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How much is a dog’s life worth?

A Wall Street Journal columnist posed that question recently after hearing from a “sizable” pack of angry readers who took him to task for lamenting how much of his paycheck was being gobbled up by medical care for his dogs.

Neal Templin, author of the Journal’s “Cheapskate” column, focused on his beagle in the original column, and recent vet visits that set him back more than $1,000 each — one of which was to treat his dog for injuries received after he escaped from home and was hit by a car.

“Your dog-owning incompetence is matched only by your lack of journalistic and personal integrity in not taking responsibility for … allowing the dog to escape in the first place,” one reader wrote Templin. “If your dog liked you he probably wouldn’t escape or howl.”

Templin noted that dogs are becoming family — not just backyard denizens.

“When I grew up in the 1960s, you took your dog to the vet for shots or perhaps to have a broken leg set. But if a dog got really sick, it died.

“It’s different today. Vets do aggressive cancer surgery and hip replacements. They pump dogs full of expensive drugs for various maladies. In short, dogs get many of the same procedures we humans get. But it’s not cheap, and if it’s anything like human medicine, it’s going to get more expensive as vets take increasingly sophisticated and heroic measures to keep dogs alive.”

So the answer to the question Templin poses in his aptly-named column depends not on the dog, but on the human that owns it — and on that human’s priorities. 

“There are many who think burning 18 grand to keep a dog around for six or 12 extra months is madness,” a Massachusettshe man wrote. “Sometimes I think so, too. But my wife died from lymphoma two years ago, and I have no children. What am I going to do, buy a bigger television set?”


Comment from Anne-n-Spencer
Time September 3, 2008 at 9:33 am

I worry about this. I keep hearing more and more about dogs “putting up a good fight” against cancer or hip dysplasia or spinal injuries. I hear people saying things like, “He’s in a lot of pain in the mornings, but he gets better as the day progresses.” I also heard a vet say one time regarding an 18 year old cat’s feline leukemia, “We need to learn all we can about this disease.” My question for that was: For whose benefit?

Dogs aren’t like humans. Their brains, their minds, don’t function like ours. “Yesterday” is vague to them. They have no concept at all of “tomorrow.” They have no religion, organized or otherwise–no philosophy to help them find meaning in life. They have no concept of an afterlife. They are absolutely incapable of finding any meaning in their suffering, and they are unable by their very natures to perceive that the suffering will eventually end–one way or the other. When an animal is in pain, that’s it. It’s an endless, terrible “now” of suffering. We humans can hardly imagine it, and what distresses me is that we seem not to be trying to imagine it. It’s easier for us to try to foist our own mental processes off on our dogs than it is for us to try to imagine what they might actually be going through.

If the surgery or treatment will return the dog to health and wholeness, if the pain is temporary and of short duration, then by all means go for it. But if it’s only going to prolong suffering by adding more suffering, why put the dog (or any animal) through that? We need to make those decisions for them, and we have to try to adopt their viewpoint. Just wanting to keep them a little while longer isn’t good enough. Humans can now set up living wills and advance directives. Animals can’t do that.

Comment from bluhawkk
Time September 4, 2008 at 6:00 am

Anne-n-Spencer, I could not agree more. An existence of pain and suffering is not acceptable.