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Some owners spend whatever’s needed to maintain their pets’ health

Last summer, when his 10-year-old chocolate Labrador, Molly, needed surgery for a torn ligament, Brandan Hasby of East Grand Forks had second thoughts about whether or not to go ahead with it, he said.

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Brandan Hasby poses with his two labs, Maggie, left, and Molly at his East Grand Forks home. Hasby decided to go ahead with a $3,500 surgery to repair a torn ligament on Molly this past summer as she was otherwise healthy. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Last summer, when his 10-year-old chocolate Labrador, Molly, needed surgery for a torn ligament, Brandan Hasby of East Grand Forks had second thoughts about whether or not to go ahead with it, he said.

The surgery would cost $3,500.

"But it comes down to quality of life," he said. "She was a very healthy dog besides that. She had no arthritis and no signs of dysplasia (hip problems). That made my decision easier."

Hasby has owned Molly since she was 6 weeks old.

"She's a member of the family," he said. "I wasn't ready to let her go yet."

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Originally, Molly was a hunting dog.

"That's what I got her for," he said.

Molly joined him in waterfowl hunting until about six years ago, when Hasby gave up the sport, he said. "She's been my little partner."

"I don't know what I will do when the time comes (to put her down)."

It's not uncommon for pet owners to fork out big bucks to preserve the health - and lives - of their animals, which many say are members of the family.

Shattered leg

Erica Sundby also thought twice about spending thousands of dollars on the family dog after an injury four years ago.

Erica and Alan Sundby's dog, Remi, was almost a year old when he escaped from the fenced yard at the family's Grand Forks home.

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"He went for a joy run," Erica Sundby said. "He was hit by a car, we assume, as no one brought him back. He made it back home on his own."

One of his hind legs was shattered, an injury that required "having plates and screws put in," she said.

Remi, described by Sundby as "a mutt," was a giveaway pup, she said. "He's part border collie, springer spaniel and there's some retriever in there, too."

After consulting with a veterinarian, she was surprised to learn that surgery to fix Remi's leg would cost about $3,500.

She admits to having second thoughts about spending that amount, she said. "My husband didn't, though."

"I'm more of a checkbook keeper than he is."

Her husband, Alan, has a closer bond with Remi, she said. "He's the master."

She didn't seriously balk at the expense, she explained.

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"I wanted (Remi) to stick around, too. It was just a little shocking (to learn the cost)."

Since his accident, Remi has made a full recovery, she said. "And today, you'd never know that happened to him."

"He's still a very happy dog, but he won't go to the vet very kindly anymore, after going through doggy surgery."

Freak accident

Last summer, Boris, a 4-month-old Ragdoll kitten, got stuck upside down in the back wrung of a chair - a freak accident that resulted in a broken femur bone in his back leg, said his owner, Rose Guzman of Gilby, N.D.

She rushed him to a veterinarian in Grand Forks.

"He now has a plate, pins and rod," she said.

Boris was ordered to have total rest, which meant no jumping for three weeks. Her husband, Doug, slept with Boris in the living for the first week after surgery "so he could take the funnel collar off him," she said.

The kitten has made a full recovery.

"He now runs and plays," Guzman said. "He comes when called and fetches like a dog."

The vet bill ran about $2,200, "but we would do it all over again," she said. "He is such a cuddler and loves everyone."

Chiropractic, acupuncture

Last summer, Marsha Van Laere of rural Northwood, N.D., estimated that she and her husband, Todd, plunked down thousands of dollars for veterinary care for their 11-year-old black Labrador, Paige.

They also have another hunting dog, Rex, a 7-year-old chocolate Lab.

They got both dogs as pups.

"We don't have kids," she said. "They're our kids."

When Paige was just over 1 year old, she needed surgery, costing $1,000, for a torn ligament.

"We had no second thoughts; she was just a year old," Van Laere said. "We'd spent a pretty good penny just to buy her. We're going to do what we can to take care of her."

After the surgery, Paige "came back 100 percent," she said. "We do a lot to keep her that way, though."

They take Paige to a Casselton, N.D., veterinarian three or four times a year for chiropractic and acupuncture procedures.

"She's a different dog when she comes out," Van Laere said. "She's one of the only dogs I know that's excited to go to the vet."

'Spoiled rotten'

The Van Laeres' dogs "are both spoiled rotten," she said. "They go everywhere with us."

Last summer, Paige's vet bills totaled nearly $1,000 for surgeries to remove a mass on her right side and a burst blood vessel in her ear.

"We invest quite a bit into our dogs to improve their lives... I don't know how many vet calls we've had."

When Van Laere found a company online that produced magnetic blankets to ease pain in horses, and convinced it to make one for Paige, "my husband thought I was the craziest person in the world," she said.

The blanket has proven to be a great boon for both dogs, soothing muscle soreness after a long day of hunting.

"You can tell they're not as stiff, not as sore," Van Laere said. "They move more freely."

The dogs may use the blankets for up to a week after they've been hunting, "depending on how much of a workout they've had," she said. "It helps them, too, in cold weather."

"Paige loves hers. Rex just looks at me, like, 'Really?' "

Rex has racked up his share of vet bills, too, including the cost of dental care after breaking off "one of his big canines," she said.

"There was the Great Potato Incident of 2008," Van Laere said, recalling the time Rex ate whole, raw potatoes - a stunt that warranted a visit to the vet.

"I was worried about a blockage," she said.

The vet recommended waiting for the potatoes to digest naturally.

But the expenses, travel and time involved in their dogs' care are well worth it, Van Laere said.

"They have great personalities, let me tell you."

 

Several factors influence decision to put down pets

The decision about whether or not to humanely euthanize a pet is many times not an easy one for pet owners, said Dr. Darin Meulebroeck, a veterinarian with Grand Valley Animal Hospital in Grand Forks.

"Overall, I'd say people in this area are pretty practical, but we have seen individuals who need coaching," he said.

"As vets, we're here to advocate for the animal, based on science and what we know."

Some owners may not realize that their pet is not well.

"When the client is in those decision times, sometimes they don't perceive that their pet is suffering," Meulebroeck said. "They don't have a broken leg; they're not running around screaming... (but) they're dehydrated, can't move around and may have lost 30 percent of their weight."

These are signs it may be time for a pet to be put down, he said.

Weight is one of the first things he checks when making a diagnosis, he said. If an animal is suffering, it "drops dramatically from its adult healthy weight."

He also checks for enlargement of lymph nodes and evidence of dehydration.

"We can do blood work to find out what's going on," he said.

When it comes to recognizing a decrease in a pet's mobility and activity, Meulebroeck

asks his clients "to think about three or five things that their pet will do no matter what - like play with a ball, go for a ride or meet you at the door," he said.

When the pet no longer exhibits those favorite activities, it may suggest that end of life is near.

At times, he and his veterinarian colleagues are asked about alternative treatment options that may be less expensive but "won't work as well," he said. "I have to say, 'This isn't going to be a good option.' "

In considering what's best for the pet, "You get to a point where you have to ask, 'Just because we can, should we?' "

"Each client is realistic about what their financial limitations are," Meulebroeck said, "and needs to weigh whether or not they can afford the care their animal needs."

"Certain procedures - such as the orthopedic ones - they get pretty expensive."

Some clients won't spend $50 and others will spend $10,000, he said.

"In the end, it's the owner's choice. It's their pet."

 

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Paige, an 11-year-old black Labrador owned by Todd and Marsha Van Laere of rural Northwood, N.D., regularly gets acupuncture and chiropractic treatment.

Related Topics: PETS
Pamela Knudson is a features and arts/entertainment writer for the Grand Forks Herald.

She has worked for the Herald since 2011 and has covered a wide variety of topics, including the latest performances in the region and health topics.

Pamela can be reached at pknudson@gfherald.com or (701) 780-1107.
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