The news that television star Paul O’Grady has spent £8,000 on his beloved cairn terrier, Olga, has caused a wave of discussion throughout the UK. A known animal lover, Paul lost his shih tzu-bichon frisé cross, Buster, to cancer in 2009. So when Olga was diagnosed with cancer of the kidney and was given 18 months to live, Paul didn’t think twice about paying whatever was necessary for Olga’s surgery and chemotherapy.
There a few things to talk through regarding this news. Firstly, it is becoming more and more common for pet owners to spend more than usual on their pets who are a valued part of the family. A cat or dog can often be thought of as a child and it isn’t a surprise that we want to do everything in our power to give them a happy, healthy and comfortable life. I know that if my dog was to need veterinary care that I would go to great lengths to be able to afford to pay for the treatment needed.
However, a grey area for me is where the balance tips over from paying to keep my pet healthy for his sake and turns into paying for veterinary care purely for my own sake. Even if I was in the fortunate position to have a wealth of funds, I would still have to measure the actual condition that my pet had, and thus, his quality of life after receiving care, against my own feelings and emotions.
In all honesty I am not sure what I would do; I’d like to think that if it comes to it, and it would be kinder to have him put down, then I would do so rather than paying for treatment that might elongate his quantity of life, but at the same time reduce the quality and enjoyment of his added years.
Of course, I have a lifetime pet insurance policy for my dog so that if he does sustain an injury or develop a condition, then I’ll be able to afford to pay the vet’s bills. I am hoping that I will not have to call upon this policy and that my dog leads a healthy life without any veterinary care needed. Having this policy puts my mind at rest and I would rather have that comfort and reassurance (even if I never have to use my pet insurance) than not. Animal Friends offer a range of policies for dogs, cats and horses, and we also insure older pets.
Anthropomorphism, the attribution of human characteristics or behaviour to something (in this case, an animal) can often muddy the waters somewhat when it comes to our pets. As our pets have no voice to explain how they feel, it is up to us to understand their body language and facial expressions. So if my dog was to develop a condition that could be stalled by surgery and give him a longer innings, how would I truly know if he was enjoying life post-operation?
I am certainly guilty of seeing too many human qualities in my dog and worry that it can cloud my judgement. I just hope that when the difficult decision of whether to put my pet to sleep comes, that I make the choice that is best for him and not myself.