Help me, St. Francis

Saint Francis of Assisi

Saint Francis of Assisi

I feel like the most horrible person in the world.

I woke up this morning to a very lethargic pet rat. Rats usually sleep rolled up in a little ball, but my sweet boy was sprawled out in an unnatural spread-eagle position. I’ve always been an animal lover, and the sight of any animal in pain just cuts me up inside. I held him in my arms and he was barely responsive. I put some yogurt on a plate and tried to get him to eat, but he wouldn’t. I gave him FerretVite (which I often call “rat crack”) and he wouldn’t eat that either. The only time I’ve seen a rat refuse FerretVite was right before death.

I only had $140 or so, and I have no income and I haven’t paid my August rent. I sat around distraught for probably two hours, weighing the pros and cons of taking him to the vet. I knew I had to take him, and I knew that euthanization would cost at least $80. I also knew that in his state, the vet would probably recommend that I have my little guy put down. I thought that if he was going to die, I should just keep him comfortable and let him die naturally. I put him on a pillow with some washcloths, and I tried my best to force-feed him yogurt. I also gave him some water with a syringe.

I decided, as I often do, to take a nap. I slept next to the rat for a couple of hours. When I woke up, he was still plugging along, breathing very hard and lying limply.  I realized that if he died in pain I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself, so I called my regular vet.

My regular vet was unavailable. He was at a convention in Wisconsin and they didn’t have any doctors available until Thursday. I didn’t think my boy would make it that long. The veterinary assistant referred me to another exotic pet vet in a nearby town. I arranged to bring him in right away. The exam alone was $39, which is actually slightly cheaper than it is at my regular vet.

Truth be told, even if I still had a job, this vet visit would have been unaffordable. Actually, if I still had a job, I may not have even had $140 because I would have paid my rent and I’d be left with nothing at all.

So, we went on a little drive. I had to wait a long time because the vet had to see my little guy between appointments. The assistant (who was the most knowledgeable veterinary assistant I’ve ever encountered) told me that he was very, very sick and that they recommended two days hospitalization. That would cost $350-$400 to be paid at time of service, and that was simply out of the question. She also said that I could have him euthanized or I could give him some antibiotics and some fluids, but that his prognosis was still not very good.

I really wasn’t ready to say goodbye. Maybe this makes me an even worse person than someone who wouldn’t even bother with veterinary care, but I really just couldn’t say goodbye today. I opted to have them give him some subcutaneous fluids and some antibiotics and just see how he would do. He’s only 18 months old (which is a little more than middle age for a rat), and I thought he deserved another chance if I had the power to give it to him.

I bought some baby food on the way home, and he actually ate a bit of it after he got the fluids. He is still lethargic, but he has perked up a bit. I have enough antibiotics for two weeks, assuming he lives that long. My pets are my family and I feel completely useless when I can’t give them what they need. Many women my age have children to provide for, and due to my financial constraints I can’t even provide for a 1-lb. rodent.  Although I have never been interested in reproducing, I often feel bad knowing that if I did, I would probably have my children taken away. I really don’t want to be that kind of person.

I had animals growing up, but my family was wealthy and we took very good care of our pets. I had two friends in high school who came from poor families, and I was often disgusted with the way they treated their animals. I had one friend who had a cat who kept getting pregnant. She kept one of the kittens, but the kitten stopped growing at about two months old. He had really bad respiratory problems and his nose and mouth were always covered in mucous. She wouldn’t take him to the vet. One day, I went to her house, picked up her cat, told her I was taking him to the vet because she wouldn’t. And I did. He tested positive for feline leukemia and the vet recommended euthanization. He wasn’t my cat, so I couldn’t make that decision. I gave my friend the bad news, and she decided not to put him down. He eventually died around his first birthday. I imagine it was a painful death.  I remember being really disgusted with my friend at this point, first because of her failure to have this kitten’s mother spayed, second for her failure to take him to the vet when he was very ill and in pain, and third for her failure to put the poor creature out of his misery when she had the chance. She also put her other cats at risk by having him in the house.

I had another friend with an elderly poodle. The poodle developed a rather large tumor on her belly. She was a small dog, but the tumor was so big that it touched the ground when she walked. The dog clearly needed surgery, but no one was taking her to the vet. Eventually, her family did take the dog in to be put down, but the tumor had dangled from the poodle’s abdomen for several months by that point.

I never understood this behavior, but now I almost do. My cat is almost 14 years old, and I have been fortunate that she is doing well health-wise.  She is an indoor cat, but I do worry about taking care of her over the next few years. I want to do everything I can to ensure she has a comfortable and healthy life. She is my friend and my companion, and I don’t want her to suffer because of my financial situation. It did not occur to me at 17 that my little kitten would be a financial burden to me at 30.  When I finally got a steady job at age 27, it never occurred to me that I would make less and less money as time went on. My situation has turned me into a bit of a pessimist, but I hope with all my heart that this trend does not continue.

I do want to do what is best for my animals, and I don’t see that my situation is dire enough to warrant finding new homes for them. My cat is the only consistent thing in my life. Like I said, she’s family. My two rats do not have long to live, and I understand and accept that. My cat has a few more years in her, and I will not get any more pets until I can afford them. After all, if you can’t afford the vet, you can’t afford the pet.


1 Comment

Filed under Obstacles

One response to “Help me, St. Francis

  1. Charis

    It is heartbreaking that we have to make these decisions about our pets.

    I have been in the situation years ago of nearly having a pet euthanized because i had little kids, little money, and couldn’t afford amputation surgery and course of drugs for a cat with a mangled leg and shoulder. We went into debt for 600 dollars, the cat recovered and lived another 11 good years.

    But I was just this summer in the opposite situation. Our pug got heatstroke from being in the yard just half an hour. We rushed her to the pet emergency clinic and ended up spending over 3000 dollars in the course of a few days–knowing that the chances she would recover were not good.

    I feel guilty for spending so much, but more guilty about the circumstances. I worry that we kept going with treatment when our dog was tired and in pain and she should not have been dragged through days of fear, restraint, and physical anguish.

    You did a good job delineating the differences between a how a poor household who loves its pets makes decisions and how a poor family who neglects its pets behaves..

    A poor person who loved animals could take a sick animal to the pound to be euthanized, and get pets spayed either through low cost/no cost community programs or obtain the animal through a shelter to start with, where the cost of spaying, initial shots, and microchiping is paid by the shelter.

    If there were an abundance of great homes waiting for every animal it would be different, but in my city 90% of cats brought to the pound in 2008 were put down. Who wouldn’t rather see a kitten go to a poor person who would say “I will take care of this animal to the best of my ability; I will love it, give it food and shelter and companionship. If it becomes ill I may not be able to afford all the medical care I would desire to give”.

    You are not taking animals away from a better life, you are sharing what little you have with animals who otherwise would have had little chance or no chance.

    I know from your post that you would never abandon your animals but The New York Times this past Sunday had an article about a program that helped jobless or homeless pet owners with medical care, food and pet supplies so that their companion animals didn’t end up at the pound. I do not think such programs are widespread, but perhaps your city has one?

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