Sunday, June 5, 2011

Because love does not have a price tag

I had a conversation this weekend with a couple of people and we were discussing the current health state of our dogs.

My Dane, Delilah, is 11 years old and she has been diagnosed with Osteosarcoma. Osteosarcoma is one of the more common types of bone cancers seen in dogs. It is a malignant tumor, it can develop on any bone but is most commonly seen in the legs.

In Delilah's case, she has a tumor on her left shoulder blade. It is a very painful type of cancer and can cause lameness in the affected limb as the bone is being slowly destroyed from the inside out. It is most common in large breed dogs, it his highly metastatic - and in most cases, by the time you have found the tumor, it has already spread to other parts of the body.

There are not a lot of treatment options for this specific type of cancer. Some people, especially with younger dogs, may opt to remove the entire leg. This will create immediate pain relief from the tumor, and dogs are fine with three legs. However, the leg amputation is done only for pain relief, as by the time the tumor is found, it has already spread.

Some other individuals, may opt to remove the leg and have chemotherapy done on the dog. This can provide pain relief and higher quality of life for the dog, but again, there is no cure. While some dogs may live a few more years, the majority do not.

The overall outlook for this type of cancer is very grim. In our case, we were given an estimate of 4 months before Delilah's quality of life would be so poor we would need to consider euthanasia. We are, fortunately, now at month 6 since this diagnosis, and counting every day as a blessing.

As I spoke to these people regarding the health of my dog, they asked what treatment options my husband and I were considering. I informed them that we had three options to choose from - pain medication, leg amputation, or chemotherapy. We opted for pain medication to manage her level of pain.

This choice came from two angles - the first, was that amputating the leg would cost anywhere from $2-3000, and I simply do not have this kind of money sitting around. The second angle, was that we are discussing an 11 year old dog. Great Danes have a life expectancy of somewhere between 6-8 years, so my dog is already ancient.

But the second line isn't what one of the individuals heard - they only heard that I was not willing to spend the money on my dog to save her. I was actually told I did not love my dog enough because I was not willing to take out a loan, charge it to a credit card, or do whatever it took to come up with the money.

Which had me thinking - does love have a dollar amount? Do I really not love my dog enough because I can not spend $2000 to remove her leg on a dog this age?

One of these individuals, told me they had taken her dog to the vet for a ruptured gallbladder, and spend $5000 to save her, reminding me that they had spent more than that in training and showing her. However, the key factor, is that her dog was only 5, and the medical issue was something not only repairable, but would ensure the dog had a high quality of life for the rest of her life - and most importantly, they had the money available to them.

But what if you don't have $5000 to spend on your dog in an instance like this, or in my case, not even $2000? What if you don't even have $500?

I know a lot of people who don't have this kind of money, and right now, unemployment is high and wages are low. I don't believe that money is an indicator of whether or not a person is a good pet owner, or whether or not a person loves their dog.

A little girl whose dog was hit by a car whose parents can not afford to save does not love her dog any less than a person who has $5000 to spend.

I see the following phrase repeated over and over on dog web pages, dog blogs, and other various sources, "If you can't afford the vet, you can't afford the pet."

I couldn't disagree more. Many people may disagree with me on this statement, I'm okay with this.

Being a responsible pet owner is not dictated by how much money you can spend on the dog. If your dog sleeps on a four post bed in his own bedroom, it does not inherently make you a better pet owner than someone who lets the dog sleep on the floor in their bedroom, or in their crate, or in the bathroom.

If you can't afford to fence your yard and you place the dog on a chain to get exercise and relive himself for an hour or two, it does not make you any worse than the person who puts their dog out into a privacy fenced in yard.

When a person takes in a dog (or any other pet), you are promising to take care of that pet. You will provide food, shelter, and medical care to the best of your ability. At the very least, 'affording' a dog should include vaccinations and annual checkups, and flea, tick, and heartworm medication.

Food should be the highest quality you can afford, and if the highest quality you can afford is Ol'Roy, then your dog will eat Ol'Roy.

Shelter should protect the pet from the sun, the wind, and the rain. It does not mean the dog should sleep in your bed or on the couch if you don't wish it, and if you want to give the dog an old blanket to snuggle up on in the corner of the living room, so be it.

But if your dog were to be struck by a car and require thousands of dollars of medical treatment and you can't provide it? Then it is time to think of what is best for the dog. If you can not afford to treat a medical condition that is life threatening to the dog, then at the very least you should be able to afford euthanasia, as an act of kindness to the dog, and not allow him to suffer.

Love is not a dollar amount. A dog is better in a home where he is loved, even if he sleeps on a hard floor and eats Ol'Roy dog food, then spending time in a kennel somewhere waiting for someone else to find him, or for when the kennel decides he has been there long enough.

Too many times I see people suggesting that a person needs to bring in a certain level of income to keep a dog, that a dog needs expensive toys and beds, shiny leashes and collars, and they must eat a certain way.

I'm not going to suggest that. If you know your dog needs medical help, and you have the money and you still don't provide it - THAT makes you a bad pet owner. Starving a dog makes you a bad pet owner. Beating an animal, ignoring the mental needs of the animal, causing the dog to become obese, chaining it or leaving it in a fenced yard at all times with no interaction with its family - THESE things make a person a bad pet owner.

Not having a lot of money does not. I don't make a lot of money. I really, really don't. I provide the best care to my dogs that I can afford. Sometimes I cut back in other areas to make sure my dogs needs are met. But they are trained, fed, have places to sleep, receive medical attention when needed, and pain relief when needed.

For Delilah, I can afford pain relief. She takes pain medication twice a day. She still eats, still wants to play, still enjoys walks - albeit a little slower. And still, I love her so much that thinking about the future makes me want to break into tears. When her quality of life begins to degrade, I will make sure she does not suffer, because that is what I promised her when I brought her home.

Because love does not have a price tag.

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