Of course you love your pet—but the bills from the vet are another matter. Follow these tips on covering the costs, and on when it might be time to let go.
My late dwarf rabbit Molly was known as the Two-Thousand-Dollar Bunny among my friends. In fact, medical bills for this fluffball—adopted for just 20 bucks—were closer to $3,000 by the end of her life, 11 months after I brought her home.
Molly had Snuffles—not as cute as it sounds. Snuffles, or pasteurellosis, involves sneezing, wheezing, runny eyes and, in my bun’s case, an out-of-control abscess needing daily draining and two rounds of ultimately unsuccessful surgery.
I was a student at the time, and when my vet was talking options and price tags, I can't say every one of the tears I shed was for Molly. Later, as the bills piled up, my then-boyfriend demanded to know exactly where I'd draw the line. I couldn't say. He saw an inversely proportional relationship between the amount I'd spent on a rabbit and my suitability as a life partner. We'd already split up by the time Molly passed away.
Alda Loughlin, practice manager of the Animal Clinic in Toronto, sees many clients struggle with emotionally charged financial decisions about treatment. Here she shares insights into handling high-cost medical care for pets.
People usually underestimate veterinary costs when they're planning to become pet owners. Loughlin relates that her clinic asks prospective animal adoptees how much they expect medical care will cost in the first year.
"How they answer dictates how we'll go forward with the application," she says. "People often think about $500 for a new cat or dog, but you may be looking—without medical problems—at $900 to $1,100, for neutering, exams, vaccinations and microchipping."
If those figures shock you, best get your fix of kitten cuteness on YouTube.
One way of being prepared for big bills is taking out pet insurance; at Loughlin's practice, 30 per cent of clients have policies. While Loughlin supports this precaution, she admits hearing regular complaints about the hoops claimants jump through for reimbursements.
"If people don’t want pet insurance, I suggest they take $30 a month and put it away, or even pay it forward to their vet," she says. Loughlin stashes $100 a month between August and April for her own poodle's annual dental cleaning. "It's good to have a cushion," she says.
Negotiate a payment plan
If you're facing a big bill and you're not covered, your vet may let you pay in installments. "Mention that a treatment is price-sensitive," suggests Loughlin.
A word of caution: Not every practice offers this option, and if they do, they won't automatically make it available to every client. Loughlin recommends establishing a relationship with your veterinarian, as this will help.
Some charitable organizations will help pet owners who are retired, on disability benefits or on a fixed low income and faced with expensive veterinary procedures. In Ontario, pet owners may be eligible for assistance from the Companion Animal Wellness Foundation (requests go through the Veterinary Emergency Hospital in Toronto) or the Farley Foundation, says Loughlin. Ask your vet about similar foundations in your home province.
Do your research
The price tags for treatments can vary quite dramatically from clinic to clinic, so it's OK to shop around, advises Loughlin -- it's a question of balancing out quality and cost. "Call a couple of clinics, ask questions, and be very candid about your pet's condition," she says. She also advises asking exactly what's covered in each quote: is it just the surgery or also the pre-op bloodwork, post-op meds and follow-up visit?
And don't just let cost be the deciding factor. Checking websites with scores and client reviews of local practices or asking your network for recommendations gives you a sense of the level of care you can expect from an unfamiliar vet.
Draw your line
While I couldn't draw a line for my rabbit Molly's medical care, I admit I sometimes felt frustrated that such sophisticated and expensive options even existed as I fell deeper into the red. And I've sometimes wondered if all the interventions were even fair to her.
I polled my friends recently on where they'd draw the line for their own pets. Most said there was no line, but one had an important insight to share, based on her experience paying a fortune to prolong the life of a suffering cat.
"I've regretted the course of treatment we gave my cat who had kidney failure, for more than a decade, but that taught me a lesson," she says. "Find a vet you trust -- one who knows you and your pet well. Just because you can do another test or try another treatment doesn't necessarily mean you should."
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Photography by Donna Griffith Image by: Photography by Donna Griffith
People didn't really have backyards in the olden days. They had a front porch, an outhouse and a lot of cough medicine that was, in fact, morphine. With no one else around for miles, you could do anything out front—even your laundry—because no one cared if you stood on your lawn, completely naked, hanging your wool bloomers on the clothesline. And if you happened to be treating that cough, chances are you didn't care, either.
Now, of course, if you have a house, it usually comes with a backyard; that's where you destress, relax and entertain. Your front yard is for showing off aspects of your personality that you want the world to see. The backyard, however, is where the real you lets loose. The modern home is the residential version of the mullet: business in the front, party in the back.
The façade of my 1840s cottage looks a lot like it would have in the 19th century: a white painted porch, some rambling roses and a little vegetable garden. Up until recently, my backyard was similar; it matched the house but didn't necessarily match me. Making it over was a chance to express another part of my personality; to show that, even though I love the past, I wasn't stuck living in it. So, to provide balance, I paired my period-appropriate front porch with a decidedly contemporary urban backyard, one where I may or may not hang my bloomers out to dry…while nursing a cough.
How to grow your own privacy
Being in the backyard is great, but sometimes you want to grab your morning coffee, curl up on the front porch and watch the world go by—without the world watching you. A dense leafy perennial vine is a great way to create a green privacy wall. Certain ivies will grow quickly, while others, like this climbing hydrangea, will take several years before they provide enough cover for you to feel comfortable in your ratty pajamas.
Porch swing, amazon.ca.
Timothy Oulton Canadian-flag cushion, upcountry.com.
Galvanized planter pails, terragreenhouses.com.
Instead of buying new cushion covers for your outdoor seating, wrap sun bleached fabric in burlap.
Tip: Give small planter pots a boost by displaying them on various rungs of a vintage ladder.
Outdoor chairs and table, walmart.ca.
Toss cushions, homesense.ca.
Floor & Patio paint in Deck Grey 122-71 (porch flooring), benjaminmoore.ca.
How to put a perpetually unproductive planter to work
My potting shed is packed with planters of every size that will never be filled with flora. (Mainly, they're filled with just spiders.) That's why I dragged a few planters out of storage, dusted them off and repurposed them as outdoor tables. Topped with a round sheet of glass, my black drum-shaped planter is the perfect complement to a pair of armchairs. And by setting an old pine plank on top of two smaller box planters, I created a custom outdoor coffee table without setting foot in a shop.
How to get a lawn in an instant
For most people, a lawn is nothing but trouble. In an effort to cajole their grass back to life every summer, homeowners arm themselves with lawn seed, fertilizer and a big bag of swear words. Save yourself the effort and fake it. Artificial grass is now sold edged and in rolls—just like indoor rugs—and it looks way better than it did years ago. You'll get beautiful colour and soft cushioning under your feet with minimal effort—simply roll it up at the end of the season.
Grass rugs, rona.ca.
Drum planter and lumbar cushions, homesense.ca.
Outdoor armchairs, costco.ca.
Wire lantern, rona.ca.
Square-cut flagstone, ferrellbrick.net.
How to create powerhouse planters
If you want a container garden that makes an impact, forget typical generic nursery plants—I'm looking at you, geraniums—and embrace the plants of the disco era. Tropical greens that were popular houseplants in the 1970s not only look great in planters but also tolerate dry conditions. Mix tall, spiky spider plants and wandering Jew with cascading creeping Jenny and sweet potato plants (Ipomoea batatas) for dynamic pots that command attention—especially if you're doing the hustle around them.
Planter pots, discountemporium.ca.
How to hang a window box without a window
It wasn't just for esthetics that I installed my backyard fence planks horizontally; it was also for function. The boards allowed me to hang window box planters with nothing more than a few large S-hooks. Positioning planters at different heights lends a contemporary feel, while mounting them evenly enters more traditional territory.
Tip: Add draping spiller plants to window-box arrangements. They'll trail down fences and walls as the season progresses, creating a living-wall effect.
Dollar stores often sell artificial grass in square tiles that clip together so you can design your own custom “carpet.” Linked in a long, narrow strip, they make a chic runner for an outdoor dining table.
Window-box planters, hollandpark.com.
Outdoor dining set, ikea.ca.
Drink dispenser, indigo.ca.
Check out designer Karl Lohnes' terrific terrace makeover.
|This story was originally part of "Now & Then" in the June 2015 issue.
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