On September 13, 2013 our family’s seven year old mastiff, BJ, woke me at 1:30 am. He was agitated and clearly in pain. Seeing his extended abdomen I immediately suspected bloat, and called our local vet to let her know that I was bringing him in. Suspecting the same, she immediately rerouted us to the only emergency veterinary facility in the area, the University of Missouri Vet School an hour away, as they were better equipped to handle the surgery that would be required to save his life.
I then called MU for directions, and was told there would be a $100 fee for bringing him in, which I was fine with. My sister and I made the hour drive, with BJ crying and writhing in pain the entire time, so we knew the situation was bad on arrival.
What we didn’t realize was that it would soon get worse. The staff got permission to take radiographs, and insert an IV catheter on arrival, carefully mentioning the cost of each item. We naturally gave permission to have BJ evaluated – he was a psychological support dog, and a guardian, best friend, playmate and bed warmer rolled into one, and at that point I’d have gladly moved the moon to help him. After evaluation, the vet on duty was compassionate, but matter of fact. BJ needed surgery –fast. Could we pay half of the $3000 to $5000 expected bill immediately so he could call the surgeon, with the remainder due in ninety days – approximately a $400 a month payment?
As a single mother of four, making barely above minimum wage, I had to honestly tell him that, no, I couldn’t meet those terms, but would be happy to make payments until the bill was paid in full. He excused himself to try to get an exception made, but came back with the news that the money had to be paid, upfront, tonight – could I come up with it? Faced with the choice of putting my kids on the street, or paying for the surgery for a member of our family under their terms, with my fur baby in great pain, I again had to tell the vet again that no, I could not come up with that much at 3:30 in the morning, immediately. That left two choices – take BJ home, in agony, to die a slow and painful death, or euthanasia. We loved BJ enough to let go, so we opted for ending his pain quickly, and he died 15 minutes later in my arms, without my children ever getting to say goodbye.
We left in a daze, then a rage. BJ did not die because he couldn’t be saved- he died because my bank account was not large enough to produce two months of pay on demand so that a surgeon would be called. I don’t know many people, even those with good jobs, who could produce that kind of money instantly at the drop of a hat in this economy. A teaching vet school, especially one with a virtual monopoly on emergency services for the area, should not allow animals who can be saved to die under these circumstances – because of money, not diagnosis and prognosis. BJ admittedly could have lived if he was taken promptly into surgery, and had several more years with his family- but he was not given that chance because of bureaucratic policy. He was not alone- the case immediately before us that night has a lesser prognosis, but was also euthanized because the owner could not produce the needed sum on demand.
I am asking for your help to convince MU School of Veterinary Medicine to change their payment terms to more realistic ones, with some type of a credit option such as those offered at some doctor, dentist and mechanic's offices, or longer payment terms, or perhaps a fund set aside to reduce the immediate cost in these situations-some type of additional options to offer families who are often as traumatized as their pets if not more so.
I understand that MU needs assurance that their expenses will be met, and the bills paid- saving a life is not an inexpensive undertaking- but there has to be a more reasonable middle ground that will give more furry family members who have the potential for good outcomes that chance instead of a death sentence incurred by owners who are trying to do the right thing and help their pet. Please join me to give our fur babies a fighting chance!