Lee Harrington

Lee Harrington
Woodstock, New York, usa
January 31
Writer, Musician, Dog-Lover
1) Author of critically-acclaimed memoir: REX AND THE CITY: A WOMAN, A MAN, AND A DYSFUNCTIONAL DOG (Random House: 2007) -- which is about a rescuing an abused dog from a shelter in NYC). 2) Author of the forthcoming novel: NOTHING KEEPS A FRENCHMAN FROM HIS LUNCH (2013) - a modern take on the mythical "Feminine Journey" (kind of chick lit Plato); 3) kirtan walli (when I am feeling spiritual, which is daily); 4) lead singer in an all-female Who tribute band (when I am feeling adolescent, which is daily); 5) Editor at "The Bark" magazine (when I feel like musing on the cuteness of dogs, which is daily)

NOVEMBER 12, 2010 10:58AM

The Insurance-less Author and the Accident-Prone Dog

Rate: 9 Flag

 Don't worry: this is not a gory story, and it has a happy ending. But it sure costs a lot to have an accident-prone dog :)

  blue eyes lying down for reference

For the New Year, I have resolved to get Pet Insurance for my dog Chloe, who doesn’t look like a troublemaker or act like a troublemaker, but who has—in the four short years I’ve had her—racked up several thousand dollars in veterinary bills. (Ask me about the time she ate a river rock and had to have emergency surgery).

I love this dog. But sometimes, in the dead of the night, when I am feeling financially challenged, I ask myself: can I afford her?

Of course! I’ll always find a way. I am hoping Pet Insurance will be that way. I have hoped that for years. It’s just that, for the past few years, I haven’t even been able to afford pet insurance. It’s a cat-and-mouse game for sure—try to save up enough money for pet insurance, only to blow all that saved money on lacerated paw pads. This is a long topic for another day—one that I am sure millions can relate to—but today I am writing about The Bone.

For, yesterday we had to make another trip to the vet—this time because Chloe had an inch-long marrow bone ringed around her lower jaw.

Yes, yes, some would say it’s my fault for letting her have the bone in the first place. Yes, yes, some would say the torn ACL is my fault, for letting her off-leash to chase rabbits. The torn toenails, chipped teeth, lacerated paw pads...all of these can be seen as my fault, because I allow my dog to run in the woods, and play, and leap over fallen logs, and plow through bramble bushes. But this too is another topic for another day. A big one.

Do you let your dog off-leash so that he/she can get quality play-time, stimulation, and exercise? And put them ‘at risk’ for injury? Or do you keep your dog confined and/or leashed, and keep him/her safe but undoubtedly frustrated and bored? A big topic, right?

Getting back to the marrow bone: what dog doesn’t love a good marrow bone? Especially on a blustery Northeast Atlantic day, when the winds are gushing at 60 MPH and the rain sounds like machine-gun fire? What dog doesn’t love a bone when he/she has been condemned to strictly-limited exercise, meaning three short pee-walks per day, because of a recent rabbit-chasing incident that resulted in a torn ACL and two $250 trips to the vet? My dog Chloe, that’s who. She loves her marrow bones, and I love watching her enjoy them.

Yesterday, however, while I was in the kitchen making ginger tea, I heard a yelp, and a helpless little whine, and I rushed into the living room to see what was wrong. There, I found Chloe with the bone-ring lodged around her lower jaw. It was hard not to laugh—she had stopped whining and was looking at me with a completely perplexed look on her face, with the bone shaping her mouth into a goofy smile. And don’t be mad at me for laughing because everyone who has experienced this tells me they laugh too. And take pictures. And videos. And post them online. I did not do that. Instead, I knelt before the dog, and stroked her head, and told her I would help her get the bone off.

But the bone was wedged behind her canine teeth, and I could see no way to slip the bone back over them, and off. This is why Chloe yelped, I surmised: one hard crunch had forced the bone behind her teeth. Poor baby. As I inspected her mouth, and turned her jaw this way and that, she kept her head still and wagged her tail. She even tried to kiss me, too, but her tongue was, um, obstructed.

I’m not a mathematician. I have problems with spatial thinking, too. But still, I kept analyzing the bone, and its position, to see if there was any possible way it would slip off. To the best of my limited knowledge. It looked as though Chloe’s teeth were a quarter of an inch too long to make this possible. Plus, the bone fit perfectly around her jaw—hugging my dog’s contours as if it had been custom made. There was no way I could get the bone off without causing my dog pain. And there was no way I would do that.

Still, I spent an hour twisting and turning the bone this way and that. Every few minutes I would conclude that I needed to take her to the vet, and then I would consider the costs of such a visit (I had just paid rent, so I was a bit strapped), and then I would resolve once again to try to solve this myself, at home. I prayed to St. Francis. I went on the internet, where I found all those pictures of all those other silly dogs with bones ringed around their lower jaws. Each of these dogs, in the end, had to be taken to the vet. None of the posters offered any solutions. Just a comic description of the episode concluding with a trip to the vet, where the bones were alternately sawed, cut, or drilled off. All the dogs I read about had to be anesthetized for the process.

Now, I’m not a fan of anesthesia and I am not a fan of anesthesia bills. And this latter thought made me feel like a bad person: How could I put money before the welfare of my dog?

My family thinks I am crazy for putting my dog first. They have always questioned my decision to live as an artist, which in my case really does mean hand to mouth. And their further question why I would sacrifice my own trips to the dentist to make sure that my dog got her horribly-chipped incisor repaired. I have a few reasons, and whether they are logical or not is really not important.

Guilt is one reason. And love is the other. I feel as if my dog and I have a contract. When I adopted her, and rescued her from a life of neglect, abuse, and abandonment. I made a vow. I mean I made a verbal vow, like an oath from the days of old. I vowed to always to take care of her. To keep her safe and warm and healthy and fed and—if I could manage it—happy. You may call me a crazy dog lady if you wish. I certainly fit the stereotype: I live alone, I’ve sworn off men (one abusive marriage was enough), I’m childless, and therefore I treat my dog like a child-substitute. By this I mean I nurture her and worry about her. Chloe is the only being on this planet that I am ‘responsible’ for. I need to learn how to nurture in this lifetime. I need to know that I can take care of another being.

So.Back and forth it went. I spent another twenty minutes of trying to calculate—geometrically—if/how I could wedge bone off my now-patiently-drooling dog. I tried to lubricate the bone with extra-virgin olive oil. Nope. Arnica gel. Nope. It wouldn’t budge. I looked at my checkbook, to see if I could afford another trip to the vet. Nope. Back to the olive oil. Nope. It finally got the point where poor Chloe had had enough, and she crawled off into the closet to avoid me, with her tail between her legs. At that point I had a small meltdown (How had my life come to this? Why am I so pathetic?) and then called the vet.

[I just wouldn’t eat for the rest of the week, I reasoned. Or go to the homeopath. Or get my hair cut, as I had planned to do as a treat for myself on my birthday. Chloe was worth it.]

I happened to be down South at the time of the incident (and can tell all sorts of stories about how the vets and the dog people ‘down here’ differ from the ones ‘up there’ where I am from. But that would make me sound like a New York City snob).

Let’s just say that when I called the nearest veterinary practice, and told them that my dog had a marrow bone ringed around her lower jaw, and that I needed to find someone who could cut the bone off, the receptionist said, “You mean you want us to cut off your dog’s jaw? Hold on while I ask the vet if he can do that.”

I didn’t hold.

The next vet I called was able to comprehend that I needed to have a marrow bone removed from my dog’s jaw; not the jaw itself, so we made an appointment and I was there within an hour. The first thing I heard as I entered the waiting room was the terrible, piercing howl of a dog in pain, but let us not talk about that, or about the fact that the dog’s owner was currently in jail, or that the poor man taking car of the dog in the interim could not afford to get the dog’s nails clipped, which was why the dog was now suffering from embedded toenails....no, this is yet another story for another day.

Now, this was one of those veterinary practices that filled its waiting room with advertisements for pharmaceutical products. There were pamphlets for anti-anxiety pills, anti-depressants, anti-shedding, and anti-bark sprays on every table and windowsill. There was a slick mobile hanging overhead, dangling cardboard images of large fleas and ticks, which were interspersed with packets of toxic flea and tick preventatives. There was even a TV mounted in the corner, showing, again and again, some kind of pumping animal organ—I don’t know what—crawling with worms. The screen intermittently flashed to an image of and the pill that was going to prevent this. Next to a long row of bagged dog kibble was a poster advertising the latest anti-itch pill. That to me was a great irony, because in my mind, it’s the crapola commercial dog food that causes the skin allergies in the first place.

Places like this, I am told, tend to try to jack up your vet bill with pharmaceuticals, so I prepared myself.

Plus, I now considered myself an expert on marrow-bone removal, given that I had spent 40 minutes on the internet reading about it. I told them that I needed to have the bone sawed off, that I refused to have my dog anesthetized, and that I wanted to be in the room while he did it. He resisted, saying that he wanted to take the dog into a back room so that he could shoot her up with pain killer, but I insisted. I am a New Yorker after all, and we must uphold our reputation of being pushy, obnoxious Yankees. Plus, I am a crazy dog lady. Why not let it all hang out?

“I want to be with her,” I said. “I am going to apply acupressure to one of her calming points so that she’ll stay still.”

“Acu-what?” the vet said.

“Acupressure.” (Inside I was thinking: why the hell did I leave New York?)

Confused, he and the vet tech stepped out of the room to discuss my proposal. In the meantime, I started to think about this pain-killer thing. Chloe would not need a pain-killer—I knew this instinctively. Not unless they planned to saw her jaw. But what about that poor tortured dog I’d heard howling when I first walked in? Different story.....she’d had an impacted toenail. But, I asked myself, do people get pain-killers for clipping off stuck wedding rings? No! What else might these vets try to sell me?

When the vet returned, I told them I needed to see an estimate before they did anything. Sure enough, there was an extra $150 worth of painkillers, penicillins, antibiotics, and some other pills I’ve never even heard of but I knew were not necessary. I pared the bill down to two things: Office Visit; Removal of Foreign Object. I felt proud. I also vowed this year to stand up for myself.

“Ready?” the vet said.

Ready. I had already dosed Chloe with Rescue Remedy, and had been acupressuring her Governing Vessel for the past half hour. So she was ready, too. Patient, trusting, and mellow as you please.

I had expected the vet to come equipped with saws, drills, rubber gloves, and a headlamp, the way a dental surgeon might. Instead, he came forth with a pair of wire cutters, such as you might get at Home Depot. He sank to his news in front of the dog, who rested calmly on the floor. I thought about that howling dog-in-pain again, but put it out of my mind. St. Francis was on our side. I held the dog, pressed her calming points, and was about to whisper “it will be all right” when—clip! The vet clipped, the bone snapped, and it was all over. Chloe did not even yelp.

“That was brilliant!” I said, truly impressed. “What kind of tool did you use?”

“Just your basic pliers,” he said.

As I said, I am single, and I live in New York, which means I do not own a wrench. Or a screwdriver, or a hammer. But I do have an entire storage bin full of ‘dog supplies.’ So I will add a pair of marrow-bone-clippers to this collection.

New Agey Northerner learns down-home Southern ways. We can all learn from each other, I realize.

Anyway, I now have a few new resolutions as a result of the bone incident:
- Get veterinary insurance
- Finish novel, thereby pulling in the 5-figures owed to me by my publisher upon submission.
- Use surplus writing money to have Chloe’s teeth checked out, and perhaps surgery for torn ACL
- Get wire cutters ($7.99)
- And make sure that all the bones I give Chloe from this day forth will not fit over her jawbone.
- Be a good Buddhist and pray that all sentient beings everywhere have happiness and are free from fear, suffering, harm and sorrow.

 So how about all of you? Do you  have pet insurance? Have your dogs racked up insane vet bills that you are happy to pay, because you love love love them?


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My heart needs to stop racing from Chloe's adventure!
“You mean you want us to cut off your dog’s jaw? Hold on while I ask the vet if he can do that.”

This line cracked me up, altho I doubt it provided you with the same relief as it happened. My only silly dog story involves my dog running headlong into a tree because she was running while looking up at the birds she thought she was chasing. DOINK and she was out for a moment. But we have the same contract as you and Chloe do, so I get it.
I have the same contract with Lola and I totally get it. Good for you for advocating for you and Chloe!!! I did a lot of research on pet insuance and the reviews were not very good. If you go that route, be sure what they will cover. When I did the math, the policies that covered what I wanted were SOO expensive, I decided to follow the advice of consumer reports and just sock money away for a rainy day. Oh and marrow bones are THE BEST.
Lee, it is obvious that Chloe trusts you. That speaks volumes. My solution to the veterinary question is easy. There is one in the family.
Oh yeah. Years of vet bills that are paid before anything else. I just spent $600 on an emergency room/hospitalization fee for my daughter's cat that I don't even like very much. I would not, COULD not, do that again. I just happened to have the extra money and wasn't able to say "no" to my daughter. I have vowed, not to get medical insurance, but to be better about allowing Nature to take her own course.....except, of course, for my Jack Russell Terrier, also named Chloe. For her, no amount is too much. She is ten years old, which is old for a Jack Russell, and has been hospitalized twice for being attacked by two larger dogs. She had six drains in at one time, but recovered.

I have had a horse with foal that I have kept alive by holding her up to nurse for three months, hoping that the infection in her growth plates (which was probably a super-bug resistant to antibiotics) would subside enough for her to recover on her own. She finally died anyway. Sometimes we just need to realize that we can't fight god's will forever.

For your girl Chloe, of course she will have injuries. She looks just like one of my first dogs, Cassandra. Sandra was a liver Brittany/setter type hunting dog. They HAVE to hunt, to run loose and get exercise, and they will have all kinds of dings, cuts and scratches. The better physical shape they are in, the less they are prone to injury, just like people. Maybe you should get her a treadmill, and figure out some doggie yoga stretching exercises. Really!
I have noted the problem we have with our pets not being allowed off leash thus never getting enough exercise. I have a small acreage (5 A.) and am seriously considering putting up dog fence and starting a business called, "My Big Backyard," and renting it out for people to bring their dogs to run free and play! I decided this when I ran into my neighbor walking her dog, and she was soooo excited because today was her "Doggie Play Group" day, and her dog would come home worn out! And she PAYS $10 per hour for this! And is HAPPY about it. See a need, fill it!

Hang in there with Chloe. But insurance? No. Remember, the insurance company is there to make money. They HAVE to charge you more than you use in vet bills. Better for you to do a "Doggie Health Care Savings Plan," and self-insure. Good luck!
Hey C Berg et al. Thanks for the comments! I just wanted to clarify that I am ALL FOR off-leash recreation for dogs. I do feel that an off-leash life, with injuries, is far better than a life confined to a leash and backyards. So ultimately I respect the choice--and the consequences, of my marauding spaniel :)
Very entertaining story. You know I don't have pet insurance, but I've considered it in the past. I'm a cat owner, or rather I'm owned by two cats. One of my former cats racked up a couple of huge vet bills. The first was when he ate Easter Lilies and had to be rushed to the emergency vet at midnight. Those emergency vets are by far the most expensive.

I love your list of resolutions and wish you the best in achieving them.
Chloe looks awfully cute. I, too, have racked up some amazing vet bills with not one but two ACL surgeries. No insurance. My host family uses POOP (pay out of pocket). Yes, I'm costly, but I'm worth it. And if they give me the proper workouts and long walks it saves them a gym membership! Lurve.
What a roller coaster!

I have four dogs, all rescues. Our vet bills are pretty small. I buy all of our flea and heartworm meds from Canada or Australia. (We live in Florida where due to the short winters fleas and heartworms are awful).

Vaccination schedules have changed -- http://www.gooddogz.org/index.php/content/view/76/112/

As mine aren't ever boarded, I don't vaccinate yearly except for the rabies (which is prescribed by law...but probably unnecessary).

I feed a high quality kibble with no grains (I see you mention that in your post!) and they are exercised daily.

I think insurance is always a crapshoot. It's there to provide for expenses you can't possibly afford, and it sounds like even though you've had some vet bills, they haven't yet exceeded your ability to pay (or to make payment plans). Plus a lot of those pet insurance plans are limiting in what they pay.

I wish I had some definitive advice...