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Animal lovers pay high price for pet care

Costs to treat sick dog or cat expensive

POSTED: March 23, 2014 1:00 a.m.

How far would you go to help your sick pet?

Would you administer daily shots for a diabetic dog? Refinance your house to pay for an expensive surgery?

Dr. Denise Funk, a veterinarian at Animal Medical Care in Gainesville, said she’s seen families go the extra mile to help a sick pet in her practice.

Her most “extreme” situation occurred 10 years ago after she noticed a family’s newly adopted puppy had a heart murmur.

“She needed a valve replacement,” Funk said. “The only place that does valve replacement for dogs was in Colorado. It ended up being almost about $40,000 I think. This was not a rich family. They took out a second mortgage on their home.”

The family flew the dog halfway across the country for the non-refundable operation and brought it home to Gainesville to recover.

Funk said providing care to the pet as it was healing was “somewhat nerve-wracking” because of the surgery’s high cost and the high instances of post-operative death after surgery. Fortunately, the dog lived and is still healthy today.

Funk said it’s unusual for a family to take on such a high cost for their pet, but it isn’t unusual for pet owners to at least attempt to heal their sick pets.

“We certainly have lots of people (who) take their dogs to specialists for everything from cataracts surgery, hip replacement, lots of orthopedic procedures or chemotherapy. All of those things are available,” Funk said. “We certainly have lots of clients that go that route.”

Though she’s a veterinarian, Funk said she too has sought out the help of a specialist for her dog Tutti, a pug she rescued.

Nearly four years ago, Tutti was hit by a school bus. An orthopedic surgeon installed a permanent plate and cross pin in her broken leg.

“Lord knows I’m glad I’m a vet,” Funk said, laughing. “Normally the procedure she had on her leg would have been about a $4,000 procedure, but I got the vet discount and it was only $2,000.”

Treatments and veterinarian visits can get expensive for pet owners, especially if a pet has a chronic illness or a severe trauma. Some veterinarian offices offer a credit, allowing owners to make monthly payments instead of paying the entire bill up front.

But some pet owners choose to insure their pet just like they would their own medical care. Funk said it’s not very common for pet owners to insure their animals. Only about 10 percent to 15 percent of her clients have it. Policies are similar to those available to humans and rates can increase based on age and pre-existing conditions.

While Funk said she’s glad she was able to afford Tutti’s operation, she also knows it’s not something every family can do.

In fact, that’s the reason she adopted Tutti.

“A lady brought her in and they were going to put her to sleep because they couldn’t afford to do something that I could fix,” Funk said. “It was something pretty easy, but they weren’t willing to spend even a couple hundred dollars on her. Of course, I couldn’t put her to sleep. So they signed her over to me and she’s now (spoiled) rotten. She loves to go snowboarding and floating on the lake. She’s a happy ending.”

Despite pet owners’ best intentions, sometimes the end results of expensive or time-consuming treatments only prolong the inevitable.

Marilyn Ranck of Flowery Branch took efforts to provide veterinary and holistic care to her dog after it was diagnosed with cancer.

Ranck adopted her dog Tressle, a labrador and Newfoundland mix, from the Humane Society of Northeast Georgia where she serves as a volunteer. When Tressel was diagnosed with cancer, the veterinarian gave the dog about three months to live.

Ranck decided to try a holistic method for treating cancer in dogs, using medicinal mushrooms and an all-natural diet of chicken and greens. She even gave Tressle massages to try and make her more comfortable.

“I think when you spend a lot of time and love on them I think that helps,” Ranck said. “It makes them thrive a little bit longer.”

The treatment seemed to work and Tressel lived for two years before the cancer returned.

The second time, Ranck opted for chemotherapy treatments. But this time Tressle died after three months of treatments. That was two years ago.

Ranck said it was well worth the effort to try and cure her pet.

“She was worth it,” Ranck said. “When you can do all you can do, you just want to make her comfortable. Your dog is a part of your family, almost like one of you children in a way.”


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