vets insist they can do it without us there. We would no more let a pet die without our holding them than we would our human relatives.

    Our first cat had a stroke and lost the use of her legs. She literally cried all the way to the vet’s and when we were told that nothing could be done, we held her as they put the needle in her IV. Our second pet got severe diarrhea, and our vet told us, he could recover. But after four days of treatment, she told us his kidneys had failed (he was 17) and he would only suffer from now on. We knew the time had come and when I heard his plaintive meow as he was brought into the room where we were, I knew he was asking us to help him, and the only help we could give was to end his life and his pain.

    In many ways this is easier and kinder than what we put humans through. They suffer until they die natural deaths, but anyone who has watched someone suffer for months or even years wonders why we can’t offer them the same kindness we give to our pets. I believe it is kindness to end a suffering pet’s life, and I will always wonder if it wouldn’t have been kinder to end my parent’s lives when they suffered for months or even years. I didn’t consider doing it, I just can’t help but wonder after watching my Dad suffer for six months with the indignity of cancer and my mother suffer for 10 years with the horror of Parkinson’s disease, which robbed her of her mind as well as her body.

    A dear friend who is nearly 90 is suffering the indignities that often go with old age. His children are fighting over what comes next, and I cried when I left his room at a care center. It’s so painful to watch a bright, lively man dying a horrible death while his children fight at his bedside. I truly wish, as do many of his friends, that he would go to sleep and not wake up. It would be a kindness.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I have met the lovable and dignified Bianca S-B kitty and have enjoyed photos of her over the years. I understand why you are crazy about her!

    Going into debt to keep a pet alive is a temptation for all of us, especially if we think that the darling and devoted friend might get better as a result. Most of us thrive on hope in bad times.

    Who might guess that a pet would do fine with three legs? Thank goodness you listened to the vet on the recommendation that three isn’t a problem! You and I have a friend whose pup was in a car accident and by all accounts is thriving on three legs as well.

  9. Jeanne Byington Said:


    What BLEAK pictures you draw, though they wouldn’t be so scary if there weren’t huge gobs of reality in what you write.

    Humans, at least, if they can afford it, can buy supplemental insurance so that leftover wives and husbands don’t end up on the street. Years ago I had friends in North Dakota. Wrote about them in a comment before. They had been married for 50+ years when he ended up in an old age home having lost his mind. His wife lost their house and was about to lose the trailer she’d moved to–you don’t want to live through North Dakota winters in a trailer if possible–when she was advised to divorce her husband or she would be homeless. Trailer was better than nothing so she did.

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You have spoken for many.

    My Mom had a friend who lived well into her 90s and buried three husbands. She had to get hospital security to remove the children of one of them. At his deathbed they shed no tears. Instead they screamed and yelled over money. Geepers.

    Pet owners know that their loved ones won’t be with them long enough. We know how expensive they are to maintain properly and they complicate travel and late night obligations. But if you have ever loved a pet, it’s hard not to fall for another one. A friend had a great compromise, until her neighbor moved and then that loss was like a death. She worked at home and her neighbor worked in an office. Every afternoon the neighbor’s dog visited her when she was in town. She invited her to parties. She was the Doberman’s step aunt.

  11. Hester Craddock Said:


    You mentioned buying supplemental insurance to deal with human disasters.

    One, unless insurance companies are convinced that you are highly unlikely even to need insurance, they won’t issue you a policy. Remember, insurance companies are in business to make money, not to take care of people.

    Two, what use is insurance, if you havn’t got the money to pay the hugh premiums the issuers charge. Remember, insurance companies are in business to make money, not to take care of people.


  12. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I get it–it seems to be part of a growing conspiracy:

    **If you don’t really, really need a business or home equity loan, you’ll get one but if you do, you won’t.

    **If you would like to reduce the interest on your mortgage because you feel the squeeze of this economy you won’t get one, however if you have tons of money and want to reduce the interest rate because it makes good business sense, you’ll get one.

    Off topic from pets, though a pet topic.

  13. Frank Paine Said:

    I have only one thing to add: In adopting the older dogs, we have gotten more than we have given. Affection of this sort is a wonderful thing. When I return from being out of the house, I find myself really looking forward to their welcome.

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