Tough Decisions

Bolo's pathology came back yesterday. The tumour the vets removed from his wrist on Thursday was cancerous, a class 2 sarcoma. Its source is unknown, meaning that there could be other tumours that we can't see, and parts of them have broken off and travelled around Bolo's body, spreading the cancer. The vet continues to give us hope that the tumour had very well defined margins, and that the whole thing was easy to separate from the wrist, but the cancerous cells extended all the way to the margins. We know several folks whose dogs had tumours of various malignant types removed, and those pooches went on to live long, happy, healthy lives. We will continue to watch Bolo and take him back for a check up next month. He will get his stitches out in time to come to our wedding, which I'm sure he will interrupt with his classic carry on.

However hopeful J and I are that Bolo will remain happy and healthy, we are also aware that we need to think carefully about the choices we make in his care over the next few years, should the cancer spread. While we love him dearly and would, in an ideal world, happily spend every penny to keep him running amok in our lives for many years, reality is much harsher. Pet owners are often faced with impossible choices about putting a dog down. Our questions currently look a bit like this: 

  • how much veterinary treatment is it fair to put the dog through?
  • what quality of life will the dog have during and after the treatment?
  • how much lifespan is the dog expected to have after the treatment?
  • what quality of life and lifespan will the dog have without treatment?
  • how much veterinary treatment can we afford?
  • how much veterinary exploration of the issue can we afford?
  • how does the veterinary treatment and its costs of this dog affect our other dogs?

Everyone's answers to these questions will be different, and will change over time. Last year when Ishka needed ACL surgery, we were happy to spend a considerable amount of money on a treatment that we believed would be highly successful, giving Ishka a much improved quality of life. Other friends have chosen not to repair ACLs, since once the ligament is completely ruptured, it causes no pain, even if the leg is not very functional. When Frankie suddenly went blind, we had to face a more difficult choice - how much could we spend on exploring what was wrong with Frankie, making sure that we still had enough money available to treat him once the cause was found. We questioned how successful Frankie's treatment was going to be, and how well he would cope with any resulting loss of vision, given his individual temperament.

Last year was a very expensive year in terms of vet bills. Instead of the usual, relatively low costs of vaccinations, flea treatments and worming costs, we spent 

Each cost was deemed necessary at the time. Our dog care is one of our top priorities. But at the end of the year, realising that we had spent more than $10,000 in vet bills was a bit of a shock. If we still had that money, we would be closer to buying our own place, and setting the dogs up in the kind of permanent facilities we would like to provide, no longer reliant on the good will of our landlord. However, how could we not spend that money, when our dogs were in pain and discomfort? An impossible choice.

I can't say that we would make different choices if we had our chance again. I can't say that we won't spend a lot of money on Bolo, if he does require further treatment. We don't begrudge the $1200 already spent on his assessment, surgery, pathology and medication this year. We will just have to keep trying to assess each step in the process to the best of our ability, taking our vet's advice and trying to balance the long term care of all our dogs against the individual needs of each one.