On vet bills, temper tantrums, & escape artists

This month my husband and I are preparing for the annual trip to the vet. It is the one day of the year I look forward to with very little enthusiasm. Neither of the dogs take pleasure in the visit and their stress is, I am quite sure, compounded by ours. Not only do we shudder at the thought of the humiliating behavior we’ve come to expect from our furry loved ones, but there is always the dreaded anticipation of the vet bill.

Lucy, a fifteen pound Jack Russell Terrier, who under normal circumstances is a very lovable and affectionate companion, never ceases to embarrass me as she regresses into mad tirades at the mere sight of another animal with whom she has not been properly introduced. (Please note the word ‘regresses’ is used intentionally as Lucy was not always so lovable, but that is a story for another day.) Her vile greeting is directed toward most cats, dogs, deer, horses, and the occasional cow. For some odd reason, puppies and kittens are spared her usual hostile reception. They are typically greeted with a wagging tail that could provide power to a small village if I could just figure out a way to harness it.  Anyway, I always find myself apologizing profusely to everyone in the lobby. My daughter who works with the SPCA has assured me that Lucy would never pass the social test for adoption due to her temper tantrums and mood swings. That along with the fact that she is a kleptomaniac and will swipe any item that finds itself at eye level including food, toys, socks, and if given the opportunity, the occasional puppy or kitten. She doesn’t hurt them. She just likes to gnaw on them and get them good and slobbery before she lets them escape. I think she likes the chase before she pounces again.

On vet day, Hobbes, normally a confident and protective Border Collie, behaves like Scooby Doo in a haunted house with not one Scooby Snack in site. Remember how Scooby would climb up into Shaggy’s arms and cling to him with a look of terror on his face? That’s my dog. Keep in mind, this is a dog who dives into the deepest of waters to retrieve a stick and whose bark and demeanor have the power to ward off any stranger who happens to stray onto our property whether they be man, dog, or bear.  Yet, in the vet lobby, he shakes, cowers, and spends much of his time trying to crawl into my lap. I don’t even have to be sitting down. A leash is generally useless on vet day as he simply lies down on the ground and refuses to move.   So unless I plan on dragging him from the car to the front door,  I get to carry the fifty pound dog into the office. Of course carrying Hobbes is much better than allowing him to bolt. Once he has his mind set to run there is no stopping him. Last year, the vet tech, who by the way was properly forewarned, failed to hold onto his leash tightly enough and Hobbes escaped the exam room and ended up back in the lobby in the lap of a not so pleased cat owner. The cat was not very happy either. He then relieved himself on the leg of a chair.

Why we schedule same day appointments for these two ill-behaved animals is beyond me. Perhaps we just want to get the whole stressful ordeal over with or perhaps we just want to avoid the shock of two vet bills. Last night I told my husband that this year I would be staying outside with one dog while he took the other into the exam room. When he asked why, I told him that he was better in dealing with salespeople and that I simply had a hard time saying no to unnecessary tests and medications. His remark, complete with dropped jaw, about how this isn’t like bargain shopping the clearance rack at TJMaxx made me feel sufficiently ashamed of myself for wanting to save a buck. These dogs are, after all, members of our family.  But you have to understand, last year’s bill was an astounding $630 for two healthy animals.  Add that to the cost of an illness or injury times two and we can easily triple that figure in one year.

For example, last month we had Lucy in twice for a rash on the side of her mouth.  After two appointments, two rounds of antibiotics, one steroid treatment, a topical ointment and an Elizabethan cone that she wore for over a month, I totaled up the bill to the tune of $327.24. The cone was borrowed. The vet suggested that in order to prevent future rashes I should bring both dogs in for an annual dental exam and cleaning. Total cost? $400 per dog! That’s $9.53 per tooth. My dental appointments don’t cost that much. I bought two toothbrushes for $1.12 and saved myself $798.88. Now if I can only get them to open wide and smile pretty for Mama. As for the rash, I am quite certain that it was my mother-in-law Hilde’s tried and true home remedy of chamomile tea and antibacterial soap that ultimately healed Lucy’s mouth.

So as we prepare for the annual vet visit, my husband checks for signs of wear on the Border Collie’s leash and I go shopping for a muzzle for Lucy. Before we leave for the vet I will transfer a grand from the savings to the checking. That should cover it…I hope. The other day my husband suggested we look into health insurance for the dogs. My suggestion: quit our day jobs and open a vet clinic.


About Susan Warren Utley

Susan Warren Utley is a wife and mother living and writing in the shadows of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Her stories are inspired by the unexpected twists and turns of real life and by her muse, a feisty Jack Russell Terrier who occasionally answers to the name of Lucy. View all posts by Susan Warren Utley

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