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'Vetting' My Options With My Animal Care

A look at the thought process that occurs when you take your dogs to the vet.

I write this column with my tail between my legs.

It shames me to admit that as much as I love my two adorable standard poodles, Bialy and Bloom, each time we visit the vet I do a mental calculation analyzing the cost-benefit analysis of keeping my pooches healthy. I’m not proud of this fact, but I do believe I am not alone. I conducted an informal survey of other members of the pet owning population, and there was a collective moan at the high cost of veterinary care and preventative medications. 

My most recent trip to the vet, for 11-year old Bloom, resulted in a $1,000 bill for the removal of a suspicious growth (turned out to be benign) and follow-up meds. There was also a little dental work in the form of an extraction of a cracked molar. The good news is that Bloom wasn’t referred to a canine orthodontist. To save a few bucks I was going to remove her stitches myself, but fortunately for her I found out stitch removal was part of the package deal.

This is the same dog that, one year earlier, limped her way into a $425 x-ray, which confirmed that she had fractured her dewclaw (also known as the thumb toe). The vet gave us the option of either: a) amputating the toe, b) surgically setting the toe, or c) doing nothing. Fortunately I went to the visit without my children and was able to choose “Option C” without getting harassed for my notorious frugality when it comes to the family pet. Had my eldest been with me, we would have ended up at a veterinary plastic surgeon and a prescription for six-months of physical therapy. Bloom, the dog in question, was better in less than a week. Gotta love Option C.

The thumb toe x-ray was conducted at the Veterinary Specialty Center in Buffalo Grove. If you have never been there, you probably have some spending money left in your pocket, but you have not seen the unbelievable list of specialties offered. It’s like visiting the Mayo Clinic for dogs and cats.  Here is a partial list of medical specialties they offer, in addition to the standard internal medicine and routine surgery options.  

  • Nephrology
  • Oncology
  • Neurology
  • Cardiology
  • Dermatology
  • Imaging and Radiology
  1.   Diagnostic /Radiology/Fluoroscopy
  2.   Sonography
  3.   Computed Tomography (CT Scan)
  4.   Scintigraphy/Nuclear Medicine
  5.   Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
  6.   Radioiodine Therapy
  7.   Interventional Radiology
  8.   PACS Teleradiology
  • Rehabilative Therapy 
  1. Underwater treadmill
  2. Class IV 12W cold laser therapy
  3. Therapeutic ultrasound and massage
  4. Pulsed signal therapy
  5. Heat and cold compression therapy
  6. Therapeutic exercises
  • Holistic Medicine
  1. Acupuncture
  2. Electro-acupuncture
  3. Aquapuncture
  4. Chiropractic 
  5. Nutritional counseling
  6. Nutraceutical supplementation
  7. Herbology

There’s also a complimentary Grief Clinic. I know this is for mourning pet owners, but is there a counselor available for those of us in shock when we get the bill?

I confess that although I chuckle at the list of specialists in areas I wouldn’t even consider for the humans living under my roof (Herbology? Is that performed by Professor Sprout from Harry Potter?), I have been known to succumb to the sucker factor when it comes to my dogs. I actually once paid $100 to have a telephone consultation between a “Pet Communicator” and my poodles. Yes, this woman telepathically conversed with the dogs via the phone line by using mental images sent between her and my sleeping canines. She then told me what they said and instructed me in all the ways I could be a better mother to them. Apparently my dogs filed a complaint that I wasn’t changing their water frequently enough and that is why they dug up the yard.

Did the telephone-voodoo-mentalist therapy work? I’m not willing to say yes, but the dogs did stop digging.

But back to the delicate balancing act of love for my pets versus costs for their care. I love my dogs. I want them healthy and happy and comfortable. But as they get older and older, and the ailments pile up, let’s just say I’m glad there’s “Option D.”

Jill Goldstein April 22, 2012 at 01:30 AM
i did not read this article to Stella.
Anne Ross April 22, 2012 at 03:24 AM
Veterinary Specialty Clinic has saved the lives of several of my dogs over the years and gave them many more years with our family. I'm glad there is a place where responsible and loving pet owners can take their beloved four legged friends to get top notch care with compassion. People like you should not own pets. I hope your children consider Option D when you're old and sick.
Betsy Brint April 22, 2012 at 03:17 PM
Hi Anne, Thank you for your comments - though I am afraid you have misunderstood. I am a fan of the Veterinary Specialty Clinic and I think it is terrific there is a place my dogs can receive underwater treadmill rehabilitation therapy should they need it. My comments were simply based on my surprise when I first saw the list of specialties - and the fact that I found it humorous... that doesn't mean I do not appreciate it. Now, in response to your point that my children should consider Option D when I am old and sick - I only wish Option D was legal for people. It is truly the most humane option. I don't want my dogs to suffer unnecessarily, and I don't believe humans should either. But I digress into politics - and really, I prefer to stick to humor. I am sorry you misunderstood my intentions. And for the record - my dogs are very happy - the pet communicator confirmed it. - Betsy
Lori Ratner April 22, 2012 at 04:47 PM
Dr. Bruce Setlock at the Ruth Wolf Animal Clinic in Vernon Hills - totally aware that we all have an issue with how much we spend on vet bills (I have 3 dogs & 3 cats), and his approach is very refreshing. He always offers a nonjudgemental "option c" with no guilt attached for choosing to do nothing. He also factors in the age of your pet in his recommendations. I cannot say enough about Dr. Setlock, who has been caring for our zoo crew for 14 years, and highly recommend him to anyone who wants both the best for their pets and an affordable level of care. Thanks for this great article, Betsy!
Longtime HP Resident April 22, 2012 at 07:44 PM
Good article, however, I do feel differently. I would forego a meal (or two) to ensure that my dogs are taken care of, if that means an extra trip to the vet. I do agree I would have chosen option C (my dogs are on an all natural diet and I do what I can for them) but I want to make sure that they are not only healthy but happy. Dr. Grogman out of the Glencoe Animal Hospital and her staff is tops in trying not to spend your money if she does not have to.
michael binstein April 22, 2012 at 08:15 PM
Betsy's beautifully worded column has unleashed quite the controversy. For her willingness to tackle taboo topics, Betsy is top dog in my book. I don't understand the rabid responses. She's obviously got some news hound in her, and I doubt betsy will allow herself to be dogged by pious pundits. For those of you who think you can muzzle this gifted writer you are barking up the wrong tree.
Betsy Brint April 22, 2012 at 08:38 PM
Michael - your comment makes my tail wag. Some people feel the need to growl every now and then - fortunately I've got a pretty thick coat. Truth be told - I'm a big fan of our local vet - and when he went above and beyond the call of duty for our golden retriever several years ago, he won my faithfulness for a lifetime. And even though some of the bills can take dog years off our lives - the love we get in return restores us. Our four legged friends are worth every penny, dime, dollar, college fund...
RB April 22, 2012 at 11:07 PM
I'm glad to see that 'option D' is a last resort. It can be difficult (it is), but I've made that decision twice for elderly dogs. I now feel that I waited too long and put them through avoidable and heartaching slow demise. My 11 year old Lab is very happy and it pretty good health. I spend hundreds of dollars a year on him. I've decided that when the time comes, I will now know better about when is the best time for him to go to doggie heaven. I think I am capable of recognizing and making a mutual decision, although his part will be non-verbal. Hopefully, he has several energetic and pain free years ahead of him. Thanks for your article.
Heidi Hillman Tyson April 23, 2012 at 01:13 AM
Whenever I leave for an emergency vet visit, my husband always shouts out a "don't spend more that xxxx number". I always smile, slam the door and yell "whatever you say dear....". I will spend what it takes to keep my dogs happy and healthy, but when the time comes, I also am thankful for the humane option D. Part of responsible pet ownership is understanding when to say when. I hope that my animals (and kids) would do the same for me. By the way, the last time I visited our neighborhood vet, I noticed that the largest exam room had been named for our 10 month old American Mastiff puppy with an engraved plaque -- after all, she is a frequent visitor. Does than mean Option D comes at a discount?
Ravana April 23, 2012 at 09:15 PM
At best, I think this article should be shown to first-time potential pet owners. It always amazes me how many people give up an animal because they had no idea that they would need to budget in for all vet costs, including emergencies. Personally, I never consider the cost when it comes to my dogs' health and, if their bill goes over budget for the quarter (last year it went way over with 3 nights at the emergency vet) I cut back on my own expenses to pay it.
Jill Goldstein April 25, 2012 at 02:17 AM
I agree with Lori Ratner. I also see Dr. Sedlock for vet services. He provides amazing care for pets at prices much more reasonable than those in Highland Park. And like Lori said, he is not judgmental, he offers various options and is always supportive no matter your decision because he understands that everyone is in a different position and you wouldn't be in his office if you didn't care deeply for your pet.

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