Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Two Dogs, Two Owners and Two Outcomes

Photo courtesy of Paul Clark

Client #1: Hiya Doc. Nice ta meetcha. First off you need to know I’m a physician. A doctor. And as a doctor I’ve made the decision not to spend a large amount of money on my dog. I’m not willing to spend several thousand dollars. That’s just assanign. I love him but, after all, he’s just a dog.

Veterinarian: Okay. I understand. People have financial limitations. Let me take a look at Duke.

I have to tell you. I’m concerned. Duke is very sick. He’s severely dehydrated, his mucous membranes are injected, he’s weak, lethargic and painful in the abdomen. I’m worried he may have an intestinal foreign body.

Blood work and x-rays are in order.

Client #1: Like I said I’m not willing to spend a lot of money. Plus he doesn’t eat things he’s not supposed to. You can start with blood work.

Veterinarian: Okay.

(Dog taken for blood draw then returned to owner. While blood work is being run client summons the veterinarian to the exam room).

Client #1: Doc. He vomited. It’s foul, putrid. I think you’re right. He has a foreign body. You’d better take x-rays. You’d better take them now.

(Dog taken for x-rays. Veterinarian returns to discuss results).

Veterinarian: I’m afraid I have some bad news. These radiographs are highly suspicious for a foreign body -- specifically a linear foreign body. My best recommendation would be to take Duke to surgery and explore his abdomen.

But I know you have financial constraints and unfortunately surgery adds up. Including the exam, the diagnostics we’ve done so far, surgery and hospitalization were probably talking in the range of $1500.00 to $2000.00.

I’m afraid this is an obstruction that won’t pass on it’s own and Duke is already in poor condition. Your other option is euthanasia.

Client #1 (with tears rolling down his cheeks): I said I didn’t want to spend a lot of money but it doesn’t seem fair not to treat him. Do it. Take him to surgery.


Client #2: Hello doctor. Nice to meet you.

Veterinarian: Hello. I see Sage has been here before. She had a foreign body surgery.

Client #2: Yes. She swallowed a nylabone. I guess they’re still manufacturing them. They’re made to swallow and supposed to dissolve. It didn’t. It doesn't seem it was her fault.

Veterinarian: And now she’s showing similar signs?

Client #2: Yes.

Veterinarian: Well let me take a look at her. She’s pretty bright and alert. She’s not too dehydrated but she is a bit painful in her belly. Given her previous history I think we should take x-rays.

Client #2: Okay, sure, sounds good to me.

(Dog taken for x-rays and veterinarian returns to discuss results)

Veterinarian: Well I’m afraid Sage is obstructed again. It appears she’s swallowed a rock.

Client #2: A rock? A rock? Why would a dog swallow a rock?

Veterinarian: I don’t know. Dogs can be weird that way. They eat things that a typical person wouldn't even think about eating.

Client #2: This is not normal. This dog is not normal. She digs holes. She runs away. And now rocks. What dog swallows rocks?

Veterinarian: Actually it’s not an uncommon occurrence, especially in puppies. And really she’s still a puppy. She’ll begin to mature in another year or so. I recommend we take her to surgery.

Client #2: I suppose some people can’t afford the care. Simply can’t pay for it. That’s terrible. Horrible. This, we can afford this. We've been through it before. But this dog is not normal. Rocks!

Veterinarian: I assure you it is quite normal. Sage isn't the first dog to swallow rocks.

Client #2: Well, you see, here's the thing. My wife doesn’t like this dog. We were thinking of finding her a new home. Yet it seems a shame to withhold treatment for bad behavior.

Veterinarian: Yes it does. And she’s young. She’s likely to outgrow this type of behavior.

Client #2: And I want my boys to have both their dogs. I want them to understand responsibility and compassion. That's my job as a parent. As a citizen.

But this dog. She’s not normal. Just not normal. I’m afraid we’re going to have to put her to sleep.

Veterinarian: Are you sure this is what you want to do?

Client #2: Yes.



Jessica at May the Beauty said...

ug. This post is killing me. People are unfathonable with their pets, aren't they?

It hits home. I'm struggling with my 14 year old greyhound diagnosed with kidney failure.

ugh. It must be so hard. Poor puppy. I can't believe they chose to call it a behavior problem.

Tammie said...

this is so sad. i try not judge others when it comes to expensive pet care because i have always had a house full of animals and i've had to make the decision about whether to pay for costly care or put the pet to sleep. (for the record, i've done both after A LOT of thinking.)

it's always a hard decision to make, but it does seem as if client number 2 had kinda given up on their pet and had already made the decision before even walking through the door.

Gayle said...

Oh, this is so sad. It must be so hard to be the veterinarian and have to put that sweet puppy to sleep.

Amy said...

Thanks for the glimpse into your job. It can't be easy. I miss my dog. We made the difficult decision in November. He was 13 and failing in many ways. His vets were very compassionate and supportive the whole way and they made a very sad time a little more bearable.

Bridge said...

Ugh! So sad! I cannot imagine making that choice, but I do wonder how far I'd be willing to go. The choice seems clearer with an old dog, but our dog is only 2 and I could never imagine letting him go easily.

What do you think? When do you advise Euthanasia over treatment? These cases seem so clear that surgery would have been a better decision.

Is that judgmental, i know it is.

Shalet said...

I am not against euthanasia. For an old animal that is clearly suffering it can be a beautiful thing (it can also be a beautiful exit for a young animal with severe disease or injury). I sincerely hope euthanasia is an option for me in my later years. It's shameful that people are forced to suffer horrific terminal illness when they have the option to die so peacefully.

However I hate it when euthanasia is used as a convenience. It bothers me when people get an animal without accepting responsibility.

When I brought my labradork home I was pretty sure he'd be trouble in his early years. He chewed up ski helmets, ripped out our sprinklers (more than once), etc. etc. Now, at three, he is the greatest dog ever. Having said that this year he chewed into my asthma inhaler and ate halloween candy (both resulting in trips to the clinic). People need to research before getting a pet. Go see Marley and Me (though that dog was an extreme behavior case).

I'll tell you what. If I wasn't a veterinarian the first thing I'd do is get pet health insurance. I've not met anyone dissatisfied with their pet insurance and these people are much more willing to treat their pets.

And here is the other dilemma. Veterinary medicine has advanced. There is a lot we are able to do. Clients expect a lot. But these advancements cost money. People expect a high level of care, will threaten law suits if it is not received and yet are unwilling to pay for such care.

We try to work with people, to offer viable options and treatment alternatives. In some cases we assume responsibility for an animal and re-home it (this is how I've ended up with one of my dogs and one of my cats). But we can't take in every animal, especially in this economy. On that night we had already taken in a Shih Tzu puppy (anyone want a Shih Tzu?).

It's tough. If only all people could afford to treat their pets. If only we could treat everything we see. But life will never be that easy.

Jamie said...

Oh you have a tough job. I volunteered at an animal shelter for a while. I'd walk dogs and help train them, snuggle cats, and play with bunnies. We were volunteer match makers helping people find the right pet for their home. It was hard though knowing that not all of them would find homes and I couldn't take them all home myself either.

The shetlers are getting so crowded these days with the economy problems. People can't afford their animals or have to move into smaller homes that don't accept pets. It's a hard thing to watch.

the Lady said...

That's really sad.

Michelle said...

That second client was looking for an excuse to get rid of the dog. Pathetic, really. The key was "My wife doesn't like this dog."

We can only hope karmic justice balances out in the end.

jakk said...

Oh,wow, this post is going to stick with me for a long time. We have two rescued greyhounds and two rescued kitties (one from Hurricane Katrina). They mean the world to us. I just can't imagine thinking like Client #2.

Blessings to you and the work that you do!

sue maasch said...

oy, why did i read this on my day off.....