Thursday, March 26, 2009

Veterinary Insurance - It's a Good Thing!

This week lovely Surprise (seven years old, and should know better) did some unlovely things....

On Monday morning, a really putrid smell spread through the house. Having checked the floors for any evidence of an "accident", and finding none, I assumed that one of the girls was having some indigestion and gas.

Soon, I heard the tell tale signs of a dog vomiting, and when I tracked down Surprise, found the source of the stench.

That evening, Surprise refused her dinner. Hunger strikes are not in her usual repertoire, so I became pretty concerned. She trembled through much of the evening - a clear sign of distress or pain in most dogs, but eventually fell asleep and seemed comfortable through the night when I checked on her.

Tuesday morning, Surprise seemed back to her self. She ate breakfast with gusto (she would probably say "well, duh! I missed dinner the night before!"). Alas, about a half-hour later, up it came, undigested.

Surprise has been a serial rock eater since she was about 9 months old. During her most active rock-eating period, she had surgery to remove rocks from her gut 4 times, and had three other incidents in which she successfully passed rocks that she had swallowed. Although I've not seen evidence of rock eating over the past five years (and she's been supervised a LOT!), when Surprise vomits, Surprise gets x-rayed....

Off we went to the vet, where a quick x-ray revealed that she had an upset, gassy stomach, but no rock. She's been chewing on some sticks lately, so it's possible that the extra roughage irritated her gut. She got a shot for quick relief and a couple of days of follow up meds, and I got instructions to withhold food for 24 hours. She's been fine since, happily eating - and keeping down - the breakfast she got on Wednesday morning and meals since.

In all this, I never hesitated to take Surprise to the vet - in large part because she's insured. I carry a Pet Care Insurance (www.petcareinsurance) Quick Care accident-only policy on Surprise, and on two other young dogs. While this is not comprehensive insurance - it doesn't cover many illnesses - it does cover the unpredictable emergency costs involved when dogs eat foreign objects like rocks or remote controls, when they get hit by a car, torn up in a dog fight, or break bones in a fall or other accident.

Because of the insurance, I knew that I could afford the bill, even if it involved surgery... In this case, I won't make a claim - the costs were really pretty moderate at under $200, and I want to keep insurance for the big gun bills, such as rock surgery that runs about $1,500-$2,000. But I didn't have to think about that choice at all at the time.

Pet Care Insurance is not the only company providing veterinary coverage. VPI, the AKC Pet Healthcare Plan, and Pet Plan are three of the other major providers. Depending on the breed of your dog, your personal needs, and your dog's history, one or the other may be your best choice. I like Pet Care Insurance for their responsive customer care, fixed $50 co-pay per incident, and choice of coverage packages - but your mileage may vary....

There are certainly more comprehensive coverages available - including some that provide cancer riders for chemotherapy. For me, living with five dogs, those are not cost effective. The monthly costs to cover all the dogs would add up to more than I will generally need for routine care, especially since I work closely with my vet and am able to do a lot of care at home, including things like administering fluids and giving shots. And my personal choice in the face of cancer or other catastrophic illness is to make my dog as comfortable as possible as long as possible without extreme intervention - and then let them go peacefully.

But for those who buy my puppies, and those who adopt dogs from me through rescue, I strongly recommend the accident only coverage particularly for young dogs, for dogs that have proven that they are risk takers (rock eaters, fence jumpers, escape artists), and for dogs who go to dog parks (I know two really sweet Greyhounds who were nailed by other dogs at dog parks in separate incidents).

So think....Do you roll your eyes when you take the remote out of your dog's mouth? Does a good part of your conversation consist of amusing stories of things your dog has eaten? Do you have a puppy under the age of 2? If the answer to any of these is yes, then ask one more question: Are you independently wealthy?

If the answer is no, you might want to think about veterinary insurance!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

A long day in dogs!

Aretha, my nearly-two-year-old girl, was entered at the Seattle Kennel Club today. Luck of the draw, we had an 8 AM ring time. Since I live an hour + away, it was an early morning.

We were also invited to participate in Meet the Breed, an educational event put on by the kennel club. The breed club (in our case, the Basset Hound Club of Greater Seattle), is asked to supply 2 to 4 dogs of the breed, and you gather in a ring set up for the purpose so members of the general public can come by and meet the dogs, talk with you about them, and get their questions answered. To fill out the numbers, I took Emmy as well as Aretha, although Emmy was not entered in the show. Another member of the club brought her girl as well.

As far as Aretha was concerned, this was definitely the day's highlight. A lot of families with children come to Meet the Breed, and she spent a happy forty minutes or so kissing babies (she'd make a GREAT political candidate!), having her ears and belly rubbed, and generally being fussed over. I'm sure if she could speak, she'd tell me that she'd like it if the judges took this approach at dog shows also.

Emmy also enjoyed the attention, and in all, the girls had a great day. After all that, we bundled back up in the car, and headed home.

Alas, rest was brief. By 1 PM, I was back on the road again, this time in my rescue mode. Zoe, a sweet eight or nine year old girl, came into the Olympia shelter the other day as a stray. She was microchipped, so the shelter was able to contact her owners. They decided not to come get her, as they say she has been climbing the fence and getting out of the yard. Personally, I'm not sure how an elder Basset girl is climbing fences, but perhaps it's not very tall.

Anyway, she needs a home, so off I went to the Olympia shelter, picked her up, and went straight back to the show to drop her off with her new foster dad. Had I not had such an early morning in the ring, I could have done it all in one trip, but instead, it was another 120 miles round-trip to get her up to Seattle.

Tomorrow looms with another 8 AM ring time. And tonight is the change over to Daylight Savings Time, so I lose an hour. Thank goodness for the 24 hour Starbucks about 20 minutes up the road towards Seattle!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Pup Mail

Last summer, I raised a litter of Basset Hound puppies. I've written about their mother Millie, the very-busy-a-little-Beagly Basset girl who came in to the shelter pregnant and came with her pups to me after the birth, below.

Lately, I've had a few messages about the pups. Lexie, who lives up near Tacoma, has just been spayed. She's recuperating this week from her surgery, which I suspect will only slow her down for a couple of days at the most - she's taking after her mother in her activity level.

And a couple of weeks ago, I heard from Oscar's new mom. He's growing into quite the boy - and Bernice, the elder gal in the household, has got him firmly in paw.

Yesterday, a Basset belonging to a friend and mentor of mine had a litter of 10 puppies. I'm looking forward to visiting with them, perhaps this weekend. There's very little that relaxes me as much as cuddling a sleeping pup. If you sit quietly with them, they'll crawl up on your chest, push their little noses against your neck, and sigh into a nice deep sleep. Ahh, puppy murmurs!

No matter whether they are a litter from rescue, or a litter carefully planned for and bred, puppies have the same life at my house - and are as all-consuming. The first week or so, I sleep on the floor next to the whelping box. That way I can hear Momma if she needs to go out, and the puppies if something starts to go wrong. The first week or 10 days, there's really very little sleep, if you're being careful with the litter.

Even past that point, puppies are fragile, like babies - although even smaller. Things can go south for them - dehydration, a little virus brought in unawares on someone's clothing from a dog they passed by, a chill - very quickly. Millie's litter all came down with something around 2 or 3 weeks of age. They were all congested and snotty, and when puppies are snotty they don't eat, which means they can dehydrate very fast. I made them a tent, and ran a humidifier under it to keep their nasal passages open, and gave them fluids to keep them from crashing. It was another week of lost sleep, up every couple of hours to check on them, check their gums for dryness and give them their every-four-hours-around-the-clock medication.

Even with all that, the first month is magical. The puppies are all cuddles. When they are resting, they twitch and move constantly. In fact, one of the signs that a pup is not well is when it stays in one place while sleeping. All that twitching is their nervous system developing - a pup too quiet in sleep is a pup that may well be failing, and needs help fast.

Once their eyes open, at a few weeks, they start to hoist up onto their little legs and lurch in each other's direction, falling together in piles and growling like little bears as they start to learn the basics of play.

That's when the real work starts....socialization, play, stimulation, all these are critical in raising pups who will be good family members - for their people and for other dogs in the home. Puppies raised here stay until 12 weeks at least. The show puppies stay longer, while I sort out who's staying, who's going off to good homes.

By the time the pups this summer left, they each had a place in my heart for good. They are off to their new lives, but they will always be "my kids". I love getting emails and calls about the pups - it's great to hear that they are off to their new lives successfully. At the same time, they will always be welcome home - whether it's for visits or because life didn't turn out quite how we all hoped.

Today I was at the local shelter, checking in on an 8 year old Basset who came in as a stray. When her owners were notified she had been picked up, they declined to come get her. She's been climbing out their fence when she was left in the yard all day. With luck, this weekend she'll be safe in foster care, and we'll figure out from there a good home for her.

One day eight years ago or so, she was a little snuffling and twitching puppy. I guess her family didn't know her then - or they couldn't have let her go, could they?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

We're all awfully bored here, human!

I've been working on deadline for the past week, and will be for the next few days. You would think this would please the Bassets. After all, I'm home with them all day - virtually chained to my desk, so an easy target for the random cookie-begging or the scratch-my-itch bump on the arm.

Alas, they are bored. B-O-R-E-D, I tell you! Or rather, they tell me...

There is a lot of rolling of eyes, stretching and moaning, and coming in to see are-you-done-yet-can-you-come-out-in-the-yard-yet-why-are-you-just-sitting-there-with-the-clicky-clack-machine.

But I'm not done, instead I'm still here typing.

Big Basset sighs. Oh, boredom. Maybe we'll go off to the living room and see if there's something we can chew on. That makes noise. That gets her attention. That makes her get up and talk to us, play with us, rub our bellies.

Maybe, if we get a good rumble going, she'll remember she's part of the pack, and get down on the floor with us for a while, the way she's supposed to.

Wednesday, kids, I tell them. Wednesday - it'll be done or not by then, the deadline come and gone. We'll be out in the yard then.