Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Conversation about pet insurance

Friend 1: You're playing with fire if you don't have pet insurance.

: When my dog Dignan was under my sole care, I carried an alternative version of pet insurance that was totally free.

It was the belief that he could either tough out his expensive injuries or risk being put to sleep.

It's called the "What Our Parents, Grandparents, and All Other Ancestors Did For Doggy Health Care" Plan.

[fast forward a couple months and topic of pet insurance comes up again]

Friend 2: After spending as much time as I have with my girlfriend and her her dog, I remember what dog ownership is like. I take back my statement about thinking Kendall's method of insurance was funny. I want to buy insurance for this dog already.

Me: It's not supposed to be funny.

Dignan has cost me (and now my sister) nothing but food and a couple shots since I got him almost four years ago. I love him dearly but am also aware that dogs are much better adapted to living with discomfort and pain. If something happened to him that made him uncomfortable, I would wait for the problem to clear up on its own. If it got worse, I would probably bite the bullet and take him to the vet. If it was an overly expensive problem to fix, I would have to weigh the costs v. the benefits of getting him fixed.

Basically, I wouldn't spend much money on making the dog merely less uncomfortable, nor would I spend a lot of money on extending the dog's life when a dog doesn't live very long to begin with. It may sound callous, but it seems ridiculous to me to spend a lot of money on a non-human. Call me an asshole, but I'd rather put the dog to sleep, be really, really sad for a few days and then just get a new dog, which is actually a really fun thing to do, than be milked monthly by an insurance company or dump money down the never-ending hole known as a dog with health problems.

Friend 3: You have no soul.

Friend 4: You have no soul for real.

Me: If I had no soul, I wouldn't be sad about doing it. Knowing when it's time to let go of your dog doesn't mean you loved it any less. To me, pet insurance is another example of the wussification of America, or perhaps more accurately an example of America's crippling fear of death.

I guess I'm just more comfortable with death and with a dog's place in the food chain. People these days seem to think that dogs are actual family members or something and that if they spend enough money on their dogs, they'll live forever. No matter how much money you spend on your dog, he or she will not live longer than 10 or maybe 15 years. If it makes you feel better to spend thousands on insurance and deductibles over the years to cover reconstructive surgery and physical therapy and whatever else, go for it. But don't attack me because I'm comfortable with getting a couple extra opportunities over the course of my lifetime to pick out new puppies that will not spend their lives in traction, casts, and those dumb neck cones.

Friend 4: I get what your saying, Kendall, but regardless, I'm willing to spend 20 bucks a month to potentially save me from one of those decisions.

Me: Even if you completely reject my argument that we have gone too far in humanizing our pets, why pay an insurance company who will charge you a deductible and potentially 10 to 20 percent of the costs and most likely do everything in their power to reject your claim? I would probably go ballistic the first time I heard the words "policy limit" or "pre-existing condition" at the vet's office. Why not put $20 per month in an interest-bearing account and then use that to pay for the dog's vet bills if and when they come up?


Check out this article on how pet names are becoming more human


  1. if Dignan tore his ACL, would you put him to sleep? soul

  2. According to the author of this Web site, I should think very carefully and ask lots of questions before I accept that diagnosis:

  3. Did you name him Dignan because that was owen Wilson's character's name in Bottle Rocket? Please say yes.

    "Here are a few of the key ingredients, pole vaulting, laughing gas, hang gliding, choppers... come on!"

  4. I wholeheartedly agree. We had a black lab for 13 years, she was a fabulous dog (despite the shedding) and my oldest boy couldn't image life without her.

    She started limping. I thought she'd stepped on a nail poking out of the deck or a rock or something. She did that something and would eventually come out of it. I hoped it would work itself out for quite a while -- over a month -- but it wasn't getting better. Finally, I took her to the vet because it seemed like it might be getting worse. Ended up she had bone cancer. Doc said that by the time it's visible via symptoms like limping, it's already spread to their lungs, so it's quickly spreading throughout her whole body. He gave me some pain meds and told me to make her comfortable and to make the call when it was time.

    We really wanted her to make it through Christmas, which was only about another month. So we medicated her, let the kids love on her for a while longer, but we made it clear she didn't have much time left and let them know they needed to start saying goodbye.

    I started Googling her condition, and I was amazed that there is a strong online advocacy from dog lovers to amputate the leg to the shoulder and thus reduce the immediate pain to help them live longer. Wow! They all acknowledged that the dog would only live a few more months after this highly invasive and very costly surgery, but their point was that it would feel less pain in its dying days. Wow! I felt it would be a disservice to my dog to put it through the trauma of such a significant surgery and life adjustment just to give her another month or two.

    I had asked the doctor when I would know when to make the call. He said I'd know. And I did. She lasted several months past Christmas and loved on our kids a little longer, but ultimately she made the call by giving up on trying to get around. So we put her to sleep, and it was very sad, but it was the best of her.

    And, like you've said, we now have a new dog. My oldest still loves that black lab and keeps her collar in his room. But the new dog is great, too, and he'll grow to love him as much. I honestly hate how short dogs' lives are because I know I'll have to put several to sleep in my lifespan. I've had to put down 2 so far (my black Lab's companion died a year later), and it's not fun, but it's life.

  5. "People these days seem to think that dogs are actual family members or something..."

    Dogs are family members and I am surprised that you do not agree. That does not mean that they are family members of equal status and that they deserve expensive medical treatments. But, to think of your dog as only a "pet" would be an unconsidered conclusion.
    As a dog owner, it seems obvious that nonhumans can have status of "personhood" and Dignan is no less an individual than any other family member. Indeed, he is a short-lived family member; and, it is for that reason that I would be willing to put him down at the first sign of large medical bills.
    I do not think treating your dog as a family member is a ridiculous notion. How many other animals have to we co-evolved with for mellennia?
    You're right that it makes more financial sense to start an interest-baring savings account for potential medical costs. Just don't paint a dog's elevated status as "family member" as foolish.

  6. I can't believe I didn't notice this article before. This is actually a very personal topic for me since my dog that I had since I was 13 died this year. My folks kept Troshka alive while he had cancer in his paws, 3 separate times. He had only 1 kidney and 1 ball, before he had to get fixed at the age of 6.
    Troshka came from a pure-bred Schnauzer breeder in Sebastopol, CA who runs what is essentially a puppy mill and a lot of her dogs have problems.
    I know that they had pet insurance- and it saved them money, but they still had to pay out the nose. And at times, they didn't have pet insurance and they had to pay out the nose.
    Pet insurance is a bit of a scam, but so is the vet industry since its pricing is largely unregulated.
    I can't speak for anyone else, but I know that dogs are like any other member of the family- they're as close as we want them to be. I don't think it's wussy- I think it's a choice that our social status affords us.
    I also think that it's good to love, even if if it's impractical; love generally is.
    I suppose my point is that I think that pet insurance is not worth it because you're still charged a ton. Yes people do crazy shit to keep their pets alive and in some sense I think we kept my dog alive too long, but love is not always noble- although we'd like it to be and there's a lot to be said for maximizing your time spent with the animal/friend. I think one can't discount that.