Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast
My niece walking my 110 pound Rottweiler, Mickey, many years ago. Mickey would normally drag anyone walking her, but she just knew to be gentle with my niece.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Worth of a Dog

Recently some dear friends of mine experienced a horror that all pet owners fear; their dog Abby was hit by a truck. It was an accident, and thankfully the resilient little Blue Heeler survived but not without a major injury that will take quite some time to heal. Knowing the little fur-covered canine lightning ball, and how much she is loved by her family, there was no surprise as to their urgency and absence of hesitation in getting her the medical care she needed.  Still, I do not envy them in terms of the long recovery time that lies ahead and the veterinary bills that will inevitably be stacking up. 
Abby after coming home from the vet.
Every pet owner out there understands these realities at some level.  Pets can be hurt, they become sick, their care costs money.  Sometimes lots of money.   Still, I don’t know of a single person who regrets spending the money they did on their pets.  If there is any regret I’ve seen, it is in the desperate attempt to keep the animal around when it would have been better to end its suffering.  Often that is done out of a personal desire to not part with a beloved friend, which is why money is not an object. 

Now, I’ve known some people who’ve had to make the tough choice to put an animal down simply because they could not afford the required medical care. I don’t fault them for that.  It is a personal choice that we must make as pet owners -- a difficult, often heart-wrenching choice.  At the center of the issue is this one simple question:  What is my pet worth?

This topic became the seed for a tense conversation between my dad and me many years ago.  I was back on the ranch visiting, and my step-mom, dad, and I were out on the patio enjoying a nice summer day.  I’m not sure how the issue came up, I just know that dad was wondering why I wasn’t able to afford something even though I had a good job. I explained that I had just gone through a year in which both of my dogs had experienced some serious health issues that were rather costly.

“Well, how much have you spent?” My dad asked.

“Between the two of them, over two thousand dollars,” I replied honestly. Such an amount may not be a lot to some, but at that point in my life it was a huge sum that took me a year to pay off.

“What!? I can’t believe someone would spend so much money on an animal. People are out there wasting all their money on their pets when it could be used to help other people or other important things.”  Dad actually expanded on the list for a bit, but you get the point.

When he had paused long enough for me to jump back in, I did so in a very calm manner, something I learned is important to do when dealing with my dad.  Don’t raise your voice because if you do it stops being a discussion and becomes an argument--, not a pleasant thing between two alpha males.

“Dad, how much do all those bronze sculptures in the house cost?”  I queried.  Dad was a very successful man in the medical profession and had an amazing collection of western and wildlife bronze sculptures.  Dad remained silent so I continued, “My dogs are with me the majority of my day.  They are my friends, my protectors, and my confidants.  I literally have a closer relationship with my dogs than I do with most people.  They are always there for me, always loving me, always faithful.  I’ve taken them to nursing homes, walked in parades with them, and used them in my canine behavior classes. What do those sculptures do?  How many people do they help or comfort?”

My dad pursed his lips but kept quiet.  My step-mom just smiled, knowing that my point had been made -- a point that I didn’t intend as an insult or implication that my dad was somehow uncaring.  Far from it.  I can’t tell you how many times my dad had helped families in need by meeting them on a weekend or evening at his clinic so they wouldn’t have to pay the ER fee.  He really loved people and did a lot to help them.  My point in all of this was that his view of the worth of a dog was vastly different from my own.  I did notice, though, that he never again questioned my dogs’ value to me.  If anything, he grew to respect it more in the years prior to his passing.

This brings us back to the original question.  How do we put a value on our animals?  What are we willing to pay to keep them safe?  I think the answer that most would give is best summarized by a story involving my friends, Matthew and Amanda, and their dog, Merlin. 
Matthew, Amanda, and the mischievous Merlin
Merlin came into their lives with the reputation of being the most difficult dog at the shelter.  A massive, jet black German Shepherd and Malamute mix, the dog was a handful, to put it mildly.  His destructive behaviors were legendary and finding a good boarding facility that could handle him was difficult.  While living in Billings, Montana, Matthew and Amanda had to go visit out of town family and managed to find a veterinary hospital that also did boarding.  The facility seemed well-equipped to handle Merlin, so Matthew and Amanda were excited to go on their trip.  As Matthew dropped Merlin off, the desk clerk handed him a form to fill out.  One of the questions caused Matthew to pause:

In the event of a medical emergency do you wish lifesaving care to be provided and if so, is there a maximum monetary amount that you do not want us to exceed?

Matthew’s brain ran through a list of increasing amounts, wondering if each one was enough.  He and Amanda had discussed this issue, given they were a young couple just starting out in life and living on a limited income.  Matthew also knew that his wife viewed Merlin as higher valued than he, himself, did, but that isn’t what drove his answer.  With each amount he considered jotting down, he wondered if they would stop there and let the dog suffer and die, when perhaps another couple hundred dollars could save him.  As the values climbed in his head, he came to the only answer that seemed right.  In bold, block letters he wrote: SAVE MY DOG!

There you have it.  A fixed amount couldn’t be set.  Not in his mind, not considering how much they loved the big black dog that shared their lives.  And perhaps that is how it should be. 

 I’ve personally had a discussion with both my vet and my mom regarding the care of my dogs if I’m gone.  My instruction has been to do whatever is necessary if it has the likelihood of saving the dog or of ending its pain.  I’ll deal with the monetary issues later.   Save my dog, I’ll handle the costs later, that is the decision I have made.  I can always work overtime or sell some items if it comes to that.  There is almost always a way to make more money, but there is never a way to get a beloved pet back once it is gone.  

The value of the connection we have with our pets goes beyond words. It is something I try to include in all of my novels to give the non-pet owning readers a glimpse of what it is like.  To learn more about my novels, go to

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