On point as usual, The Onion had an article in January called “Cat Refuses to Die” that was both amusing and wince-worthy in its familiarity. I emailed it to my mom and suggested a blog post recounting our own history of the more ridiculous medical shit we’ve been through with our animals, saying that I thought it would elicit comments.
She wrote back, “Yeah, the comments this will get are that we are crazy people.”
Certainly some people would find the amount of time, money, and energy invested in our pets’ care to be shocking. Tallying it up is sobering, especially as we’ve only had standard house pets – think about people with horses or exotic animals, who probably spend a fortune in care and maintenance. With that perspective, our kitty hospice and doggie rehab shouldn’t seem so absurd…
In a house of Responsible Pet-Ownership, we, like many other people, often found our good intentions stretched to extraordinary measures, and often with extreme grossness and expense.
There was our much-beloved Yonkers and the Blood Parasite in the late ‘80s that cost over $2500 to treat (about $4600, according to an inflation calculator). He spent two weeks in the feline ICU, and we made more than one “final visit.” Miraculously, Yonkers was eventually discharged with a feeding tube punched through the back of his neck to his esophagus; for feeding, my mother would blenderize cat food, uncork him, and inject it into his neck with a syringe. He made a full recovery and went on to eviscerate many more lizards, in his day.
Then there was Wallace, who developed hyperthyroidism when he was six. A veterinary college 100 miles away was researching the treatment of hyperthyroidism with irradiation, so Wallace spent a month getting blasted. When he came home, his urine and feces had to be specially handled and disposed of because they were still slightly radioactive. He also retained some heart damage that was treated as a further part of the research project. Mom reports that, apparently, “most hyperthyroid cats back then only lived a few years beyond their treatment. (Wallace) died when he was 19 or 20, the longest lived cat in the study. The A&M researchers followed him through our vet until his (Wallace’s) death.”
Wallace isn’t our only pet to contribute to the advancement of medical science. Arlo the Dog also went to A&M for prostate cancer treatment (results: inconclusive).
Opal and Tigerlily both had renal failure and for ages, there was an IV pole and fluids bag in my childhood bedroom, where my poor mother would administer a subcutaneous solution drip. Truly, it was Kitty General Hospital. In Tigerlily’s case, she was a feral neighborhood cat who hid under our house to die until my mom (bellycrawling like a soldier) dramatically rescued her during a howling storm and we rushed her bag-o’-bones to the ER. Tigerlily underwent a complete personality 180, transforming from certified wild thing to cuddly lapcat within days, and lived another couple of years.
YoYo, our Halloween street urchin kitten, had worms and fleas and ants all over her (even her eyes, ick) when we scooped her out of a gutter. The ER vet thought we were insane for trying to treat her, but treat her we did, and at considerable expense, and she’s still with us 13 years later, happy and dim as a clam. This is a cat who purrs so loudly and constantly that the vets can never listen to her heart with a stethoscope.
More recently memorable, Pete the Dog and everyone’s favorite member of the family, had a collapsed lung and received a $6000+ thoracotomy (to our horror). Even worse, he had to wear a doggie tee-shirt for a while in recovery, and people kept stopping my mom on their walks to tell her how cute he looked.
“People think I am the type of woman who dresses up her dog for the park,” she told me, very tight-lipped. Unacceptable. And really funny, to me, anyway.
That’s not even counting the dozens and dozens of cases of kennel cough, vomiting, injuries, check-ups, and various scheduled surgeries over the years, and when you have multiple cats who have lived anywhere from the ages of 16 to 22, it really adds up. The IV drips, the pills, the flea treatments, the neuterings and spayings – not to mention the regularity of shots, food, litter, treats, grooming, and daycare – it wouldn’t be far off to speculate we’ve spent $xxxxxx on animal care in the last 30 years.
There’s even been psychological treatment for cat Zippy the Pinhead, who pulled out his own fur in fits of anxiety and required a regular dosing of Zoloft, or Pete’s panicky spells. Opal was a Calico who probably should have been on anti-psychotics on account of her murderous streak – she kept pushing our deaf-and-dumb cat Willow off the balcony. Willow lived to 22 and was finally euthanized after her back-legs stopped functioning and no one could take the pathos any longer. I guarantee she would have ticked along for another couple of years on her own if we were willing to spoon-feed her Tuna Feast and carry her from her towel to the litterbox several times a day. Actually, we were willing, but it was clearly time to let go.
We treat our pets well, because, as Mom says, it’s a responsibility as well as a pleasure. While it’s a bit mind-boggling to look at it collectively, it’s part of the choice that comes with adopting an animal. It is perhaps a very Western mindset and a product of privilege, but I also think it’s significant, and I really respect my parents for their devotion to our pets, within our means (I wouldn’t expect that anyone faced with the prospect of paying their rent or feeding their children or going to school versus shelling out $1500 for a vet bill would make the same choices). It probably helps that I am an only child, and our animals are very much a part of our family.
So, yeah, people do crazy things for love of their pets. Feel free to share some of your own extraordinary measures.