Pets get better health care than humans do

Three weeks ago, The Onion (a parody newspaper out of Madison) ran a story entitled “Study: U.S. Pets Healthcare Better Than Rwandan Humans.” There are two photos, one of a picture of an anesthetized dog being operated on by a surgeon in full surgical garb and a picture of two men holding down a Rwandan screaming in pain, as his infected foot is sawed off. As a story which ran in The Minnesota Daily last Tuesday proved, the essence of good parody is often not found in fiction, but in fact.
On the front page of the Nov. 24 issue of the Daily is a story about the addition of a disability accessible door to the Small Animal Hospital on the St. Paul campus. A picture accompanying the story depicts Spikey, a three-legged dog, going through the door. The door cost about $40,000. The bulk of the money was provided by University Disability Services with allocated funds received from the government under the Americans with Disabilities Act, with another $5000 being donated by hospital patron Geraldine Gage. Her philanthropic drive, Gage explains in the article, arose when “she decided the hospital needed an automatic door after struggling to hold the door open long enough for one of her dogs, who became a paraplegic, to walk through.”
The animal hospital, in addition to its new mechanized door, provides many safeguards against untimely pet demise. The clinic is the second largest collegiate hospital of its kind in the nation. It treats over 20,000 animals annually and employs more than 40 veterinarians, providing a full range of diagnostic tools and treatment services, such as CAT scans, chemotherapy and 24-hour emergency services.
The hospital is reminiscent of any modern medical facility found in the city today. Veterinarians in white lab coats walk quickly down long hallways in response to intercom messages from the emergency room and dogs and cats are rushed around in surgical beds, endlessly attempting to chew away at the excellent medical care they have just received.
Talk to any pet owner visiting the center and they’ll tell you the hospital is a godsend and the treatments are worth every penny.
But in a country where approximately 20 percent of the population is uninsured and, as a result, receives inadequate health care, you don’t need to go all the way to Rwanda to wonder about America’s current allocation of resources. Since 1985, the number of uninsured Americans has increased 40 percent, despite falling levels of unemployment. The problem is, according to economist Mark Pauly of the Wharton School, due to misallocation of America’s massive resources.
When I asked Dr. Ed Kosciolek, hospital administrator of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, to comment on this apparent quandary he said, “It is a very sophisticated philosophical question. But the people who are coming here are coming on a voluntary basis.
“These individuals have already made a choice to spend their disposable incomes on pet care. We are here to offer them options. As to the ethical question, that is not something we get into.”
Yet, Kosciolek seemed unable to resist. He went on to add, “But our society is just ripe with these kinds of examples. Every day, people decide whether they should spend $2 on a Dairy Queen or spend a larger amount on more expensive ice cream.”
Money, Kosciolek argued, is money, and in this country every person has the right to do what they want with their disposable incomes.
Even though it might seem strange to perform massive invasive heart surgery on Fido while homeless people suffer from easily cured infections, it may seem even less morally justified to let that happen in order to enjoy an extremely attractive, manicured and chemically enhanced lawn or a sinfully dense, overtly creamy ice cream product.
Personally, I dealt with this issue last spring. My sister brought her dog, Boski, to the hospital to have his interior cruciate ligament repaired on his left knee. By the time the right one is finished, the total bill will have amounted to $1,400.
At the time, some of my friends and I took jabs at my sister due to our absolute conviction that spending that much money on a dog was rather extravagant and pushed what we thought were obvious moralistic arguments she had been overlooking.
After sufficiently grilling her about health care for the homeless and the problems of the uninsured, she turned to us and asked: “How is this any different than all the money you guys spend on beer?”
Alas, she had us.
As Marilyn Moon and Joanne Silberner wrote in the Washington Post on June 30, “In his 1989 inaugural address, President George Bush said, ‘We have more will than wallet to deal with social problems. Today we have the wallet but, evidently, not the will.'”
Andrew Carter is a freelance writer for the Daily. Send comments to [email protected]