Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Cost of Compassion

"Arabella" (aka "Princess"), the little Distemper Dog, is back at the Vet's, on IVs since yesterday.  She has had the three serum injections that might defeat the distemper, but her physical state was sliding.  Her sponsor opted to pay out of her own pocket for this final effort.  Arabella has a lot of heart and hasn't given up, but the money spent so far to fight her illness is more than $1,000, and that's at steeply discounted (thanks to two very generous Veterinary practices, and two non-profits) rescue rates.  If she is not significantly improved after three days, then we need to face the fact that euthanization is necessary.  I don't want Arabella to die.  Nor does her sponsor and others who have met her.  Yet, money may not save her life.

Which brings up the question:  How much should be spent trying to save a Shelter dog?

Vast amounts of money, much from non-profit fund-raising, much from individuals' own pockets, is spent on individual Shelter dogs whose plights spur people into last-ditch, major efforts.  Many of these cases involve unique situations that arouse fierce sympathy.  Just recently at our Shelter, major effort and expense has been spent treating a dog hit by a car (the dog is recovering) and a mature Chocolate lab whose owner dumped him with an old badly healed broken leg, which has now been amputated (this guy is recovering as well).

The latest extreme example is a GSD mix dog found along the I-45 and brought into the Shelter with bowed front legs, due to carpal flexural deformity, along with severely atrophied back legs.  This dog appears otherwise healthy in spite of his condition, and he has learned to "scoot" along using his belly.  Currently, the Shelter Director (who is a notoriously soft-hearted person) is investigating treatment options.  Most likely, appeals will be made for outside donations.  Plans include high-lighting this dog in the paper to arouse public interest.  Not to suggest that it is wrong to consider treating this dog, but I still wonder if the thousands of dollars that corrective surgery will require could be better spent elsewhere within the Shelter.

Dogs tug at peoples' heartstrings and consequently their wallets--Arabella's sponsor has spent close to $800 of her own money.  The sponsor has a huge emotional (not to mention financial) investment in this dog.  Yet Arabella is property of Montgomery County, Texas.  Without the volunteers (and I count myself in this group because I've put $150 or so toward her treatment), Arabella would already be dead.

Still, with 40 percent of all incoming dogs testing positive for heartworms, and the fact that the Shelter opts to treat these dogs at the rate of about 8 animals per week and a cost of $25,000 per year (much donated), we need to ponder the difficult issue of resource allocation.  It's tough to choose.  People will be upset.  Some dogs will not get treated.  But perhaps it would be better to affect the outcome for the greatest number of dogs.

We're not only faced with choices regarding the extreme cases, we need to develop a better approach to handling distemper cases.

Many distemper dogs are given treatments, and most, especially the puppies, die.  The preventive vaccine series costs about $40-$160, depending on where the owner takes the puppy.  In our area, many people don't vaccinate their puppies.  Whether it is out of ignorance or lack of money is unknown.  But the $1,000 spent so far on Arabella would buy a lot of distemper vaccine.

It's a thorny issue with no easy answers.  What do you think?  What is the best way to compassionately spend limited funds?


  1. Personally, I like to put a cap on this around $1000. I look at all the other animals that could be helped and the sheer numbers help me make those hard decisions.

    That said, if the bills are less than $1000 and the chance of recovery is poor, I would make the decision to euthanize.

    The exception would be in the case of a sponsor. If there is someone who is willing to pay the costs then that is their choice. I would consider the quality of life as well though - sometimes sponsors don't want to let go any more than we do.

  2. This is a tough one. I think it comes down to more than money. Quality of life, adoptability home and cost of ongoing treatment need to be considered also.

    The decision I made would be very close to a decision I would make for myself.

  3. DDF--$1,000 is about my personal cap for a Shelter dog, too. I spent far more than that on my personal dog, Taco, but I posted how challenging the expenditures were. Had I known up front that I would have to spend so much, even without knowing the outcome, I might have chosen to limit myself to pallative care.

    GSC--you summarized how the sponsor feels. This dog is extremely adoptable (it always seems to happen to the ones with the best personalities).

    The sponsor called with an update this afternoon. Yesterday, Arabella seemed to rally well, but today has slipped behind. Her liver enzymes are way up and her white blood cell count is extremely low. The Vet wants to go one more day--she felt there could be another turnaround. We'll make a decision tomorrow based on the dog's best interests.

  4. For my personal dog I would spend a lot as long as she had a chance of recovery and wasn't in constant pain. For a shelter dog, it's much less. HOWEVER, these individual expensive cases seem to bring in more money than a bulk "please donate" plea! Give someone a sob story, put a furry face to it, and the wallets come out.

  5. We agree with giantspeckledchihuahua. It is a tough decision whether it is for a personal pet or a rescue. Very tough...
    Ernie,Sasha,Chica (all rescue pups)


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