U vet program gives pet owners options

A recent veterinary convention in Minneapolis showcased pets that have undergone complicated medical treatment.

Lacey Crisp

Three years ago, veterinary specialists told Arlys Peterson that her 7-year-old Labrador retriever, Bailey, needed a pacemaker.

Peterson agreed to the surgery, which cost $1,500, and placed a human pacemaker in Bailey’s chest.

The surgery was successful, and Peterson said she is grateful for the extended life it gave her dog.

“We don’t have children, so she’s our family,” Peterson said.

Bailey was one of four animals showcased at an American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine convention in Minneapolis last weekend, which focused on small animal treatment. The animals were treated by the University’s veterinary clinic, which has the highest caseload of small animals in the country.

The decision to continue with complicated and often costly medical procedures is often difficult, said Dr. Kristen Jacobs, assistant clinical professor of small animal sciences at the University.

“We always give the owner the option of what can be done,” Jacobs said. “But we only give them the option if we think it will actually help the animal.”

Not all pet owners opt for surgery.

“For some people, it does come down to money,” Jacobs said.

The University Veterinary School has a companion animal fund to help owners pay for some of the health care for their pets. The one-time grant of up to $500 is offered for certain procedures. Money for the grants is earned through donations.

For some pet owners, the emotional cost of helping their dogs outweighs any financial cost.

“Half of all dogs die from cancer,” said senior veterinary oncology technician Beth Gerdes, who treats dogs with all kinds of cancer.

Freckles, a 7-year-old cocker spaniel, has lymphoma and received chemotherapy treatments from Gerdes on Tuesday.

Freckles laid on the ground as Gerdes injected her with the treatment. Gerdes said the dosage was small enough to prevent her from getting as sick as people who receive chemotherapy.

Gerdes estimates that the therapy will add approximately a year to Freckles’ life.

“If I could do it financially, I would,” Gerdes said. “It is a very expensive and time-consuming process.”

In all, Freckles will receive 25 treatments.

Gerdes said veterinarians are always concerned with the animal’s quality of life when performing such procedures.

Mani, one of the other three pets featured at the convention, is a 12-year-old Brittany spaniel that beat congestive heart failure with pioneering open-heart surgery.

“My brother and father went through open-heart surgery,” said Jim D’Aquila, Mani’s owner. “I wish they doctors were as caring for my family as they were for my dog.”

D’Aquila and other owners at the event said the procedures were worth it, and they would do it again. D’Aquila said there is a special bond between him and his dog.

“Dogs also teach us how to heal,” D’Aquila said. “They have no self-pity.”

“They just say, ‘fix me up and I’ll go.’ “

The cost was approximately $6,000 for Mani’s micro valve repair.

“There’s a love of animals that is quite present in the vets,” Aquila said. “We don’t put a number value on human life. Unfortunately, we do for pets.”