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Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Cut Below The Rest

If you've been following this blog for a while, you'll have seen me mention that everyone should have several hundred dollars set aside in an emergency fund for their pets. Today I saw yet another validation of this idea, as well as a validation of my policy against unnecessary euthanasia.

A client had a 3 year old female rottweiler mix that had received a nasty gash on her leg. She had already been to the local emergency clinic earlier in the day, and they had quoted her around $700 to suture it up. She came to us for a second opinion, concerned that they were a bit high on their pricing. When she first called, she seemed to downplay how bad the cut was, so we didn't know what to expect.

The dog was very calm and nice and overall looked to be in very good health. The owner didn't know what had happened, but Lady did go outside in the woods on her own, and it may have happened then. When I looked at the wound, I was surprised at how huge it was. The laceration was on the inside of the left hind leg, and was at least 8 inches long. It was straight and smooth, so something very sharp had cut her. She was a very, very lucky dog, as it was extremely deep, almost to the muscle, and the wound ran directly over where the femoral artery and vein lie. Another 1/2 inch deep and it would have had a good chance of slicing through these major vessels, resulting in pretty rapid death from extreme blood loss.

As deep and bad as it was, it was something that was completely fixable, and would heal well with stitches and antibiotics. It was a bad enough wound that a sedative and local anesthetic wouldn't be good enough. This dog needed full general anesthesia and a pretty long time to sew up. I gave the owner a quote of about $670, not far off from the emergency clinic.

This hit the owner pretty hard, as she simply didn't have the money for the procedure. We bandaged the wound to help protect against further contamination and were going to give the owner a few days to figure things out. However, she knew she wasn't going to be able to come up with even part of the money, and asked my tech about putting Lady to sleep. When I found out about that I was very startled. This was not a terminally ill pet, but one that was in great condition and with a problem that could be easily fixed. All it would take is some money.

Remember the idea of a emergency fund for your pet? This is a perfect example of when it would come in handy. But because she didn't have any money available, the owner was looking at making the hard decision of putting a young, healthy pet to sleep.

I simply couldn't bring myself to do that, and told her that we would refuse euthanasia under these circumstances. However, we also couldn't leave the wound open, as it would be very difficult to heal without stitches. We have a policy that is used rarely, but I felt applied in this situation. We offered to have her surrender the dog to us, relinquishing custody. Thankfully, she agreed.

Instead of being put to sleep, my associate will be stitching up her wound in the morning. Lady will be staying with us for at least a week as we try to find her a home, or possibly turn her over to one of the local no-kill shelters for adoption. It's not a great option, but her wound will be treated and she won't be put to sleep.

Remember, folks. Be prepared for the unexpected with your pets.


  1. I'm glad the dog will be given a chance. We have that problem a lot where I practice. The part of town where I work is not "economically blessed" and people are often faced with decisions like this. We have a very generous staff that has adopted several animals. But that's not the best solution. People just need to suck it up and realize there are expenses-some of which are not expected-to owning pets. One of my professors in school always said that owners need to be able to pay for at least one crisis in their pets life. Maybe not multiple disasters or ongoing expensive diseases, but at least one crisis. That seemed reasonable to me.

  2. I completely agree with you! I haven't taken a pet like this in many years, as I'm very particular about which cases I choose. Your professor was right, which is why I advocate having an emergency fund. I wish more people would realize the POTENTIAL costs of pets and prepare for them.

  3. With 6 animals, (2 dogs and 4 cats), I always expect the unexpected. And since most are older, insuring them at this point isn't really economically feasible. (If at some point I start again with young animals, I'd opt for a high-deductible policy for emergencies). But for now, I have a savings account for pet emergency expenses, and try to keep about $10,000 available, in case I had multiple emergencies, since it seems that catastrophes happen in clusters around my house.

  4. Why wasn't she offered Care Credit? Is it because your practice doesn't participate in that program? If not, shame on you. If you do and you didn't offer it to her, shame on you!

  5. Care Credit is not the end-all and be-all of options. We do not use it, but that is not my decision. I have recommended people to local clinics that do offer it, but in my experience the majority of clients that need this option won't qualify for it. Care Credit is not always the solution, and many people won't be able to do it since you have to meet the requirements. It's not a guarantee.

    And before you judge, realize that the majority of private practices do NOT offer Care Credit, at least in my area. Again, it's not the solution to everything.


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