Friday, November 27, 2009

The Controversy of "What If"

Jaz seems to be recovering well from his bout with strongyles. I am grateful not only that it has been easily treatable, but that I have had the means to pay for his care. This veterinary adventure has cost $1,200 so far, and I anticipate the ultrasound in 2 weeks will be another couple hundred dollars. I'm sure many people can cite instances when they have spent much more than that to treat a horse or other animal. I have done so myself.

Prior to the exam at Performance, my biggest fears were either an impaction or a tumor. Before the first ultrasound, when Dr. E felt what he thought might be a tumor, he was quick to say that if that's what it was, nothing could be done. The only way to determine the nature of the tumor would be a biopsy, but the mass was up almost to his spine. He'd bleed to death before they could get to it. And if they did manage to do it and he lived, then what? Possibly risk opening him up again to remove it? Colic surgery is no walk in the park either. I don't care what species you are, there's no such thing as minor (or inexpensive) gut surgery.

Although I hoped for the best, I could not help but mentally prepare for the worst. So far, I have been able to afford normal equine care and maintenance, and the occasional emergency inherent in horsekeeping. I have shared my whole life with animals. I've had to make the hard choices that come with it, but it's always been about what is best for the animal. Never before has money been a part of the equation. But this economy and Mr. Fry's underemployment for the last year and a half have created tough financial challenges.

The day before the appointment, Heather and I had a conversation about the "what ifs". Keep in mind, Heather and Nita owned Jaz from the time he was 6 months old until I bought him as an 8-year-old. I looked her in the eye and I heard myself say out loud that I could not jeopardize our tenuous financial situation if faced with a multi-thousand dollar surgery. Heather assured me she understood. She had to make that call last year when one of her mares faced emergency surgery with questionable odds. And whether the horse makes it or not, you still have to pay for it. I didn't have to make the call ... this time. But I'm glad I had the time to think about it with a calm, clear mind, rather than in an emergency, when emotions and adrenaline run high.

I got an email recently from a friend who reported going to a horse auction and the top price was $150 for sound, working, papered horses, $15-$25 being the average. If you drive around this area, you can see many formerly prosperous breeding/training/showing facilities for sale. Heather and Nita have acquired quite a few horses at auction, or from owners who basically just handed them over (for whatever reason). Most are perfectly decent horses, but ones that don't necessarily fit into their business plan. If something happened to Jaz or Poco, they would give me another horse ... more than one.

Am I saying Jaz (or any other animal) is disposable? Of course not. Jaz is a great little horse. I owe him a lot for the confidence he's given me. But we're not in the business, nor do we show. Jaz is our pet, and we love him dearly. The question I had to ask myself is this: If it came down to it, do I risk our financial future on this horse, or cut my losses and give another horse the best home I can?

In my situation, the answer is obvious. Heart wrenching, but obvious.


BrownEyed Cowgirl said...

I think you did very well putting into words the personal pros and cons anyone who has animals have to weigh.

Few of us have just one animal and if we spend all available funds on just one animal or put ourselves in financial jepardy we aren't doing justice to ourselves or the rest of the animals in our care.

Personally, I think far too many people have been guilted into spending more than they were comfortable with/could afford. There is far more to it than just quality of life for the animal.

Hope you guys had a good Thanksgiving!

Anonymous said...

I think it's very important to think about these things - many people don't. It's good that you were willing to honestly examine your choices and the costs/benefits.

Leah Fry said...

Thanks, guys. It took weeks to decide how to say what I wanted to say.

BECG, what you said about putting ourselves in financial jeopardy not doing justice to ourselves or the rest of our animals is the crux of it. It's sort of like the best thing you can do for your kids is make sure you're in the best emotional and mental state possible to be their parent, i.e. take care of yourself first. That's why on airplanes they tell you to get your own oxygen working before you attempt to save someone else. Same logic applies here. If I strap us financially, everyone else's quality of life will suffer — human and animal alike.

Kate, I, too, think it's something everyone should think about prior to an actual emergency. I know I wouldn't have, if circumstances didn't force it.

Tammy Vasa said...

A friend of mine recently had to make this hard decision. It made me examine the same situation and feel the same way you do. As important as the horses I have are to my mental health, putting our financial welfare into jeapardy is not an option. I hope by your post and mine and others like it, it gives a horse owner "permission" to do what is best in their situation - which is not always what we want to do in our heart.

Leah Fry said...

Thanks, Tammy. Your post about Finny was beautiful.

Cactus Jack Splash said...

You hit the nail on the head. This is a situation that we could all face at anytime with our horses. It is good to have boundaries set before an emergency arises and then try to make the decision in a very emotional state. There are financial limits to what any of us can do and we need to recognize it. Thanks for talking about this important topic

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

You said that very honestly, even though the subject is difficult, indeed.
I think it often depends upon several things, too. Such as how old the animal is, what it's life expectancy is, and what are the outcomes of the treatment.

I just had a chicken die a few days ago. One of my hens had been sick for a week and I tried to nurse her back on my own with what I had at home and what I could get at the tack store.
But when I considered taking her to a vet and got the lowdown on the costs, I decided to let nature take it's course. It was going to cost me $45 just to be seen, and with the testing it would run at minimum another $145 more. And any medications, etc would run another $40-60.
I just couldn't do it. I paid $2.00for that hen as a chick, and she has already cost me more than $100 just in feed, bedding, electricity and water.
I can go to the store and buy a chicken to eat for less than $12.00. And I can buy another hen at the poultry swap for only $8.00.

I have 3 kidlets as you know and as much as I love all our critters, and do have some money put aside for minor emergency care, I have to make sure I don't jeopardize my children's college funds or even their own possible future emergency and medical care costs.

What a really dislike and think is unfair are the people that try to lay a guilt trip on you if you aren't willing to sacrifice your entire retirement, home, and lifestle on saving just one animal.

Noone can make that choice for someone else. It's a very personal decision and a very difficult decision.

I'm glad Jaz is coming through his ordeal. And I hope he gets well enough to be back to his normal self soon.


Unknown said...

It's an honest answer. We've faced the same dilema with our dogs over the years, and have had to choose other options when we couldn't afford the ideal treatment.

I'm glad Jazz didn't push past your financial reserves and still is running around with his own strong sense of style.

Leah Fry said...

It has always been true, but now more than ever, the cost of acquiring a horse is literally nothing in comparison with their care and feeding. I am truly blessed to have wonderful friends with a pasture full of beautiful horses, some of which they have only out of the goodness of their hearts. They do their best to train them and find good homes for them, but barring that, they keep them. Even as Heather and I were discussing the horrors of "what if," she was rattling off the list of ponies available to help soothe a girl's broken heart.

If you know what you're looking for, you can get one for nothing or next to it on Craig's list or at auction. I don't (yet) have a great eye, but my friends do.

If you have been effected by the economy — and who hasn't — you need to ask yourself the hard questions, and, more importantly, be prepared to answer them honestly.

Mrs. Mom said...

You did a great job Leah, putting this into words. We were there too- when Sonny came back hurt from his August escapade. As we watched his hind end continue to weaken, I made plans. The plans where when to draw the line, and where to bury him. He is not yet six- and it tore my heart out to think about, but in a strange way I felt better knowing that the plan was there if we needed it.

Luckily, we didnt need it. But with horses, we as owners NEVER KNOW when we might have to make the ultimate decision.

Good job. Good thoughts. ANd Give Jaz and Poco a rub from me please.

Leah said...

Good post - although I know hard to put into words. All part of being an animal lover --- animal owner.... Remember all the good they bring to our lives and when the time comes hold those memories close because it was worth it!

Leah Fry said...

Mrs. Mom, I also felt better knowing that the lines had been drawn and that I would not have further anguish if it had come to that.

I must say, I am surprised that no one has weighed in with the opinion that I'm just a cold, awful person. I'm glad that hasn't happened, but when I wrote this, I was prepared for that possibility.

BrownEyed Cowgirl said...

I know the feeling Leah. When I posted about deciding to put Queenie down, I figured there would be a bit of an uproar about putting a perfectly healthy horse down.

But I think many, many people are coming to the realization that there are limits.

What is sad is that it took a tanking economy for people to figure that out. There are always going to be polarizing sides to the issue, but by far, we the average owners are the majority and we have to do what we think is the right thing to do based on what is going on in our lives and what we expect to gain in our lives from owning our horses.

Jeni said...

This is a situation that I think of constantly. I love my horses and dogs to death, but living in a world of limited funds and budgets for everything - reality is harsh. Leah you wrote with honesty and humility everything you said we will all be faced with, eventually. Thank you.

Paint Girl said...

I totally agree with you Leah. Your words say it all. We all love our horses, but surgery is very expensive, and like you said, we can afford basic care for our horses, or we wouldn't have them. But when it comes to a major life saving (or not) surgery, that is when we could be without a home or food. We sometimes just have to make that decision, even though it is never easy to make.
We have had to make tough surgery decisions with 2 dogs, a goat and a cat. One dog we went ahead and did the knee surgery (she was 6 yrs old at the time), but the other dog, we chose to have put down, he was 11 years old, and we had to look at quality of life, and the dangers of being put under anesthesia at that age. Our cat that was attacked, well, the emergency vet bills mounted before we made the decision to have him put down, then we couldn't do it and changed our minds, we were already so far into it financially. Thankfully he survived and is still with us today.
I have not had to make that kind of decision with a horse. I hope I never have too. But I will do what is best for us and the animal.
Great post!

Leah Fry said...

PG, I was thinking about you and your million dollar cat. I know how that works with the bills piling up faster than you realize in an emergency situation. And there's always room for complications, either from the original injury or condition, or whatever surgery or meds were used to treat it.

What you described with the cat is the way it was for me with a dog I rescued. Someone tied to a tree and left it for dead. Poor thing had every parasite known to man and beast, including heartworms. I was into this dog for thousands before I knew what hit me. I had him for years after that, but he was never quite right after the HW treatment. When talking to non-horse people about strongyles, HW in dogs is the best thing to compare it to. I have to wonder that if Jaz makes it through the treatment, will he ever be right again?

Laura said...

Your post was well written - I totally agree with what you wrote - almost word for word.

It is a difficult subject to think about and my hubby and I have talked about our limits financially with each of our pets. Luckily we both feel the same way about it.

BECG - your point about putting yourself/your family in financial jeopardy is right on the money. (pun intended. :-)

Michelle said...

I can relate to your post, as until the past few years I was always fortunate enough to do whatever I could for my animals. Now that things are far tighter, I know that my options are much more limited. It doesn't make the decision any easier and you make a good point to consider your options, BEFORE it's a crisis situation. I'm glad things worked out for you and for Jaz. He is lucky to have such a responsible owner.

City girl turned Country Girl said...

WOW that's quite a chunk as it is! You very gracefully stated the facts on this type of a situation...It is SO sad when an owner is faced with these problems, and I am so glad that you have been spared the heartache!! I currently have a weanling that I am worried about...I will do a post on it soon.

Desert Rose said...

This last month our Little "Oliver Kitten has cost us $5000! He is going to be 19 years young in January!!! He has a brain tumor that was radiated 3 yeras ago!!! Medication changes made him go into heart failure. We had made the decision to let him go humaimly...but he then rebounded! because we have chosen to do what it takes OLIVER has graced our lives for 3 more years. Everyday has been a gift!
HOWEVER...I know that this is not a choice for most...and if it was not for us...we would also need to let Oliver go!
This is a very hard decision for us all...but all circumstances are different.

Esther Garvi said...

Not an easy decision, it never is, but at the end of the day, you make choices. You'd do anything for a child and a loved one, but with animals, you sometimes have to let go.

cdncowgirl said...

Very well said!
Another thing to consider would be the quality of life for the animal after the surgery, if its a "successful" surgery.

There are people out there that risk bankruptcy on their animals, (and while I love my critters SO much) I happen to think that is stupid.

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