Janeane Garofalo must be my spirit animal. Her famous quote, as veterinarian Abby Barnes in the ’90s rom-com The Truth About Cats & Dogs, sums up how I feel about my dogs perfectly: “We can love our pets, we just can’t love our pets.”
I couldn’t agree more. I have a great respect for animals and I love my pets deeply, but I have never been someone who loves animals as if they were people. I blame this on what I thought was my pretty typical upbringing, at least when it came to having pets. I had dozens of pets, and I loved them all dearly, but they all ended up dying, running away or mysteriously disappearing (thanks, Mom!) at some point in their short lives.
I couldn’t and still can’t fathom investing so much in a pet with a lifespan that is but a 10th of my own.
The first time I learned it was even possible to pour that much money into your pet was when my husband and I were chatting with our real estate agent as we drove to see what would be our first home together. She told us casually that she paid out the nose for monthly pet insurance, after her dog had gotten sick.
I knew about monthly health insurance for people, but pets? I soon found out after politely asking a few more questions that, yes, this is a thing, and it’s something many people embrace to provide healthcare coverage for a pet that’s a member of the family. Basic monthly pet coverage can start at under $20 a month, ranging to over $60 a month for the best healthcare package. And of course, just like with people, healthcare coverage can get much more expensive if a pet has been injured or has a medical condition.
I was still confused. The way that all of my pets had been presented to me was as cute little animals to love, respect and enjoy, and when it was their time to go, it was their time to go. We were not an extreme measures kind of family. We could not afford — and did not even consider — paying more than a few hundred dollars for a sick or gravely ill pet back in the ’80s.
And that separation of pet and family has stuck with me. When I read posts about pet owners paying over $3,000 to treat their dog’s illness, I can empathize, though I can’t entirely understand. I have also read stories of pet owners who regret pouring the equivalent of a nice tropical vacation into caring for a beloved pet that was beyond saving. That I understand completely.
But I’ve never been in their shoes. Not yet, at least. In my adult life, I have yet to lose a pet due to a medical issue, though I experienced plenty of untimely pet deaths as a kid. Both of my Chihuahuas are nearing the ends of their lives, and I am going to have to make a decision like this very soon.
I have loved my pets, but I have never loved my pets in a way where I felt (expensive) extreme measures were necessary. And now that I’m a parent whose paycheck is eaten up by paying for monthly health insurance for four people, I also can’t imagine spending any more money to cover a pet. This financial aspect isn’t even taking into account how unnatural end-of-life pet care can be. Animals in the wild don’t receive expensive medical care, and when their lives naturally come to an end, other animal life begins.
I can’t say that it will be easy, but when and if one of my aging dogs get sick or hurt, I’m going to take it as a sign that they are ready to move on. Spending thousands on my dog’s vet care might make me feel better in the moment, but it doesn’t change the fact that all pets live very short lives. I’ll invest by enjoying the time I have with my dogs now, but I won’t pay to prolong the inevitable.