Friday, March 26, 2010

Memories of Old Yeller

We all know what happened to “Old Yeller” in the classic book and Disney film, and we all bawled our eyes out. Of course, back in the days when Old Yeller fought bears and contracted rabies, advanced veterinarian treatments were non-existent.

Today, vet care is as sophisticated as human medical care—even if it is without a bitter Congressional fight—and owners can treat their animals for an ever-expanding range of maladies at an ever-increasing cost.

I’ve spent more than $3,000 on a rescue dog I’ve owned for 10 years. Back when we went to the PetsMart adoption event, we never visualized this, of course. We saw a cute, spirited Miniature Pinscher. We didn’t know he would be a dominant, nippy little twit, but after all these years, we love him, even with his drawbacks.

I was describing Taco’s recent illness to a group of friends, and an older man began describing how his family cared for the dogs of his youth: “We had dogs on our farm in Wisconsin,” he said. “And we never did much for them, but they were healthy and lived a long time. We didn’t even feed them fancy dog food. And we never took them to a Vet. We might have called a Vet for a cow, maybe, but never for a dog.” He was appalled that I had spent so much on “just a dog.”

I didn’t get into it with the gentleman, but 30 or 40 years ago, when he was a boy in Wisconsin, a farm dog might have lived for 3 or 4 years before getting injured, ill or hit by a vehicle. Dogs simply “ran off” never to be seen again. Even when I was a kid in the 1960s, if you had a dog that lived to be 7 or 8, that was an “old dog.” A very old dog.

Most Vets still consider a dog a senior at age 7, but vaccinations, spay/neuter programs, better food nutrition, preventive health checks and a growing list of drugs and treatment options have extended the life-span of our pets. Today, I meet people with 14-year-old Golden Retreivers who still take (slow) daily walks and 18-year-old Dachshunds who might be hobbled with cataracts and toothless, but they still have pep. Advances in Vet care today mean that if you want to spend the money, you can provide your ill pet with blood transfusions, open heart surgery, joint replacement and sophisticated cancer treatments.

Have I spent too much on my nasty little Min Pin? I don’t know. As I told my husband, the time to decide how much you want to spend is BEFORE you are involved in a full-bore treatment plan. I could have stopped, I suppose, after my first visit—skipping the pricey emergency care and nixing the follow-ups. My dog would be dead now simply due to system collapse and dehydration. I’m taking him to the Vet this morning, after watching him slip into a decline last night. However, this morning, his whole attitude seems better.

Still, I warned my daughter that we might have to make that big Decision with this dog. I told I needed to be honest with her—I needed to know if she wants to be with Taco when/if euthanization is needed. She said yes she did. Meanwhile, my conscience won’t let me just abandon this dog to death if reasonable efforts will help him improve. My Vet, at this point, believes he is a good candidate for total recovery. So for now, I will hand over my credit card.


  1. Old Yeller ... what a great story!

    I hope Taco is feeling better this morning.

    I spent $7,000.00 grand on my GSD a few years back. I didn't feel like I had a choice. I could afford it, he was my partner, the choice was made.

    Today, I don't have the income to do that for Stumpy if the need arose. We can only do what we can do. I would do whatever I could, but I would have to draw the line at a much lower figure.

    Clearly, you are going above and beyond for Taco. It sounds as though, if you can keep fluides in him, he has turned the corner. You have tried icecubes/shavings?

    Keep us posted!

  2. Best wishes to you and Taco. What a difficult spot to be in. Balancing a pet's illness against what you can afford is one of the hardest and most personal decisions a pet owner can be called on to make. (Especially an illness like Taco's, where death is a real possibility, but so is a full recovery, and either could happen tomorrow, or take weeks yet.) But it sounds like you've got your head on straight, and you're making good choices. Good luck.


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