A New York Times article poses an interesting question in its headline: “Old Dog Needs $6,000 Surgery. What Do You Do?”

The story, written by Roz Warren, describes the affection and often irrational love one can feel for a dog. “Of course, there are no average bichons. Each one is extraordinary and irreplaceable. Especially if he’s your dog,” she writes.

In the article, Warren outlines how she was paying for emergency gallbladder surgery on her son’s 13-year-old Bichon Frise.

There was a 30 percent chance of life-threatening complications and the procedure came with a $6,000 price tag.

If successful, it would buy the dog, named Max, about two more years of life.

So what do you do?

In Warren’s case, there was never any doubt: you pay. As she explains, “…when a beloved family member needs life-saving surgery, you don’t sit back and ‘let nature take its course.’ You take him to a hospital.”

Putting a Price Tag on a Family Member

That’s just it, isn’t it? Dogs are “beloved family members” and it is hard to put a price tag on their well being, even if it may be a matter of complications or just a couple of years. It’s never an easy decision to do what Warren decided to do and it’s hard to say there are right and wrong answers, but the mindset of a dog lover is different and the choice is always an agonizing one – especially if money is tight.

In the comment section of the New York Times article, the opinion is mixed. Some suggest, with clear moral intentions, that it is wrong to spend that kind of money on a mere dog when people are out there unable to get reasonable health care. Others suggest, with similarly clear moral intentions, that you do the procedure no matter what the cost.

For some dog owners, I suppose there are limits to how much you can love your dog. There are price tags that exist outside the realm of financial possibilities, there are amounts and odds they aren’t willing to accept. I can’t judge those dog owners; they have their own rules, their own realities.

But can you love your dog too much? Can you spend too much money, too much time, on your dog?

There are limits to everything, I’d imagine. In Warren’s case, there may be limits as well. But in her view (and mine), how she treats Max represents how she treats others she cares about and loves. It’s hard to put a dollar sign on that and say “There we go, that’s as far as I’ll go.”

Unfortunately, today’s world seems to have attached financial value to everything. I understand there are various reasons for this. This reality demands we often have to make tough choices, like choices between spending $6,000 on surgical care that might buy us two more years with our older dog and not spending that money.

So what would you do? Is there a dollar amount that’s too high? Are there odds to consider? And can you love your dog too much?

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Showing 6 comments
  • Peter S Engineer

    The question should have been- “Do you love your dog enough to buy decent coverage insurance for it ON THE DAY YOU BRING IT HOME, and maintain that coverage for the remainder of its life?”

    From the previous story, it appears that Ms Warren didn’t, and it strained her financial ability to provide care for an animal that was totally dependent on her. If you have a surplus of loving care to give, for a decade or more, a dog is a great choice of recipient.

    If not . . . adopting an animal is not something we are forced to do. It’s like deciding to conceive a child knowing before conception that it will never grow up and achive independence.

    “You can’t truly love anyone else unless you first love yourself.” Love is about commitment and caring FOR, not a romantic, hormone-driven emotion. If we chose to take an animal into our care, but we are not able to provide comprehensive care for it – for whatever reason – we are making a decision right then and there, to put a limit on the “love” we will provide – one determine by chance.

    I just adopted an older dog. Before I did, I extensively researched the total cost of dog ownership, including pet insurance. I didn’t see how I could make a commitment to care FOR a dog unless I was able to make a commitment to love myself and my family first, and that meant we had to be able to afford the expense while living on a fixed income. We had to make some compromises about things we’d do, places we’d go, and when we’d be able to do them, but we found a way.

    There are companies that will provide comprehesive coverage with small deductibles, and which won’t increase premiums due to the age of the dog while it is insured. That coverage is limted to 80 or 90% of the actual expenses, and in most respects it’s no different than comprehensive automobile insurance. Some companies have generous lifetime limits, at least one has no limit. Starting a new insurance plan with $250 incident deductible, 90% coverage and unlimited coverage of a condition/incident on an 8 year old healthy dog with no pre-existing conditions costs under $700/year, or $2/day. A younger dog would cost a lot less. I figured that if I couldn’t afford an added $2/day, I didn’t deserve to have a dog.

    I’m not looking for a pat on the back for doing this, it was the kind of purely rational decison that I think any responsible adult should be expected to make. While I might risk my health, I wouldn’t knowingly sacrifice my life or that of any other human to save a dog. But I’d do anything within my ability to give it the best life it could have. I’ll use the same principles that are in my personal living will and DNR order when it comes to deciding what measures to take to extend my dogs life.

    Several well-respected animal advocate groups have statistics on the cost of ownership of a dog over its lifetime. Every one includes the cost of insurance and the high cost of medical care for accdents, illness and genetic conditions. The figures run around $2500/year for maintenance of a heathly dog, depending on the size of dog, and tens of thousands for worst case care of a treatable, but incurable illness.

    There’s no excuse for not knowing the “downside” and being prepared for it BEFORE you decide to adopt a dog.

  • Debi

    I agree with you Kathy. I have had to make that decision several times over my life. First I had a lab, 13 yrs old, who developed cancer. The Vet , being a very close friend, knew how I was with my pets. We discussed everything. At her age, quaility of life, how long she would live. Very difficult. But, my pet lead me to the answer. I refuse to let an animal suffer, if there is nothing that can help. Now of course, we’re speaking of an older doggy. Exactly 2 weeks after the vet and I spoke, my girl went down in one day. There were no options, she knew it was her time. My second dog, 13 yr old Rottie, basically the same situation. Although very, very heartbreaking, it was the right thing for my pets. But, as you said Kathy, I would sell a kidney to pay for my pet if the odds were in favor of a good quaility life. Such a difference in deciding the way to go, being an older dog or a young vibrant pup. We, as pet owners are obligated to do the right thing for our pets, they cannot do it for themselves. I have no children, so my dogs are my children, I would to whatever it takes to help them.

  • Larry Saavedra

    Janie, Very interesting article. I actually wrote about this same subject a while back, when faced with a real expensive decision regarding my chocolate Labrador. If you’d like to read my view on the subject here’s the link published by the Outdoor Hub:

    • janie knetzer

      Hi Larry:
      Thanks alot for sharing your article with me over on outdoorhub. I was curious Larry if your chocolate lab is still with you? I’ve spent thousands and thousands of dollars for dogs with cancer, hypothyroidism, cardiac problems, etc and it’s not that I’m loaded; for me it’s all about family and my dogs are family. How do you put a price tag on that? However, I don’t blame anyone else that chooses to help their dog cross the rainbow bridge because they have no other option; I completely understand that the resources aren’t always there!


  • kathy

    This is tough. First of all I’d have to consider my pets age, how much time will this surgery would buy her, what would her quality of life be like after the surgery, would she have to take a cocktail of prescription drugs the remainder of her life.
    If the surgery would buy her several years with a normal dog life, I’d sell one of my kidneys if I had to to make sure she got the care she needed.

  • vicky

    I love my dogs. I had three (my favorite buddy , 13 yrs, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Right lobe of brain fully taken with cancer. The diagnosis itself cost upward of 3,000. His quality of life was no longer (in my mind) a good life for him. A proud, dignified,
    very active dog who participated in many activities such as being a delta certified therapy dog, a champion in his obedience and agility skills. A dog who never showed his age but stayed young in body and mind until this hit suddenly. I had insurance coverage with limit of 2,500. I could have kept him alive for possibly another 6 to 8 weeks, but his quality of life was deteriorating rapidly. If his quality of life was still up to par, I would have paid whatever it took out of pocket, and not euthanize him, as I did.
    My healthy 9 yr old, who was also insured with 2,500. limit – I raised to 10,000. for a catastrophic event. My 3 yr old still has 2,500. ins. I cannot answer the question you have put forth, except to say, if I had the money to pay whatever the outlandish cost might be, I would pay it. Right now, I cannot pay huge outlandish medical bills, hence I am doing my best with the insurance plans.
    A dogs love for his human is definitely so truly unconditional that
    no amount of money could buy or pay for whatever the needs of the dog were in repayment to that dog. So we have to do our best for what makes the dog comfortable and live a life that has quality.

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