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Tails of the unexpected: Collars mean big dollars in a dog eat dog world

Opinion

From man’s best friend to dilapidated ducks, the price of pet ownership is a heavy burden to bear, writes Michael Blucher

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It happened again over the weekend – I didn’t see the exact manoeuvre that caused the damage, but our favourite girl stuffed her other knee – the right one. Another full reconstruction required.

Poor thing. Talk about a wretched run of luck. It was only six months ago she did the left one – went under the knife, and laid up for weeks.

This most recent medical emergency was hardly great news for the broader household budget either, I hasten to add. We were still paying off the credit card bills for the previous operation.

On Monday night, I was updating the fellas at FMT (Fat Man’s Tennis) of our recent misfortune, and by little surprise, this led to a discussion about the ridiculous amounts of money we invest in maintaining our pets.

Apologies – I should have clarified – the favourite “girl” (mine at least) is a three-year-old black labrador, the daughter of our other dog which fortuitously to date, has not suffered any season-ending knee injuries. Mothers – most are made of pretty tough stuff.

I’d opened the serving in the first set that night feeling a little rueful – another $1900 swipe of the vet’s credit card machine, with the promise of more swipes to come. Physio still required, apparently. Of course it was. These days, dogs not only sleep inside the house, they have physio.

But pretty quickly, I began to feel far better about our most recent remedial undertaking.

Out came the stories, like foam bullets from the muzzle of a nerf gun at a six-year-old’s birthday party – one after the next – tales not of wagging, but of financial woe.

“Pencil”, the least qualified of the four aged FMT regulars, told of his work colleague’s Burmese mountain dog, which for a number of days, had been “inappetent” – vet talk for not hungry.

Blood test after examination after scan after blood test revealed nothing out of the ordinary. Their BMD would have to go under the knife.

The vet finally found the problem – a tea towel lodged in the non-hungry hound’s small intestine.

“Ah – I’ve been looking everywhere for that,” the lady of the house responded, recounting that the last time she’d seen the missing item, it had been used to mop up gravy in the kitchen. It was all starting to make sense.

That little repatriation exercise cost $2.5K, not including the expense of a replacement tea-towel.

Then there was the Foot-Faulter’s neighbour whose rottweiler puppy was admitted with a severe bout of gastro, after munching its way through the back seat of his master’s brand new C-Class Mercedes.

An expensive quinella that one, $1200 in vet fees compounding the $4500 outlay for a new back seat in the Merc.

The said rottweiler puppy wasn’t around long after that – he went on “a long holiday” apparently, or that’s what the Mercedes driver’s young children were led to believe.

There were also a couple of complicated lamb bone extractions, one followed by three nights in “doggie intensive care”. The financial impost of that delicate exercise – a cool $8000.

The “Serve and Volleyer” chimed in with the story of a western suburbs dalmatian – lovely dog, but with a lower-than-average canine IQ.

It kept on eating the bamboo clumps in the family back yard, a practice that routinely left bamboo “mulch” wedged in his stomach. After 13 surgical procedures, you’d think the dog would have learnt, but no – there was a 14th “cloggage”. No final figure associated with that repatriation – but ballpark, $25-30K.

However, my favourite pet “investment”, and perhaps the worst value for money, was the story involving the PR guru who spent $950 on tests, to learn his ageing Boxer could sleep standing up.

“Nothing wrong with the dog,” the vet advised, a little too enthusiastically. “He’s in perfect health – just doesn’t need to be lying down to nod off.”

Yes, man’s best friend can also be man’s deepest money pit.

I get it, owners spending obscene amounts, to amend canine ill health, and on occasions, extend the lifespan of their loving hound.

Dogs are so appreciative – they give you so much back. Imagine if your kids greeted you at front door each evening with the same level of enthusiasm as your dog? You’d even be happy to have them in the house.

But wow – talk about collars and dollars.

As an exercise in social science, I thought I’d ask my vet mate “Back-row Bill” about the financial threshold for other pets. What creatures, large and small, had he rescued and revived, without so much as the check of a cheque book?

“Not long ago, I had a family prepared to pay up to $1000 to fix an egg bound chicken,” BRB conceded, somewhat contritely. “I tried to talk them out of it by highlighting that they could buy roughly 50 new chickens for the same price. But they insisted Delphine was nursed back to full health. And she was. Never laid another egg, mind you.”

There was also a duckling that suffered a broken leg, after being dropped from clumsy-seven-year-old-height, while being paraded around the garden.

BRB, in keeping with his professional standing, advocated strongly a swift humane act, followed immediately by the introduction of a next-to-identical replacement duckling. But no, Donald Junior underwent surgery, sadly passing away on the operating table under general anaesthetic, a couple of days later.

He can’t remember what portion of total expense incurred he recouped on that occasion, but certainly not enough to run tests to see if the duckling could sleep standing up, once its broken leg had healed. Poor Donald J.

BRB admitted he was often torn between the various competing forces – animal welfare, owner distress, financial prudence, and common sense.

Which way he leans depends on the instructions of the master or mistress he is serving.

Emotional instead of rational decision making – most of us are hobbled by it at some point in our lives.

I’m proud to say, in our house, we’re pretty clinical in our thinking about pets. Able to untangle the emotional and the financial, factoring in projected medical maintenance, and expected quality of life.

Pretty simple, really.

But that’s where I’d better finish up. I have to take my favourite little girl to her physio appointment.

After that, she’s off to Pilates.

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