Quibbling over Kibble and Big Vet Bills

American Veterinary Medical Association reports that pet-owning households spent an average of $356 annually on veterinary visits in 2007, the latest year for which data is available. A story in USA Today, a publication that incidentally makes fine puppy-training tools, says financially struggling pet owners are now having trouble paying those veterinarian bills and are often choosing euthanasia over expensive treatments.

I'm not sure that's such a bad thing.

Personally, I think $356 on vet bills is a lot of money – whether you're financially strapped or not. Not very long ago, a dog's (or a cat's) life meant sleeping outside and hoping for a few table scraps. Today, a pet is a family member and sleeps on a therapeutic canine-support mattress – or in bed with his owner. And goes to the vet for Well Doggy Visits.

Recently, Spike Thomas had to have a growth removed from his leg that the vet said looked like it might be cancerous. Spike's not a very cooperative patient – he might bite the doc – so he had to have anesthesia. While he was under the influence, the vet recommended that he have his teeth cleaned. When all was said and done, the bill approached $1,000 and the growth wasn't cancerous after all. Holy Smoke.

I love Spike. He's my constant companion, but he's a 10-year-old mutt and in these troubled times, it's hard to justify treating him like a human being. I say yes to food, water, warmth and maybe no to expensive medical care, even if it means Spike has bad breath and a few less dog years.

Upon hearing me express these sentiments aloud, Spike, an 85-pound lover of cheddar cheese, gave me the sad-eyed look reserved for humans who don't have a clue.

Before he takes me out for a walk, I'll point out the home page of the Humane Society of the United States, which offers a state-by-state list of groups offering free or discounted pet food, medical care and temporary foster care for pet owners affected by the current economic downturn. It's a resource worth barking about.

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