Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Really no excuse for not posting for this long. Things have been busy with a new job, two pets and three surgeries, lots of volunteer type stuff and some Rabid Transit work. I can give a quick run down and then do my best not to get so far behind.

Tora, our cat, had a tumor removed that was cancerous but the Vet thinks he got it all and the surrounding tissue was cancer free. The cat had to wear his e-collar for two weeks after the surgery which meant we had to keep him separated from the puppy and by default the other two cats. He never really adjusted to the collar this time, maybe because he's a senior now and less adaptable. He was always getting stuck on things and we were all very happy when it came off. Despite having a fairly large chunk out of his leg the wound has healed nicely and the fur is growing back in. In retrospect the surgery was amazingly cheap at $600 even considering it was about $425 more than I thought it was going to be because the estimate was totalled incorrectly. (I should have paid more attention to the details!)

Alan has posted some of this, so I apologize for repeating. The high amount of detail is more for me than readers -- who will probably be bored -- as I find I'm still processing the whole thing. Gambit, the Katrina dog, turned 6 months during the whole Tora thing, so he was next in line for surgery. We had him neutured on a Friday a few weeks ago. It was little more expensive than usual because one of his testicles never descended and they had to go up into his body to get to it. He wasn't doing well the next morning, so Alan took him back in. He got an anti-nausea shot and some antibiotics and seemed to be doing much better. The total for all of that was about $650. After our three day weekend, I came home from work the next Tuesday to find Gambit dribbling blood-tinged urine. The Vet's office was closed so I called the very close-by emergency clinic and they said I'd better bring it in. As the woman said on the phone, "Blood in urine is never a good sign." (I was having flashbacks to what we went through a couple years ago with my big, old dog, Burt who at the end was leaky, and at the very end when we finally learned it was cancer and not thyroid, a little bloody, too. But, at this point, I thought it had to be related to the surgery.) Gambit and I was shown into an exam room and he proceeded to spend the next few hours painting the floor redder and redder. They moved us once to get him away from the mess. In the meantime, they did tests, a series of x-rays and an ultrasound. They found a huge amount of urine just loose inside his body cavity which led them to suspect his kidney(s). We'd noticed the liquid before. When he lay down, part of his tummy would roll a little bit. I always thought it was just a full bladder or would encourage him to take a trip outside. The x-ray showed one of his kidneys wasn't functioning. There seemed to be three or four possibilities: a misplaced nick from the surgery, a parasite he picked up during Katrina, or a virus or infection that had attacked his kidney. We had to pay a deposit on what they thought the final total would be early on in the evening. The clinic staff were wonderful and always checked in with me before doing anything, quoting me the price as well. At that point it seemed we had two options, dead puppy or try to find out what was wrong. The total from the emergency clinic visit was $1,800.

Now, I should say that while Gambit was shortly to become our dog, he was still just a foster dog until March. I could have waited until the next day to bring him back to the animal shelter and have them take care of at least some of it. They don't open until noon and I still can't imagine waiting 16 hours with an internally bleeding puppy. Back when he developed a respiratory infection shortly after we got him, I decided to take him into our Vet instead of waiting four hours to get through to the shelter. He was hacking and I thought he was choking on something. The Vet found a parasite in his system that the shelter had missed, so I think I made the right decision and don't regret paying for the visit and meds.

The Vet on duty at the emergency clinic recommended taking him into the emergency clinic at the small animal hospital at the University of Minnesota the next day as this was beyond what she or a normal Vet's office could handle. They kept him the rest of the night and I went home, thankfully just a few blocks away, to try to sleep a few hours. I picked him and his x-rays up at 6 the next morning and we headed over to St. Paul. I love the St. Paul campus. All of my Chemical Dependency Counselling classes were there and offered only at night. I'd park right by the cow barn and as I walk to class, I'd pass by all these people walking dogs because the Vet school and hospital was right there, too. Just driving him through campus made me relax a little.

One of the staff from the emergency clinic by our house was also on staff there and she was ready to take him right away. I had to wait just a little while in the waiting room and it seemed to be labrador day at the clinic. All of them were older dogs and one was going through chemo and another was having some paralysis in his back legs and I sat there looking at them and the woman who had her cat wrapped in a blanket and the one who had her cat in a carrier and the bulletin board with the pet loss group notice. The young Vet who came out was very apologetic. She was having Gambit admitted to the surgery part of the hospital and another doctor would be taking care of him. He'd be having exploratory surgery sometime that day. She was supposed to come up with an estimate for me to sign and have me pay a deposit so they could go forward, but was nervous about coming up with a surgery estimate, especially when no one knew what was happening, yet. It ended up being pretty accurate. We were looking at another $1,600 - $2,000. In a daze, I signed the paper and went to the accounting office with a credit card and then headed to work. Later that day, a surgeon, not the surgeon, but one on duty, called to go over everything again. He said that it might help to have more x-rays but since he knew how expensive everything was going to be, it wasn't absolutely necessary. Gulping, I said, "Maybe we could go ahead without the x-rays." He said the surgeon would call when he knew something. The whole day went by and I finally called after the front desk had closed for the day. I kept thinking to myself, "How do parents handle this? The not knowing what's wrong. With a child it's got to be a million times worse." Gambit was still in surgery. It had been a very long surgery, I guess, at least a couple of hours. Alan spoke to the surgeon afterwards and they'd found a bizaare birth defect that had his kidney on one side emptying into his prostate instead of his bladder. So, the whole thing was unrelated to his neuturing and have happened eventually. They'd had to remove his kidney and all of his plumbing on that side, but dogs as well as humans can live very well with just one kidney, so he'll be just fine.

He stayed in the hospital for three days and then we got to take him home. We visited him in the hospital and he seemed happy to see us then but when I came to take him home. He ran away from me and did that smiling, showing teeth thing and the vet tech said, "Oh, are you mad at your mommy?" and it just about broke my heart. Once he came near me though, he did his little sag into me thing and everything felt better. All told, he cost us about $4,000 that week, a very expensive little dog. Last weekend, Alan drove down to Hastings to the shelter to sign the adoption papers, so he's all ours now. Some of my family thinks we should have given him back and that we spent too much money on fixing him up. I never felt we had a point that I've had with other dogs where you say, "Here's the time to make a decision - more money or just let the poor dog go." Always before I've faced the decision with an old, cancer ridden dog who was facing suffering. My dad sent me an article on keeping vet bills down and it seemed mainly to emphasize making relationships with a vet and an emergency clinic. With most vets I've used, I've developed a good relationship with them and everything had a set price and I never felt that bargaining was an option. Lord knows, we have a relationship with this vet now after Tora's cancer and kidney stone last fall and all of this. Has anyone tried the pet health insurance? I'd love to hear your experience.

Back to the puppy. Gambit had two weeks with his staples in and the e-collar and then another two weeks of e-collar and reduced (but really meaning no) activity. Even the first week when he had a sedative he was wild. We're heading into the last week and I don't know how they expected us to do it. They said no jumping, no running, no stretching but right away he was jumping on the couch and the bed. Each time, we had a moment of panic picturing internal bleeding. He won't let us sleep more than a few hours because he's so full of energy. He spends a lot of time in his kennel because he gets too wild. When we go outside he has to be on a leash and we're not supposed to even go for a short walk. How do people enforce no activity on a young dog? It doesn't seem right to keep him in the kennel all the time, he's already in there at night and while we're at work. I'd love to hear any suggestions for future reference.

By the way, Alan has photos of Gambit posted on his blog:


Anonymous said...


What an awful scary experience to have had.

We have pet insurance for our dog, and it's been a total godsend--I would never go without it again now that I have it. I talked a few months ago to a friend who's a vet tech in America, and she said she was horrified by how many of their clients don't have pet health insurance yet, just because it isn't widely understood. She always recommends that pet owners get it, no matter what, because it takes away that moment of panic over whether you can afford an operation or just becomes a moot point. We got health insurance for Nika two years ago and have already saved hundreds of dollars that way. Nika's still young, and the times we've used the insurance have all been when sudden, unexpected catastrophes have happened, but sooner or later every dog or cat will need expensive medication and treatment, as they get older. It's definitely worth getting the insurance on a just-in-case basis!

I hope Gambit and Tora are both feeling a whole lot better!

Kristin said...

Stephanie - I'll have to check out pet insurance. We had a couple of emergencies with our old dog, too, and I should have done it sooner. Who do you have your insurance with?

Anonymous said...

Hi Kristin! Sorry to take so long to reply...since we live in England, our pet insurance is through a company that (I think) doesn't exist in America (DirectLine), so I asked my vet tech friend in Michigan for advice. This is what she said:
"We get a lot of brochures for VPI
( but I know there are others out there. The best advice I really have is to look around for a company that has a plan and price that will work for her... Most of them offer at
least 2 levels of insurance, and some have 'add-on' insurance packages as well. A quick google search also turned up this site: It sounds pretty interesting - they have a little different philosophy as far as coverage and such."

Good luck finding a good company!