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Medical care for pets – how far do we go?

by Therese on July 13, 2008

in Cats, Dogs, Pet Health, Pets

An article in today’s Boston Globe caught my eye, especially because of the recent diagnosis of my dog Lydia’s cancer. The article, How Far Should We Go To Save Our Pets? talks about the length some pet owners will go to help save their pets’ lives. For many of us, the bond we have with our dogs or cats is what drives us to spend our time, energy, and money in trying to make them well.

ENTERING THE SERENE, SKYLIGHTED ONCOLOGY SUITE, I IMMEDIATELY SEE the goose standing on the tile floor: large, gray, and stately. His bill and legs are orange-hued with subtle gradations to rose, and the slate-colored plumage of his upper body gives way under his tail to bright white. He is elegant for such a full-bodied creature – built like a handsome frigate. Two-year-old Boswell (yes, after Samuel Johnson’s biographer) has finished his weekly radiation treatment for the bone cancer in his left leg, and, against the backdrop of computer screens, he is holding court with several lab-coated women. It is a little surreal.


This is a country in which 93 percent of we owners describe our pets as members of the family, where 70 percent of us sleep with our dogs and 78 percent with our cats, in which nearly three-quarters of married pet owners report greeting their pet before their spouse when they return home. It is a culture in which, according to one New York study, women report feeling “significantly” more intimacy with the closest pet than the closest person in their lives.


Plenty of people are mystified by the determination many of us have to save our animals. So much money for just a dog or cat . . . or goose? Personally, I don’t think we should ever feel compelled to be accountable to those skeptics. I find that animals are capable of bringing out the best in us – our very humanity. And I’m not sure anyone understands precisely why this is, but 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. Boswell – even though he isn’t the most typical species here (that would be, by far, a dog) – is a feathered poster boy for the mysterious emotional tie that is possible between a human and an animal, what it’s worth to us, and how we can maneuver the tricky emotional space of love, compassion, care, and the desire of wanting to do anything to buy more time for and with those we love.


Who can say what this bond between Podlaseck and Boswell – or between any of us and our animals – is all about. We don’t need to try, and we don’t have any explaining to do. As counselor Jane Nathanson points out, “It’s nice if other people understand, but what’s far more important is that we, ourselves, understand.”

Read the rest from the Boston Globe.

I don’t know what the future holds for Lydia, but you can bet the bond between us is strong enough that I’m going to do what I can to help her fight the cancer that’s invaded her young body. I hate like hell that it’s happening, and wish we could both just run away…leaving it far behind. But we can’t. And today the fact that she’s got cancer really sunk in…and it sunk in hard. We have a battle to fight – it’s a fight we’ll fight together, and she’ll cue me in on which way to go.

I keep telling myself what one of the people who have emailed me recently said, “Lydia’s not dying with cancer. She’s living with it.” It hurts so bad to think my dear, sweet Lydia has cancer, but I have to keep that thought at the forefront of this whole thing. She is still very much alive…happy, alert, and active…and I want to enjoy every living minute with her that I can.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Ruth July 14, 2008 at 8:07 am

This is a road I have been down with my 7 year old Benny, a black lab, and my 12 year old Katie, a golden retriever. And Sammy, another beutiful black lab.

The question of how far do we go with our pets when they are sick is a very valid one. And a very difficult one.

It is a heartwrenching one for those who cannot afford the high tech treatments now available.

Some cannot even afford euthanasia, which can also run into a high sum of money for those struggling with day to day bills.

And then we have our own guilt to deal with: Guilt if we cannot afford the medical help and guilt if we can afford it, and sometimes allow our pets to stay alive for our sake, when we should have allowed nature to do it’s thing. We need to stay in tune with our pet, allow them to dictate when it is time to stop with the medical, and allow them to go to their last journey.

It’s not an easy road we travel, I still cry for each and every dog of mine…

My heart goes out to all of you!


jan July 14, 2008 at 12:47 pm

Such a well written beautiful expression of the way we feel about our dogs and the helplessness when we have to make difficult decisions. You and Lydia are in our thoughts and prayers.


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