ST. LOUIS, MO. - We love our pets. These days they’ve become part of the family. With that classification comes a lot of responsibility.
Five On Your Side looks at some of the questions people have when it comes to our pets. Such as pet insurance, the grief of losing a four-legged friend, and the heroes who work in the animal emergency hospitals who save our ‘best friends’ every day.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, 65 percent of American families have a dog or cat. But, only 1 percent of them are insured.
Dr. Michele Watson is an emergency veterinarian at The Animal Emergency Clinic in O’Fallon, Missouri. She says most of her clients don’t have insurance for their pets. But, they always end up wishing they did.
"Get it early before something drastic happens. It’s just like any insurance, it's a gamble whether you're ever going to need it but if you do need it, it's there and you have that piece of mind that you're not going to have to spend thousands of dollars for whatever happens," explained Watson.
The pet industry is nearing $60 billion. Americans spent $16 billion on vet bills in 2015 alone. That's according to Pet Insurance Quotes.
The booming pet industry is why Rusty Sproat started his pet insurance company Figo a few years ago.
"Everything we can do for a human we can do for pets today, and it can be very expensive. So pet insurance is a great way to cover those unexpected costs. There's cancer, there's radiation, there's MRIs, I mean everything, even prosthetic hip replacements," said Sproat.
Figo is based out of Chicago and competes with about a dozen other pet insurance companies in the U.S.
"What most people don't know is that one out of every three Fortune 500 companies offers pet insurance as a supplemental employee benefit," explained Sproat.
Sproat predicts pet insurance will soon become the norm.
"We're no longer pet owners, we're pet parents. With the humanization of pets and the millennials we're making pets our children," he said.
Like most insurance policies, pet insurance coverage varies, and you should do your research.
Coverage varies depending on the breed and age of the pet. But to give you an idea, the average insurance policy for a dog is $43 a month. $30 a month for a cat.
Grieving your pet
Losing a pet can be very traumatic. The grief is in some ways similar to losing a loved one. After all, they are part of the family. But there are ways to help cope. Five on Your Side found resources to help make the tough times a little easier.
Reegan and Chris Armstrong know the pain of losing a four-legged friend all too well. Their beloved golden retriever Bourbon passed away from cancer last year.
At first they didn’t know what was wrong with Bourbon, he just started dragging his back legs a little. It was tough for him to walk up the stairs. So, they put him through extensive physical therapy treatments. After some x-rays, they got the news every pet owner dreads.
“When they did come back and say it was cancer I was kind of shocked. I was like 'whatever it takes, I don’t care. He can have chemo whatever we can find out with it,'” said Reegan.
“Obviously you go through some grief knowing it, you go through some anger you know why is this happening this is unfair,” said Reegan’s husband Chris.
After talking to some friends and getting second and third opinions, they found Dr. Dawnetta Woodruff. Dr. Woodruff in a hospice veterinarian who focuses on end-of-life visits with families and helps them cope with the loss of their pets.
“Information is helpful when we’re dealing with a difficult time. Dogs and cats don’t show us the same type of symptoms that a person does whenever were in pain. So, my biggest thing is education for people to help them see the signs that their pet is showing that they’re not comfortable that things aren’t perfect,” she said.
For Reegan and Chris, Dr. Woodruff was the guidance they needed to let go.
“It reassured me that I was doing the right thing. I felt more confident with my decision,” said Reegan.
Dr. Woodruff is one of only a handful of hospice vets in the St. Louis area. She helps families say goodbye from the comfort of their home where the smells and surroundings are familiar to their pets.
Most of us have been there at one time or another. All of a sudden, you notice your pet isn’t acting quite right. Maybe it’s a more obvious injury. What do you do? You can’t ask them what’s wrong. It could be anything. So, you rush to the vet. Thankfully there are some open 24/7. The vets inside are waiting to handle any emergency.
"You never know what’s going to walk through the door," said Dr. Michele Watson.
Dr. Watson works at the Animal Emergency Clinic in O’Fallon, Missouri. Her days are fast-paced. With today’s modern medicine, the procedures are extremely advanced.
"It’s happened on multiple occasions when I have a patient seizing, while I’m doing surgery, when I have another that’s bleeding over here," she explained.
ER veterinarians perform life-saving surgery at the drop of a hat, in a room with tools that are similar to what’s used for humans. And while there are a lot of success stories coming out of the ER surgery rooms, there are also a lot of tragic endings.
"Unfortunately that pet didn't make it," said Dr. Watson as she points to an x-ray of a dog who was hit by a car. After surgery, he passed away.
The people who care for our pets put their heart and soul into their work.
"I mean there are days that I just go home and cry because I’m just overwhelmed," she said.
It’s emotionally draining and the reward doesn’t come every day. So, why do these vets do it?
"You can have 10 bad cases, but then one really good case, and it can just remind me why I want to do it and it keeps me coming back."
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