A plan for your pet

Thinking ahead will help you make decisions with your head, and not just your heart

Recently one of our three dogs became critically ill, literally overnight. Our dog had lapsed into a coma, as it turned out, due to complete liver failure. She was whining, she couldn't move and she was clearly frightened.

As a family, we were consumed with worry and grief. The kids were beside themselves. And in hindsight, I realize now that I reacted to the situation instead of acting with rational and logical actions.

An animal in crisis is going to cost money. A lot of money. When I brought our dog in, they had me leave her with them while they ran tests. When she didn't respond to any medication, the vet suggested I transfer her to a critical care facility where liver surgery could be performed.

I have six children, two in college. To be perfectly honest, we just don't have that kind of spare money these days. Besides, as one with some medical background, I knew that a liver-induced coma was not a good thing. There were very likely going to be serious problems afterward, but this was one of my babies we were talking about. I was torn.

Against my better judgment, instead of saying she should be put down, I authorized one more dose of medication to see if she responded. Our pet did and believe it or not, a dog that had been in a coma for 16 hours came back home that evening. We rejoiced! We had our dog back.

But she wasn't the same dog; she had suffered severe brain damage and after awhile it was clear the humane thing to do was to put her down. One and a half weeks after her coma, we buried her under a pine tree in our back woods.

The point of this story is to remind you that pets can be an incredible expense to the family. I'm not talking about food or the yearly care, or even daily care, if you choose to put them on medication. I'm talking about critical and catastrophic care.

It would be a wise thing to have a discussion with your family members about what steps you would take before a pet crisis occurs. To what extent would you go to save your family pet? At what point do you say no? Is there a cap on the services and cost? Is having a pet with a continuing serious medical condition OK for your family? That way, when and if the time comes, you can work from concrete guidelines instead of from your emotions.

No one wants to see a pet suffer or die. Pets are our friends; we want to give them a fighting chance. But no one also wants to take from their children and family to pay for that pet's critical care. Sometimes too much is just too much.

I wish I had had some guidelines like these in place when I was making my decisions for our dog but instead I was working purely from the heart. We saved her but looking back I'm not sure we did her or the family any favors.

Wendy Thomas lives in Merrimack with her husband and six children, and has been published in various regional magazines and newspapers. Check out her blog, Simple Thrift-Creative Living on Less, at http://simplethrift.wordpress.com.

Categories: Family Finances, Pets and kids