I recently began a campaign of de-cluttering my life by scanning all my bulky paper documents into an e-filing system (Rack2-Filer via the Fujitsu ScanSnap S1500). During yesterday's scanning foray I hit my cache of veterinary bills, covering the five years I've had Osita, my Chow-Shar Pei mix and briefly Lupa, my very old stray coy dog. Out of an abundance of curiosity I wanted to see just what owning dogs actually cost me, so I added up my bills and here's the somewhat shocking information conclusion I came to:
Cost of Five Years of Dog Ownership
Veterinary services (exams, surgery, x-rays, blood work, treatments, etc. but excluding medication): $20,832
Food and medicine (estimated): $8,550
Rent increase related to dog (landlord was charging $100 extra/month): $5,400
My medical bills related to breaking up a minor dog fight where my nose got cut (not reflecting 70% coverage by insurance): $5,000
Boarding for 6 or 7 trips I had to take: $2,890
Total: $42,672 or approximately $8,500 / year
Dogs have medical needs, just like people do. Every dog I've owned has at some point required significant medical tests and/or intervention. A seizure disorder here, a torn ligament there, kidney problems, eye problems, cancer, you name it. All have issues at some point in their lives, and the costs of diagnosing and treating those issues is astronomical. I have treated my pets with the only ethical standard I understand, extending to them the same support I would any loved one, human or canine. If they have a medical need I will meet it, as best as I can, as best as modern medical science can, and their enjoyment of life allows. The bills above include no radical treatments, no experimental procedures, and only one surgery (to treat entropion, where a dogs lower eyelid is turned inward and the lashes rub against the eye). The bulk of the cost was for diagnostic testing (to test for Addison's disease, to investigate a seizure), for three brief hospital stays (following a seizure and to get fluids related to kidney disease), and the rest for routine blood work, x-rays, urine/fecal cultures, etc.
Let me make clear that I don't regret any of it, but as I am not wealthy and have few assets to speak of (no house, no IRA, no savings, no stocks/bonds), the absence of this money is certainly very palpable. So the question I can't help but think about is, could I have done anything differently to lower the costs, and related to that, is it morally right to spend so much on one or two dogs when a) so many other dogs are being killed in shelters for lack of resources, and b) I ultimately would like to have a family and resources saved today could be used for them on some tomorrow.
The question of lowering the costs is fairly easy to answer. I could not have ethically made different medical choices for them. If my dog has a grand mal seizure and there is no known epilepsy history the dog needs emergency medical attention to investigate the cause and ensure that if the cause is heart/blood clot related that the proper treatment is given. To do otherwise would simply be unthinkable to me. If altering treatment isn't possible the only option to lower costs is securing cheaper (but equivalent) services. I ultimately have done just that, moving to the country where veterinarians charge half as much (an office visit that used to cost me $75 in Los Angeles now costs me $35, a hospital stay that would cost $3,000 now costs $1,500).
The morality question is a harder one to answer and in fact I think no answer is truly possible. I do believe it is arguably immoral to divert resources to pets that ultimately could be saved and used to meaningfully benefit your children. It may be I will always have resources enough to care for my future children, and that any money saved now would not matter, but I cannot know this now, and my resources and savings are so extremely limited that I truly can't morally make that bet. And, I cannot argue that the resources I've tied up in significantly improving the life of two dogs wouldn't be better spent saving the lives of ten, twenty, thirty, or more dogs who otherwise have died in shelters. My only answer to the question then is, yes, my actions in medically supporting my dogs in the way I am is immoral. That said, having begun it, I am comfortable with and plan to continue this immorality for I see no other acceptable alternative; I owe a duty to those humans and animals I form bonds with, and I must on no account break those. And as we are all in varying degrees immoral creatures, I am not uncomfortable with the recognition of some of my wrongs.