How Much Would You Spend on Your Pet?
From airline tickets to organ transplants, local vets and rescue groups have seen it all.
Oh it’s good to be a pet around here.
Consider Kodi. When the 9-pound rat terrier came to Arlington about nine years ago and landed in the hands of the Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation, she wouldn’t open her eyes and was drooling. A vet found a stick stuck in her mouth and protruding into her eye cavity. Colleen Learch, a volunteer with the rescue group, agreed to foster Kodi and, when a pending adoption failed to come through, fell in love.
At that point, Kodi’s eye condition hadn’t improved, so Learch brought in a dog ophthalmologist to treat the eye and a chiropractor to provide some neck manipulation. When Kodi’s kidneys began to fail a year and a half ago, Learch fed her organics, took her to Reiki, acupuncture and laser therapy for pain, revisited the chiropractor and gave her extra fluids to help improve her condition. Which they did.
But then, in March, Kodi’s liver began to shut down. “I believe in my dog! This is not her end,” Learch insisted. “I’m not willing to give up.” Back to the alternative vet they went, at $165 to $190 a pop, depending on the treatment. And back to the family vet, too, adding at least another hundred bucks per visit to the terrier’s growing health care bill.
Kodi received more chiropractic treatment and more laser therapy, and by July of 2016, the 14-year-old was once again hunting in the backyard of her home in Waycroft-Woodlawn.
Fortunately Learch had pet insurance, which she says covered more than 50 percent of many hospital visits, and about half the cost of the holistics. Today, Kodi has “quite the integrative medicine [routine], as well as a team of four to five vets on her case at any given time,” says Learch, a vice president at a D.C. consulting and strategy firm. “Every day is a gift. Her quality of life has not faltered. She still goes on walks and bosses my husband, Brian, around. She just has some health issues.”
When it comes to pets with complicated medical histories, Kodi is hardly an anomaly. She’s in good company with Tonka Truck, an 8-year-old yellow Labrador retriever who’s had his own set of health issues, including two torn anterior cruciate ligaments (ACLs). Those injuries might be traced back to the time the two young boys in his human family hooked him up to a sled (wanting to replicate what Dr. Seuss’s Grinch did with his dog, Max), reasons their mom, Kelly Edens. Or maybe they happened because Tonka is a big dog, clocking in at 110 pounds, and his joints weren’t fully formed. Whatever the case, he went from limping a bit to something being seriously wrong.
Surgery was an option, said the family’s vet, Jack Sexton of McLean Animal Hospital, but the procedure would require a specialist. In came Tommy Walker of D.C. Vets, an orthopedic canine surgeon from Purcellville who travels around the country, performing surgeries that a general-practice vet cannot. “When your dog blows his ACL, you go to the world-class guy your primary vet recommends,” says Edens, an executive recruiter who lives in Bellevue Forest.
The surgery wasn’t the end of Tonka’s treatment. Next came rehab. Every day for almost a month, Tonka went to swim therapy at the Old Mill Veterinary Hospital in Leesburg, where he recovered in special pools made for dogs, “chasing” a tennis ball on a stick in front of him to gradually ease his muscles back into production. He had daily private transportation to and from the facility on the “doggie bus,” and his family could visually track his progress. “You know your life has taken an unexpected turn when you get videos of your dog in hydrotherapy—that are narrated,” Edens says. Soon, Tonka was back to being his lovable, boisterous self.
But his medical saga wasn’t over. Not long after his rehab was complete, the Lab was socializing at a friend’s house when he startled a sleeping bullmastiff that promptly clamped its jaws down on Tonka’s back. The altercation was finally broken up by hitting the perpetrator over the head with a lacrosse stick—but not before it “put four wounds in Tonka’s back, leading to a punctured lung, lots of blood loss, and a terrifying emergency trip to the vet,” Edens recalls. This time it took Tonka about a month to recover, complete with ports and painkillers.
Then he bit down on a rock at just the right angle to cause a piece of his tooth to come off. The “slab fracture” required yet another surgery to remove the tooth.
Did Edens ever consider relinquishing her increasingly expensive pup as he racked up the vet bills? Or at least scaling back on the care?
“Of course not,” she says. “There’s no way as a parent you’re going to look at your two kids and say, ‘We’re not spending the money on this dog.’ You make sacrifices in other areas. Suffice it to say we could have had a couple of incredible Abercrombie & Kent three-week safaris in Africa for what we spent on this dog,” she adds. “I wouldn’t change a thing.”