Jun 19 2007

Fuzzbutt, R.I.P.

Before I tell you the this story, I have to confess that I am not a fan of cats. I know others love them, and I’m glad they do. But I’m very much a dog person, and while I’m happy to pet and hold a cat if s/he is willing, I just don’t find most of them to be as affectionate or people-oriented as dogs.

But Fuzzbutt was different. While my daughter, Becca, spent almost a year and a half traveling and living in other corners of the world, Fuzzbutt lived with me. This was before I remarried, and I shared Fuzzbutt only with my dog, Crosby. We grew to love Fuzzbutt, and when Becca was ready to move to California and settle down, taking Fuzzbutt with her, I really hated to see both of them go! Of course, I can talk to Becca, and Becca comes home to visit once a year. But my relationship with Fuzzbutt is only a delightful memory.

Today Becca called me. Through her sobs, she told me that Fuzzbutt had gotten gravely sick over the weekend, and they were at the vet’s. It seems that Fuzzbutt had either gotten into a fight with another animal, or perhaps had eaten something sharp, but somehow either her lung or her esophagus had been pierced.

Becca and her partner, Ed, had a decision to make. Expensive surgery was one option with only a 50/50 chance of being helpful, and no long term prognosis that was acceptable. Or, they could choose to put Fuzzbutt to sleep. Fuzzbutt was clearly suffering and decisions had to be made immediately.

We’ve all cried many tears now. We’ve said our good-byes to Fuzzbutt, and she is now in kitty heaven. The grief is intense. Fuzzbutt was a wonderful pet.

It occurs to me that there are some similarities, but many big differences, between this experience, and the catastrophe of a loved person who suddenly takes ill, gets in an accident, or faces some other life-threatening situation.

What about a second opinion? Becca trusted the vet who gave her the options, and I respect that. But I preach second opinions, as you know, and I can’t help but think there would be an added layer of certainty of choice with a second opinion. As people we almost always have that choice. And we should always choose a second opinion whenever possible in any life-challenging medical situation.

What about responsibility? Whenever someone we love who is also under our care is so quickly and intensely hurt or sick, not only is it extremely difficult to take care of the situation, and make the decisions that need to be made, but it’s almost impossible not to feel as if we could somehow have kept it from happening. I have no doubt Becca and Ed are feeling as if there was something they could have done to prevent Fuzzbutt from being injured as she was. Second guessing can’t help anything. And I can’t imagine there is anything either could have done to prevent Fuzzbutt’s injury. They were good and loving “parents” while Fuzzbutt was theirs. I hope they don’t try to accept any form of blame. I hope that’s true, too, for parents of children who get sick and injured. There are so few of these bad situations that can be prevented when a loving parent keeps the kind of watchful eye a parent normally needs to keep.

What about the “ultimate” decision? Becca and Ed were brave — and smart — to let Fuzzbutt go. It truly was the best choice that could have been made, especially for Fuzzbutt who would have suffered further and probably for no improvement. I always find it ironic that we have the legal capability to make those difficult decisions for our pets, but of course, have little ability to make those decisions for those people we love. Unless, of course, our loved one has taken the step to develop a health care proxy or a living will. I hope you will make sure you have a living will or health care proxy in place. Don’t make your loved ones suffer those kinds of decisions, or lack of ability to make them.

What about the cost? Healthcare is expensive, no matter whether it’s people or pets who are sick or hurt. The huge difference is that human healthcare cost is hidden because most payments are not direct. We pay our insurance premiums, our insurance companies pay the providers. Or we pay taxes, and Medicare pays the providers. Sometimes we pay directly out of our pockets, including co-pays and the difference between reimbursable amounts, but in most cases that is only a portion of the total cost.

Not true with pets. While health insurance for pets is available, I don’t believe too many owners take advantage of it. Therefore the cost is transparent. You know exactly what it’s going to cost when you go to the vet, and they expect payment before you walk out the door. If it seems like medical care for pets is less expensive than for humans, you also need to recognize that vets don’t have to employ an entire staff to do nothing but billing and insurance reimbursement chasing. They cut out the insurance layer, and the ‘savings’ get passed on to the pet owner.

And grief? Love is love. Despite the fact that society values the life of a person over a pet, you can’t tell someone who has just lost a dearly loved pet that the grief or pain are any different or the sense of loss is any less.

Fuzzbutt, my little grandcat, rest in peace. And know you were loved.

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