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Dear Liz: Due to lack of work over the last few years, I finally began my Social Security benefits this year. I can afford only catastrophic health insurance, so I hardly ever see a doctor anymore.

So here’s the problem: A pet! I have had my cat Jackie for nearly 14 years. Jackie has a growth on her neck that has been growing since last fall. Last week, I took her into a pet clinic that offered free first visits. Their suggestion was to remove it and have it tested for cancer. The cost was $450 just to remove it, with another $150 to have it tested. Ouch! If it is cancer, I can’t afford the treatment.

The vet says Jackie seems remarkably healthy and could live another five or six years. Do I spend that extra money for a possible negative assessment of something I can’t afford to cure, or do I just let her live out her life with the growth continuing? I feel like I am not being a good parent.

Answer: A pet may feel like a family member, but your cat is not your child. Although most parents would willingly bankrupt themselves to save a child’s life, you don’t face a similar obligation to extend a pet’s life.

You do have an obligation to make sure a pet doesn’t suffer, and you may have more options for treatment than you think. Discuss your situation with the vet who assessed Jackie to see if more affordable diagnostic and treatment options are available. If you’re willing and able, your vet may consider allowing you to work off a bill by cleaning kennels or answering phones, according to Humane Society of the United States.

If not, contact your local animal shelter to see if it can recommend a veterinarian willing to discount his or her services. There are also a number of national and local organizations that provide financial assistance to pet owners in need. You can find a list at the Humane Society’s website.

If you get another pet down the road, consider buying a health insurance policy for the animal. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates a typical policy for a cat would cost about $175 a year, although premiums vary based on deductibles and what the policy covers. Veterinary costs have spiraled to the point where these policies can provide real protection against catastrophic bills.

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Categories : Budgeting, Insurance, Q&A

2 Comments

1

Liz,

I read your article in the Oregonian newspaper in Portland. While I agree with the suggestions you made for this woman to help her locate lower cost assistance, I think it was terribly inappropriate for you to suggest that pets should not be considered family members, “children”, etc. Clearly the woman writing in does consider her cat that she’s cared for for 14 years like a child, or else she wouldn’t have ended with saying “I feel like I am not being a good parent.”

The difference between a pet and a human child in this country is that the latter have access to federal/state/local subsidized health programs that allow for them to access basic on up to higher levels of medical care, many times with limited costs to their parents. Additionally, for adults and children who need emergency care, no ER can turn away someone who is in need of treatment, regardless of ability to pay. Yes, some people will bankrupt themselves and try to pay their bills, others will not. There are some crucial differences here from pet owners have access to.

Please be a little more sensitive in your advice giving. People who have pets often agonize over what to do when things get tough financially for them. The nuts and bolts of your advice was good, but your opening statement was clearly from a person who either doesn’t have pets, or doesn’t consider her pets as a valued family member.

2

Actually, it’s from a person who has both pets and a child. Pets can be valued family members–ours are–but they are not children.