How much is that doggie in the window … really worth?

IB Publisher Jody Glynn Patrick blends work and life in this very clear departure from both her column for In Business magazine, and the other bloggers. Awarded national recognition for her previous work as a newspaper columnist, she brings us all back "Closer to Home" with her insights and remembrances. A nice place to be "After Hours." Check back often! Read Full Bio

First, to empty my e-mailbox, here are photos sent in by Dick Malsch (First Weber) of his dog Lady, sent in response to my blog about acquiring our fourth dog. In the blog, I bemoaned the fact that Gene is a climber and a chewer, and, in fact, he’s turned a beautiful plum leather couch into an eyesore duct-taped sofa. In response, Dick sent the photos of Lady, his free-spirited, don’t-fence-me-in pooch, who very much resembles Gene.

Dick wrote, “Lady is about a year old. She has the tendency to escape from the kennel by climbing up the fence and over. Yesterday she decided to check out the tarp I put up attempting to keep her in.”

Ho, ho, ho! It makes a great holiday chuckle for dogless folks who need a reason to feel superior for a change, instead of like you’re missing out on something – which is the Kool-Aid we committed dog owners are addicted to. Dogless wonders are actually missing out on miracles like unconditional love, but more often than not, day-to-day dog ownership really is about finding your dog on top of the tarp rather than under it.

Can you put a price on unconditional love?

Here’s my family lineup of pooches to serve as a backdrop to how adorable they are, and how distressed I was to have failed a recent loyalty test presented by one of them:

Top row: Brownie, 8; Dakota, 2. Bottom row: Gene, 6 months; Bailey, 2.

Brownie is a laid-back, sweet chocolate lab – but influenced by her pit bull genes to be very protective of us. Dakota is a fussy Heinz 57, though the Humane Society labeled him predominately papillon. He can be a little snappy if aggravated. Gene is a purebred fox terrier (“foxy terrorist” being the more apt description of the little outlaw), bred by an Amish farmer, as that is the preferred breed for Amish farms due to the dogs’ energy and intelligence. Gene has amazingly high energy and lots of grab-and-chase ploys. Then there is Bailey, 2, who is funny and endearing, and actually was the first dog we brought into our home of the four. (And for that, yes, he does hold a special place in our hearts beyond the one he’s earned by his own affectionate habits with us.) In the past two years, we bought Bailey, rescued Dakota, then rescued Brownie, and then bought Gene.

So they all have very different personalities, but we love them for who they are and what they bring into our lives.

So what is Bailey “worth” to me?

We paid over $900 for little Bailey – the most we have ever paid for a pet. Then we bought pet supplies and paid for shots and vet care. Still, who counts such numbers? Dog owners look the other way. If you’re not a dog-as-pet owner, you DO NOT UNDERSTAND this nonsense of dog-as-child, most likely, but pet owners do.

Okay, enough setup. Here’s the real test that I flunked as a dog owner: Can you really put a price on a canine’s love for you? No. On your love for your canine? Maybe.

When I got home from work one night last week, precious Bailey was lilting to one side, walking funny, and his tummy was hard. He even fell over once. Realizing the vet’s regular hours were over, and the cost of doggie animal hospital intervention (we have “frequent flyer” status at one, because I tend to panic over cut paws, etc.), we decided to monitor him at home for the night. Next morning, hubby stayed with him for an extra long time and, since Bailey appeared improved, he then caught his plane, as scheduled, for a work trip.

I got home after the evening radio show I host to discover that Bailey was unable to climb stairs and was obviously worse. He was shaking and obviously dehydrated (duh – his water was in the upstairs kitchen and he was unable to climb up from the family room). Also, a back leg now visibly dragged as he pulled himself forward.

I didn’t even call in advance. I grabbed Bailey (forgetting collar and leash in my haste) and rushed him to emergency vet care, committed to saving his life. But when I got there, the vet’s front person and I got down to the first order of business – “the talk” that always prefaces care at such a facility. How much was I REALLY willing to spend to “save” the dog versus making sure the dog is comfortable?

Without blinking (though I admit I swallowed very, very hard), I agreed to pay the first estimate of $825-$1,250. Half was immediately payable before treatment, and paid.

After the exam, the vet said that it was decision time again. IF I was to pre-approve surgery if needed (and he did believe it very well might be, for a suspected spinal nerve injury), he would be going down one road with treatment and tests. If I were NOT going to pre-approve the expense (“I should warn you, it could be thousands and thousands of dollars”) and stick to my $1,000 neighborhood (“give or take a few hundred”), we would pursue a second and different protocol.

Even though I was still clinging to my little whimpering puppy of two years, whom I love with all my heart, I opted for the second, cheaper option. It’s Christmastime and I have visits planned with grandchildren. Already, the $1,000 upfront pledge meant my husband and I would have to reconsider our scheduled January vacation – our first together in two years. Like most folks, we don’t have unlimited resources.

So already, I’d admitted I don’t love my dog “thousands and thousands of dollars worth,” versus how I feel about my human children – for whom that would be a no-brainer decision the other way. Realizing that shook me up a little (I cried) because I have always believed I’m committed to my pets as being family members, but maybe not so much as I thought. Maybe I can put a price tag on that commitment.

The vet’s next question was whether, in the event of a heart-stopping progression or intervention, I preferred option (1) – no resuscitation but make comfortable ($200); or option (2) – moderate intervention and make comfortable ($900-$2,000); or (3) heroic intervention possibly including cracking the dog’s chest open for manual heart massage to do whatever is necessary to possibly save this animal (you can guess that was too much for me to even recall the price). I checked Option 2. I love my dog with “moderate” financial commitment when it comes to life-saving measures.

Meanwhile, I’m thinking that pre-approving the additional $2,000 … so I’m up in the $3,500 range already for one night if it was needed, well … there goes Christmas and the window replacements we really need to do, too. But I do love Bailey at least $3,500 worth.

And on that sorry note, I went home and cried most of the whole night, alternately in fear for my puppy, who I knew would be frightened and anxious without me, and then in guilt, for not offering to remortgage my house to ensure the “best outcome.” The realization that I loved a family pet only to the extent of liquid assets, versus liquefying solid assets like a house or running up a credit card (which we’ve vowed NOT to do for ANY reason) or taking out a 401(k) loan, was a bit daunting.

When I called, as instructed, to check on the dog early the next morning, the assistant opened the conversation by saying we’d already gone beyond $1,250 to $1,450 and change because they had not included charges for the IV fluids and an additional test that they subsequently did.


I have a receipt that says I love Bailey $1,458.01

That’s what an inflamed pancreas costs. Plus sedation for some nerve problem with a back leg, which we don’t exactly know the cause of yet (since I didn’t authorize the “why” tests). That does, however, include the medical waste disposal fee of $5.50. And I was REALLY relieved that his heart didn’t stop during the night to test my financial commitment further.

Knowing what I know now, though the dog is still on pain meds, etc., and not at all his usual self yet (my vacation remains on “hold,” as you can imagine), I’d still take him where I took him and spend what I spent because not to have done so might possibly have cost him his life and, in the scheme of things, I know I love him more than that, and he got good vet care. However, it’s humbling to know that “Bailey Boodle, I love you more than $3,000 and less than thousands and thousands,” is what I should coo to him now when cuddling him.

Putting that experience in the real world …

I know, from experience writing columns for years and years, that someone is going to want to write to me with great indignation right about now to remind me that people without access to health insurance are making medical decisions like this for their human children every day … what they can “afford” and what interventions/medications they cannot.

Let me save you the trouble by writing it for you. I agree. And I can’t honestly imagine the pain that causes when there is no house mortgage or backup credit card to fall back on. I, too, have been a vocal advocate for more access to health care for the underinsured all along, and I’m pledging to stay on the “fix our health care system” train into 2012, too.

Some relationships, after all, really are priceless.

Meanwhile, my doggie (who needs time segregated from his “sibling” canines during his recuperation) is sleeping by my feet in the office, resting comfortably with his head on my coat as a pillow, and I can’t put a price on my relief that he is okay right now, in this minute. And that relief has nothing to do with $$.

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