Who Deserves A Pet? The Irreverent Vet Speaks Out

Pets can give us a tremendous amount of love, affection and devotion. Doesn’t everyone deserve that?

This is an interesting and controversial topic. And, I have to admit, it is a difficult question to answer. The Pet Place editors have asked me to give this question some thought, and after thinking long and hard I’m ready to speak my mind. If you would also like to speak out on this subject, you should take the Pet Place poll. I’d be interested to read your thoughts. Go to: Who Should Have a Pet Poll

As the Irreverent Vet, I speak my mind. I don’t want to make anyone angry or upset, but I’m here to give you my opinion and tell it like it is. It’s my job to give my unbiased opinion and speak the truth regardless of how it makes other veterinarians or pet owners feel.

That being said, the question that I’ll address today is this … Who Deserves to Have a Pet?

Who Deserves a Pet?

My first thought is that everyone deserves to have a pet. Pets provide an unconditional source of love, companionship and loyalty that we all need in our lives.

But what if you can’t afford to properly care for the pet? Is that really fair to the pet? Pets are like our children. They need love, food, medical care and a responsible person to put that all in order. The person who owns a pet must be able to meet that pet’s needs. And the sad truth is that everyone is not equipped to do that.

What Made Us Consider This Issue?

The topic of “deserving” a pet may be controversial, but it is a very valid question. Two things in particular caused us to examine the issue more closely. First, there is the hot issue being discussed across the country – the woman who recently gave birth to octupulets. This has been the hottest media story in quite some time, and for good reason. This woman is on the public dole. She had six kids and then decided to have more – eight more, to be exact. Clearly, she can’t afford to care for them. She is not working and receives public support. She hasn’t paid her mortgage in 10 months. She didn’t have the means to handle her responsibilities for her six existing children, yet she decided to have more. Is that fair to her kids? Is that really fair situation for anyone?

Just because someone can do something, doesn’t always mean that they should.

In this case, my opinion is no. If you are having trouble supporting your six kids, having eight more is not helping anyone, including those kids. So no, you do not deserve to have more children.

The other event that brought the “Does Everyone Deserve to Have a Pet?” question to the table was a story in a recent Pet Place newsletter. Dr. Debra had dinner with a colleague, an emergency room vet, who was disturbed about a case he had just seen. In case you did not see that newsletter, here is the story:

A cat owner came in with her sick kitty, Bubba. She said that Bubba was hiding and acting lethargic. When she came home from work at night, Bubba would be in the same exact spot she had left him in that morning. She would take food to him but he wasn’t interested. She also noticed that his color was a bit funny (sort of yellow tinged). After about four days of this, she took her cat to see a veterinarian.

Dr. Debra had asked, why would anyone wait four days? By the time she brought Bubba in, he wasn’t just “sick” … he was REALLY SICK!There are several causes for a cat to quit eating, lose weight and become jaundiced. All of them are potentially very serious (and life-threatening). Tests can help determine the underlying problem but ultimately the cat needs to be hospitalized and receive fluids and other medications.So, Dr. Debra’s friend had recommended just that. The owner declined everything that he suggested. She said that her cat was “just a cat.” She said that it would be ridiculous to spend money on it – especially hundreds of dollars, which is what she was looking at if she was to do the best (and right) thing for Bubba.Well, the woman left with her cat. She didn’t do anything to help him. Her parting comment was, “This is ridiculous – they should make health insurance for cats.”

Dr. Debra couldn’t believe it. Leaving without providing treatment for a sick cat that clearly needs medical attention – and calling it “just a cat”- that REALLY bothered her.

Dr. Debra and her friend felt so strongly that they wanted to tell the story to readers in a newsletter. And while many readers agreed, Dr. Debra also received a letter defending (or at least considering other views) of pet lovers.

One fellow cat lover wrote this that I’ll share with you:

“I would like to comment on your article about the sick cat whose owner waited 4 days to take her animal to the vet.

Now, this woman was admittedly a selfish and (I hope) stupid (rather than cold and completely uncaring) person. However, did it occur to you or your friend that she may have cared very much about her cat but simply did not have the money to treat him? And that perhaps her callousness was a “cover” to hide her embarrassment that she could not? This could also explain her delay in taking the cat into the vet in the first place…No one can feel good about ignoring a sick animal. Maybe she hoped it was the feline equivalent of a cold and would just “go away”. (Remember, I said I hoped she was stupid.)As you should know very well, pet insurance is not cheap, and though it is infinitely better than a $2,000 vet bill or euthanizing a pet who could be saved, some of us just cannot afford it.Another issue with insurance is the age of your pet…. I “rescued” my cocker/poodle mix from the pound at 6 years old. At the time I was broke (I am disabled and live on Social Security so money is a BIG issue for me) but once I could afford it I tried to get insurance for him. And guess what? He was TOO OLD. Given that he was a rescue and I could not confirm his age they said he was probably “close to 7” -the cut-off for almost all of the pet insurers, and they refused to insure him. The same happened with my lahsa apso who just passed away at 17 years without being sick a single day in his life (One back injury after tumbling down a hill, but that was all). So I got lucky with him. But Roscoe, my cocker mix, is now 12 years old and has a chronic cough that has never been diagnosed because I simply cannot afford the tests required to do so. So I live in constant fear of losing him, too. It is a nightmare.I doubt you would support this idea, but what we really need are some good, decent vets who are willing to donate an hour or two a week to care for “indigent” or “medically indigent” pets … animals who are dearly loved and well cared for but whose caretakers simply cannot afford good medical care for them. It could be done in every community in the United States if someone just took the time and vets were willing to give back some of what they get. The woman in your article came across as hard-hearted, true. But how warm hearted and caring is the vet who won’t even look at an obviously sick animal unless you hand him a $200 deposit first?What made this country great at its inception was the willingness of Americans to work together for solutions … to help each other out in hard times without a care for the cost … During the Great Depression many people starved to death or died from diseases related to malnutrition … But many more would have lost their lives if friends, neighbors, relatives AND merchants and service providers had not been willing to give of themselves to help those in need. Unfortunately, this spirit of service seems to have been swallowed up by the materialism and greed that drive our culture today. Maybe the current recession is a way for us to try to get it back.Dr. Debra; next time an issue like this comes up, ask your friend what he offered the woman to make the cost more bearable for her … Whether it was a “hardship” discount or a referral to a practice that could afford to give her a discount, or a payment plan of some kind, you could be of service to him and his patients by helping him to formulate some creative options for financing needed care for ALL animals – not just the ones lucky enough to have affluent caretakers. And maybe instead of constantly peddling insurance you could do the same.

We all want what’s best for the animals in this world after all.

Those are very thoughtful words and I can appreciate someone taking the time to think about it and write to Dr. Debra. I’m sure he was appreciative of her comment.

On the other hand, this woman was ignorant and didn’t care about saving the cat. There were other options for her that she didn’t take.

You know what is really annoying? All too often I’ll see a family or individual go to the pet store and spend a lot of money on a new pup. It can be hundreds of dollars. They spent all their money on the pup with NO consideration to what else the pup might need. The pup then goes to the vet for a minor fixable problem and they can’t afford to deal with it. Some of these pups are euthanized. This is shameful. Why not adopt and save the money that would have been spent buying a dog so it could be put toward good use for the dog’s care and nutrition?

Wow! That is a lot to take in, don’t you think?

The Conclusion

Veterinarians often see people who lack the resources to do their best for their pets. I can tell you that from my own personal experience. When this happens, we generally give these pet owners some options for the best treatment along with some other options that would work with their available resources. For instance, many local shelters offer lower cost care, along with extended credit or payment plans.

This woman that Dr. Debra mentioned above could have explored those types of options or read articles like the ones featured on PetPlace.com explaining how you can get a sick cat to eat. She could have called her local emergency clinic to get some tips on what she could do for the cat at home, like taking the cat’s temperature, providing heat support if it is cold or trying different things to get the cat to eat. But she didn’t.

I agree that in an ideal world, everyone would give back. I think your thoughts are wonderful. The car mechanics and barbers would give back some of their time to help people who need it. The same would happen with veterinarians, nurses, doctors, lawyers, etc. The truth is, that already happens. Many vets do volunteer at the local shelters to spay/neuter and care for sick pets. They volunteer for their local 4-H chapter or they go into the schools to teach kids how to care for their pets, to be kind to animals and how to protect their pets from common dangers in the home. The fact is, if we all did our part, the world would be a much better place.

But that is not reality.

My Final Thoughts – Who Deserves a to Have a Pet?

I think that if someone is to bring a living person or animal in to their lives, they should have the ability to care for it. They should be able to give it the love, attention, food and medical care that it needs to stay happy and healthy.

If you lack resources, don’t buy an expensive pure-bred dog. Either adopt a stray or adopt from a breed rescue group. Make sure the pet has its vaccinations and is spayed or neutered. Then do things necessary to protect your dog, like keeping toxins out of reach and keeping him on a leash at all times if you do not have a fenced-in yard. Prevent problems that could cause significant trauma or toxicities. Give preventative medications to prevent fleas, ticks and heartworms.


The Irreverent Vet is a columnist that regularly contributes to PetPlace.com. The goal is to add a balanced and alternative view on some controversial pet issues. As happens with all of us, veterinarians can’t say what they really think without offending some clients. This commentary allows vets to say what they think and give you, the pet owner, the opportunity to consider another view. All opinions are those of the Irreverent Vet and not the views of PetPlace.com and are not endorsed by PetPlace.com.