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it’s a dog’s life

We have a beloved family dog that has developed a rare skin disorder. In fact, the veterinarians still haven’t come to a firm conclusion as to what is wrong. At first, they felt it was allergies, so they told us to try some special food. That didn’t work. Then, they decided to check for cancer. They had to take one of the dog’s toes off, because the damage to the skin was so extensive. It wasn’t cancer. Now they say we can try steroids, but they are liable to trigger diabetes. In which case, we will have to give the dog shots for the rest of her life. And the steroids will need to be continued periodically. The dog is only three years old, and has a very sweet disposition. My wife and children love the dog, and she’s really like a member of our family.

The thing is this: Since March alone, our veterinary bills are over $10,000. We’re a lower-middle-class family with two kids, seven and nine years old. The dog sleeps in their bedroom at night. We’d like to be able to send them to college someday. Already, the dog’s medical problems have thrown our budget out of whack.

I love the dog, too, but I stay up at night thinking about the math. At this rate, if the dog lives another ten years running up bills like this, we’ll have spent the equivalent of their college tuition by the time they’re ready to go. I look the dog in the eye, and she seems to know what I’m thinking. She puts her chin on my knee and stares up at me.

I don’t need to tell you the way my wife looked at me when I started to bring up my concerns.

What am I going to do?

The House Is Broke

The Sales Guy says: This is becoming as common a problem as it is with people’s healthcare: extreme cost, not many choices. People love their pets as you obviously do and sacrifice to save the pet at their own financial peril. The healthcare industry sucks human and animal alike; it’s a moneymaking boondoggle.

I’m sorry, but without pet health insurance, which is available, common sense would say make the emotionally painful call and put your pet down before your family is bankrupt and destitute. Healthcare in America is the privilege of the wealthy and their pets.

The Smart Money says: You’ll have to look into the eyes of your children after you murder or give away your beloved family pet. Over a skin rash. Try a different vet. Yours sounds shady.

FYI, the shots are a pain, but it’s not the end of the world. (Like you have a choice.)

The Omniscient One says: Say the dog doesn’t get along with the cat and give the dog to a wealthy relative, buy a new healthy pup, and take the kids to visit the old dog occasionally.

The Gay Perspective: See if the steroid works and then reevaluate. Your veterinarian should be able to help you make choices. And if it comes down to a decision between education for your children and the inevitably tragic end for your dog, your wife will be sad, but she’ll know what to do. Every pet story has an unhappy ending.

The Straight Skinny: A housemate of mine once rescued a dog who was hiding in our garage. He looked like he’d been hit by a car—pretty rough shape. But a scrapper, for sure.

Still, my friend wasn’t sure he wanted to take on the vet bills attached to an injured dog. He asked my advice, and I told him what I’d done in the case of my own two dogs, one of whom came from the pound and the other off the streets: I’d set a reasonable (that is, quite low) dollar threshold that I would not cross in order to save the dog’s life or limbs. I was young and broke at the time, so my limit was $200.

My friend agreed that was a good idea and adopted the same number. The vet’s bill? About $220. He paid it, because you can’t be totally unreasonable about these things, and he got many years of good companionship in return.

Talk with your wife and set a number you can both live with. The stick to it, with a little wiggle room.

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