My dog is sick, but I can’t afford the treatment.

Surrendering her to a rescue that will properly handle her care is the kindest thing you can do for her.

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Dear Poli,

I adopted my bulldog Pepper four years ago. Between vet visits, vaccines, and food, I’ve spent thousands on her. But now she is sick, which means medical bills that I can’t afford. 

I’ve been weighing my options, and I think that the best thing I can do is to put her down. I wish I didn’t have to consider this option, but I can’t afford the cost of her treatment, especially when there’s a chance it might not work. What do you recommend?

- Despondent Dog Mom

Dear Despondent Dog Mom,

When a human gets sick, it is unacceptable to float the idea of simply not getting them potentially life-saving medical care. 

Just because pets can’t speak our language, doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the chance to live. They’re breathing, sentient beings that feel love, happiness, sadness, anxiety — everything we do. If her diagnosis isn’t terminal, getting her proper medication and care is always worth a shot. If you don’t have the money, there are a lot of nonprofits that offer financial assistance for pets. You can start by looking at some of these general resources.

But I’m not necessarily recommending that you fork over the money and keep her either. If you’re willing to put her down now, it makes me wonder how you would handle medical emergencies in the future. Instead, I ask that you please surrender her to an animal rescue. There are thousands of rescues that would be willing to take in your dog, raise money for her care, and find her a family that can support her through her recovery

Surrendering Pepper to a rescue that values her life and is willing to pay for her treatment is the kindest thing you can do for her. It may be hard to give her up, but by doing so, you’re giving her a chance at a healthy and happy life. Keep in mind that rescues are different from shelters — a lot of shelters will euthanize dogs once they’re at capacity. But many rescues accept animals with medical conditions. You’ll need to call around to find the right one in your area. And if you cannot find a rescue, you can also surrender her to a no-kill shelter, which you can find here

And, if you decide to adopt again, I really advise you to consider pet insurance — and I’m not just saying this because it’s my job. Illnesses, accidents, and medical bills — that’s part of the reality of life for humans and our pets. One in three pets has a medical emergency in their lifetime, which means that pet insurance is a basic necessity to keep your pet healthy. Yes, you have to pay a monthly fee that, more often than not, will not be used towards any actual hospital stay or medical care. That’s the hope — that your pet never gets so sick or injured that you need to tap into your pet insurance policy. But it also means you’re not on the hook for thousands of dollars if your pet has an accident or emergency. In your case, if you had pet insurance, you wouldn’t have to choose between bankrupting yourself or putting your dog down. And unfortunately, now that your pet is already sick, she won’t be eligible for coverage. 

Eighty-five million families in the U.S. have a pet. But according to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association, only 3.5 million pets are insured. That equates to 4%, which is simply not enough when you consider the likelihood that a pet will need medical care and that 280,900 dogs are abandoned every year because of financial issues. 

Look, I get it. My dog ate a cigarette off of the sidewalk last week, and that isn’t at all the worst thing she’s gotten into. If my dog ends up with vet bills that cost thousands of dollars, I couldn’t afford that either. I got pet insurance before I even knew how insurance worked after seeing my brother spend thousands on his dog that swallowed a chicken bone — my dog is my family, and it’s my job to protect her. Getting a pet and taking care of them is a big commitment — probably bigger than you anticipated when you got them — but there are ways to be fully prepared, even for the worst.