The Value of a Dog’s Life

My dog had a seizure yesterday while we had friends visiting. She seems okay now, but this was a long one and had her full body engaged. I was with her, and she had been playing on and off all day with us and the kids. The kids are 5 or less, and the dog always lays down when she’s tired. She’s only a 16 pound dog, and she’s about 7.5 years old. Currently she’s being treated for a UTI, the first time she’s ever needed antibiotics except from a tick-borne illness. She’s had Lyme and one other one; the name I forget. So third antibiotics, but first for a non-tick illness.

Resting a day later

Being in the suburbs of NYC, we are in the heart of the exposure to tick-borne illnesses in the US. Two years ago, my father in law, a man over 85, nearly died from yet a third tick-borne illness. My neighbor had Lyme last year, and we, and all my neighbors, hire services to spray 5 times a year as per the current guidelines.

Nevertheless, that does not seem to be the case here. As a child, a friend had his first seizure in front of us, and he lived about 9 more years. I saw many of his. I found in that first incident when we were 12 that I am strangely calm in such situations. Emotions hit me later, after the adrenaline wears off. In the moment, though, I’m just feeling the rush of adrenaline, and remain fully calm. Once the night was over, and my wife and son were calm, it hit me. I love my dog.

When the dog started shaking, I just zeroed in on her, and tried to help keep my son and the other children calm while I tried to protect the dog from hurting herself. The other father was on the same page and reacted the same way. The moms were inside talking, and we were giving them a break.

So after the seizure abated and the dog started to come out of it, all of about 2 minutes after I first noticed her having a issue, I took her to the vet. This is where the expense comes in, and the hard questions follow.

They did a full workup on her, blood, etc, and found nothing. There was a quick $1,000 spent. That’s not small potatoes to me. I’ve never seen a dog have seizures, and the research I have done after suggests that I did not need to take her in. That was the first, and the first time we’ve seen issues with this dog. She’s a rescue, and we think a mini schnauzer and a mini dachshund. She really is a great, and loving dog. She thinks all humans exist to play with her, and will protect my son with vigor.

When we would walk in town or on trails, she would growl at anyone who got too close to him. We had to stop walking as a family until he got older, and she got more sure of him. I can say to her, “guard the baby,” and she will sit next to or within a few feet of him. Where we live, occasional dogs get loose, and there are foxes, black bear (one was seen on our street 2 years ago), coywolves, and even bobcats. They are rare to see during the day, but it can happen. The dog herself was attacked by a redtail hawk on at least 4 occasions, and in one case I threw a tennis ball at the bird as it swooped on her. The hawk got within 6 feet of the dog, and the tennis ball about 1 foot from the hawk. I’m glad I had it in hand as we were going out on the yard to play ball. Anyway, this little dog is just there as an alarm. We let our son play in our yard, while we are in the kitchen or nearby in the house or yard, and her job is to alarm. That is not a trained behavior, we just noticed when he was outside, she would not let him get too far from her. He loves her, and at bed time, she’s in his room. He says, she guards his dreams as well.

The vet warned me about the price of the tests, and I felt that it was worth it. I still do. But, how much more. What is the number on a life of a dog? I asked a lot of questions like could the antibiotics have triggered it or any number of other ideas. The emergency vet was convinced from the dog’s age that it was likely a tumor after all the other tests, blood etc, came back negative. If the dog has another seizure, then we’d have a few options. Do we give her a MRI to see if she has a brain tumor, lesion, or some cranial swelling? That’s $2,000. We could take her to a neurological specialist for dogs; there’s one down in Yonkers, NY, and two more in neighboring Connecticut. That will not be cheap, or we can just give her anti-seizure medication until she dies.

My father went through that with one of the rescues they had. My dad and stepmother lose a dog a year or so as they take the old dogs that no one wants, and that are usually sick. The last few have had 6 months to 3 years, all dying near age 10 with cancer or something equally serious. They are in their late 70s, and it’s starting to get to them. I hope they current one, 7 herself lives longer. They only rescue Boston Terriers, and at least the stinkers have lots of personality, so that helps. Still, dad’s been through this a lot, and these costs, can add up fast.

My best friend happens to be a cancer surgeon, for humans, and I’ve had a bit of an education by just listening to him over the years. What he can do for a human, is not where they are with dogs, particularly for brain surgery. And even then, how much life, and how good would it be, for that animal anyway? It is more cruel to put them through that? Would it be better to give her a painless send-off, if the seizures get out of hand? That is what my parents had to do with one of theirs that lasted 6 months. Happy little dog, but well, his brain just couldn’t stop seizing with the meds. They gave him a last meal, and then put him down after the last seizure prevented him from moving his rear legs.

It’s grim to say this, but there has to be a limit to her treatment. For me, as much as I love this dog, I will not spend thousands of dollars on a MRI and potentially cancer treatment on her brain. Her body was cleared of any issues; whatever this issue is, the $1000 already spent ruled that out. As long as the seizure meds are not too expensive, assuming she needs them, I will go for that, but I do have a maximum number. Is that cruel, is it cold? Is this the military officer in me remembering my training and service when I had to make those choices for humans? I will spend more on a human, whatever it takes, than I would for a pet. I would also spend more on a pet if I was more convinced of the quality of the outcome which the more expensive options do not appear to suggest is likely.

The vet yesterday made it seem that this outcome was the most likely as even brain surgery was more like experimental at this point. But, my wife and I have done some research and some antibiotics, including the one our dog is on, has caused seizures in dogs. Of course this is the long holiday weekend, and we will talk to our vet tomorrow, so we are not without hope. Further, since we are nearing 24 hours since her seizure, I have hopes that our odds will increase that this was a rare, perhaps one off, event. She was getting a fair amount of running in chasing the kiddos around, and being chased by them. I will work from home tomorrow, and my wife will the following day just to be sure she’s out of the woods.

At times like this, I am drawn back to the last lines of The Count de Monte Cristo, where Dumas writes, “wait and hope.” And, he gives the words to another character, “the sum of all human wisdom are contained in those words.” Assuming my English translation of that French novel is correct, but those words, regardless, hold power for me in tough or sad times. My dog has been acting normal since she recovered, and all I can do now is wait and hope!

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