An interesting article today on Boston.com caught my attention. Our adoration of our pets is not a new topic, but those impossibly difficult life or death decisions do take us right to edge sometimes.
In the post, Vicki Constantine Croke asks if we are governed by our hearts, our pockets (vet bills can be ruinous), by the pet's quality of life or by any other factors. From my experiences as a pet owner and as Editor of DoggySnaps, I suspect the pet's quality of life is a major factor. I can't think of a single person who owns a pet who could watch it suffer in terminal pain and not step in to make an unpleasant but necessary decision. I also don't know of a single person who wouldn't do everything in their power to bring a beloved pet back from the brink if the offer was there, even if it meant emptying their bank account. And it's this second point that sometimes shocks non-pet owners, who might not be familiar with the strong familial bond that can develop between a pet and their owner.
Croke argues that people who go to extreme lengths to get the best treatment for their pets shouldn't "ever feel compelled to be accountable to those skeptics... animals are capable of bringing out the best in us - our very humanity... science has shown over and over again that pets add real value to our lives - they can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, provide higher survival rates after heart attacks, and calm us in stressful situations."
It's all true. At Dogs Trust we deal with dogs in all states of health. Some are brought into us in a terrible state, others are thankfully rehomed in perfect health. When we say we'll 'never put a healthy dog down', that includes doing everything in our power to make a dog healthy again, provided doing so will leave them with a decent quality of life. This can include missing limbs or being deaf or blind; these are not barriers to being a wonderful family pet, as many owners can testify. Out of 16,000+ dogs in our care last year, fewer than 400 died in our care, including those who died naturally of prior illness or old age.
Dogs Trust does have an emergency fund to help desperate pet owners, although this is extremely limited. However there are also veterinary entitlement cards for homeless owners, low-cost neutering programmes for people claiming benefits and other schemes. Charities such as the PDSA focus on subsidised health care, too. It's important to take care of the small health issues promptly so that they don't become big ones, and insurance is fast becoming an essential expenditure.
So if your pet is ill and the people around you can't understand the expenditure or heart you put into their treatment, just remember that there are whole organisations of people who have every sympathy with you and will help wherever they can.