Zhadi's Den

Random essays on wine, writing, moving to San Francisco, surfing, cats (exotic and otherwise) and zombies...depending on my mood.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

What's a pets life worth?

My roommate's cat, Tepes (named after Vlad "The Impaler" Tepes, btw), recently developed a fatty liver condition, requiring extensive veterinary care, a feeding tube and an expensive liquid diet, follow up visits (none of them free)...well, you get the picture. His condition was improving, or so it seemed, but Tepes then developed seizures, one of them taking place underneath a reclining chair. He somehow managed to tangle himself like a pretzel in and out of the metal bars that raised and lowered the foot-rest. Gayle and I tried to extricate him, me at the front under the raised foot rest, Gayle reaching in through the back, half under the chair as she tried to simultaneously comfort and rescue her baby. We got him partially untangled, but one hind leg was somehow trapped over and under two separate bars. We were afraid to try any further for fear of hurting him or dislodging the feeding tube still inserted in his neck.

After an hour of howling (Tepes), crying (Gayle, from worry and then the pain of having Tepes sink his teeth into her forearm) and frustration (me, on the phone with Animal Control trying to convince them that yes, we really did need help and no, I couldn't dismantle the chair with a hammer and a screwdriver by myself), Ellie from SF Animal Control arrived, an Australian (New Zealander?) gal with a cheerful, competent manner. She quickly and efficiently extracted Tepes from the chair, no dismantling necessary. Gayle cradled a shell-shocked, drooling Tepes on her lap while I walked Ellie to the door and thanked her.

Dave, whom I'd called right after Animal Control, arrived shortly after that, and together we hauled the recliner, practically brand new, down the stairs and out to the front curb, along with a sign that said 'Free Chair.' We settled Tepes in Gayle's bedroom, gave him Rescue Remedy and wrapped him in blankets, figuring that some rest in a familiar, safe place was the best thing for him. Then we went to the Bashful Bull, a cafe down the block, for breakfast and tried to relax - I'm not sure if I could pick a more stressful way to start a day.

We were gone for about a half hour. When we got home Tepes was stiff-legged, his pupils dilated. He looked dead. But then we noticed that he was breathing. Shallow and rapid breaths, hardly noticeable, but he was breathing. We got him to the emergency hospital after what seemed like the longest car ride in history. I was sure he'd be dead by the time we made it to the hospital.

Long story short, an overnight at the emergency hospital, five nights at an emergency specialty pet hospital, the regular vet visits and over $8,000 worth of care, tests and medicine later, Tepes is back home and healing. The night he came home from the specialty E.R., he wouldn't stop talking, stalked up to all the other cats, shoving his head under their mouths for grooming, threw himself down on the floor periodically to purr and flex his paws. Seeing him so lively and happy after the recliner incident and its aftermath was enough to make me cry. Five days later, he's still talking up a storm. I suspect he underwent some sort of feline spiritual conversion and wants to share the experience with the rest of us.

I've spent a lot of money on veterinary care over the last few years. When you have 7 cats (now down to 5, at least that are living with me in San Francisco), the odds are fairly high that one or more of them will get sick or injured and require the services of a vet. For instance, one of my boys got a urinary tract infection that required minor surgery, overnight hospitalization and a new, semi-permanent, and very expensive diet. Not counting the increased monthly food bill, his condition cost around $500.

During his overnight stay, Foster caught a respiratory virus from another feline visitor. Basically the equivalent of a kitty cold. He started sneezing, coughing, his nose clogged with mucus, his eyes watered, he had no appetite...Foster was one miserable feline. Worried, I took him back to the vet's office and was told that there was nothing to do but let the virus run its course. I could give him eye drops and nose drops (we're talking nasal decongestant spray) to help the ocular irritation, and to help him get his appetite back (no sense of smell equals no appetite), but that was about it.

Even worse, my other six cats caught it too. Ever had to give eyedrops and nasal spray to seven cats? I hope not 'cause it's a pain in the ass. Not all of them developed symptoms as severe as Foster's. Beezle and Sorscha escaped with some sneezing, runny nose and a slight loss of appetite, but they never showed the apathetic misery of the other five.

One cat, Vootie, was a recluse anyway, so I didn't notice right away that her condition was more serious than the other six. Then one morning, she crawled out of her cubbyhole under my sewing table, looked at me, gave this piteous little cry, and collapsed on her side. I rushed her to the our vet's office, where Dr. Jimmerson (whose usual persona is along the lines of Dr. Hibbert on THE SIMPSONS) looked at me sternly and pronounced, "This cat is dying." The infection, nothing life threatening in and of itself, had triggered a congenital weakness in her kidneys, which were nearly shut down.

Vootie was a fighter and wasn't ready to go. She rallied, then went downhill again. Another long story short, after a truly heroic effort on Dr. Jimmerson's part, several trips to the emergency room in the middle of the night, overnight stays at the vet's alternating with home care, and a rollercoaster of pessimism and hope, we lost her. The vet's office sent us a bowl of two dozen yellow roses and a sympathy card. Brian and I spent almost two thousand dollars we couldn't afford to save our little girl, but the combination of kidney problems and the debilitating effects of the virus were too much for her. I still feel guilty for not noticing just how ill Vootie was and I'll always be haunted by that little cry.

One of our friends, after finding out how much Gayle spent to save Tepes, made the comment that she loved her cat, but she had a budget. A set amount that she was willing to spend to save her cat's life if it came down to that. Most of that is pure practicality - she only has so much that she can spend; no credit cards to use in case of emergency. I've been in that position when you have to scrape money together however you can to pay for a car repair or vet bill. Sometimes it's just not there, so you drive on those bald tires a little longer, try to be careful. Or treat that abscess on your cat's haunch with hot compresses and hope that she doesn't get sick from infection. I've been there and it sucks.

However, I've also come to realize that not everyone looks at their animals the same way that I do. I don't have a budget for my pets any more than most people have a cap on what they'd spend if their child came down with a life-threatening disease, even when there's no guarantee of a happy ending. Sure, we lost the crapshoot with Vootie's life. But do I regret spending the money? Not on your life. If it had worked, every penny would have been worth it.


  • At 3:56 PM, Blogger Other Lisa said…

    ugh. it's horrible to have to make those kinds of choices. I know I have made certain decisions regarding cost that are also based on the age of the cat. To me it doesn't make sense to do a lot of aggressive, invasive procedures when the cat is elderly. A young one like this - it's really tough...and of course if you start thinking of how many human lives you could save with that money...it will really make you crazy.

    I'm thinking of checking out pet insurance!

  • At 8:07 AM, Blogger zhadi said…

    I've thought about pet insurance, but the problem is that they don't let you get comprehensive insurance to cover multiple pets, so if you have, say, oh, FIVE cats, it'll cost as much as people insurance a month. And how do you figure which cat is gonna get sick? Maybe by age, but then when something happens like it did with Tepes...who would have thunk it?


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