$12B pet cause

Owners spend huge on vet care
New York Post


Americans plunked down $12 billion on health-care last year — for their pets.

Whether it’s for expensive diagnostic scans, surgeries or, in some cases, treatments so radical that doctors are not yet allowed to perform them on humans, devoted pet owners are spending more than ever to save the lives of their beloved animals, experts told The Post.

“The bottom line is always doing what is best for the pet’s quality of life,” said Dr. Louise Murray, vice president of the ASPCA Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital on East 92nd Street.

Last year, Americans’ $12 billion in veterinary bills was about double what they spent a decade earlier, according to ASPCA figures.

PUPPY LOVE: Dr. Karen Oberthaler (left) examines Casujoe  yesterday as owner Cindy Ramos comforts her pit bull, who's recovering  from cancer surgery.

Veterinarians say the boost in spending is partly because of the availability of new medical procedures and technologies.

But the change is mostly caused by the greater role that cats and dogs have been given in the family, Murray said.

“The shift happened around the same time people started giving their pets human names instead of calling them Spot and Fido,” she said. “Yes, there is new technology, but the driving force is consumer demand.”

One downside to such advanced technology is that vets and pet owners now have to wrestle with weighing the ethics of subjecting cats and dogs to aggressive treatments.

At places such as the radiation suite at the Animal Medical Center on East 62nd Street, pet owners spend thousands of dollars on procedures.

The center’s new half-million-dollar, 3-D imaging scanner was a gift from an owner whose pet was saved at the research and teaching facility.

The AMC offers 24-hour emergency care using procedures like heart surgery, MRI and ultrasound.

Dr. Jim Dasbach, a vet at the Greenwich Village Animal Hospital, said it’s not unheard of for people to spend tens of thousands of dollars to extend a pet’s life by only months.

A billionaire client, whom Dasbach declined to identify, spent $20,000 on brain-tumor treatment for his 8-year-old bulldog.

“He didn’t care what it cost,” Dasbach said.

But such splurging is not limited to the wealthy.

“You’ll see people who will take out second mortgages out for their pet,” Dasbach said.

And the animal medical advances can help humans, too.

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, a new surgical technique to repair torn knee ligaments in dogs was so successful that it’s now being used on professional athletes, said hospital director Dr. William Gengler.


21G? ‘He’s part of the family’

Cindy Ramos has spent $21,000 to save her pit bull, Casujoe, and says it was worth every penny.

“I’ve had my dog for 13 years and he’s like part of the family,” said Ramos, 30, who teaches kindergarten in The Bronx.

The massive costs have racked up since a problem was discovered in March. Since then, a tumor in the pooch’s right hind leg has required several surgeries, including the amputation of the limb.

Although many people asked her, “Why didn’t you put him down?” Ramos, of Westchester, said she never considered that an option.

“It’s the same thing if a diabetic person had to get their leg amputated. I mean, he’s still full of life — why would I put him down for something that there’s a solution for?”

The treatment at NYC Veterinary Specialists on West 55th Street included, among other expenses, $5,500 for the surgery to remove the tumor, $3,400 for the amputation and another $1,000 yesterday to remove infected stitches.

Ramos says she and her sister are splitting the bills, each paying $500 to $1,000 a month.

“It’s been hard because I work as a teacher and taking off a lot of days, leaving early, it takes a toll on my financial status,” she said.

“But it’s definitely worth it. It’s all about having a good heart and doing what’s best to prolong his life.” Laurie Kamens


Chance to repay the love

Sparkles beat cancer.

The 14-year-old Javanese cat was diagnosed with nasal sarcoma last year, but after monthly chemotherapy and 18 rounds of radiation, he has managed to hang on to at least two or three of his nine lives.

Mary Cripps, 47, of Manhattan, said she never hesitated at spending $3,000 on the treatment at NYC Veterinary Specialists.

“I’m grateful to the doctors who did this; they’ve given him quality time for us and for her,” said Cripps, a health-care worker.

“I love my pet, he’s been a wonderful companion and extremely loving — he gives nothing but love and asks for nothing in return.”

Cripps brought Sparkles back to the hospital yesterday after he started sneezing blood, but the treatments appear to have been effective in reducing his tumor.

“When he gives so much to every member of the family, I feel like I owed it to him,” Cripps said. Laurie Kamens

This story was originally published Wednesday, July 21, 2010 in the New York Post.