Monday, July 27, 2009

Difficult Choices for pet owners

Rising veterinary bills present pet owners with a painful choice
When an animal gets sick, owner faces dilemma: Pay thousands in pet health care or forgo treatment

By Josh Noel Tribune reporter
July 25, 2009

When Teresa turned sluggish and started wearing out her litter box four years ago, Rich and Cheryl Mealle brought their black, short-haired cat to the vet. The news was bad.Though just 4, Teresa suffered from advanced kidney failure. The one hope: a kidney transplant at the University of Wisconsin's veterinary school in Madison.The Mealles had the means to pay for the procedure, even if it meant living without a new car or postponing their oft-discussed trip to Italy for another year. But the Naperville couple wondered whether it was right to spend so much money on a cat -- especially with so much human suffering in the world.Such is the quandary of today's pet ownership. Veterinary care has become the fastest-growing sector of the pet industry, and its spiraling costs have left pet owners with increasingly expensive animals and tough decisions that previous generations never faced.
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"There were heart-wrenching questions," said Cheryl Mealle, 40, a physical therapist. "But my husband and I have not been blessed with children. God gives you other things to take care of, and we felt we had a responsibility to take care of her to the best ability we could."Fourteen thousand dollars later, Teresa was healthy again. The Mealles also came away with another cat: As part of the agreement with the university, they adopted the donor cat, which had been raised by a private company for organ harvesting or medical research.Not everyone can sign up for expensive pet care. After dropping $1,500 to have a malignant tumor removed from Misty, their 2-year-old beagle, Mike and Cindy Santay of Downers Grove opted against the follow-up $5,000 radiation treatments. Their three children attend private school, and they couldn't justify the expense."The first thing was the money," said Cindy Santay, 46.Added her husband: "A dog is a good companion, but it's not like our family couldn't go on without her."The Santays, first-time dog owners, have been lucky; a year later, Misty is doing fine without the radiation. But her illness was a jarring introduction to the increasingly high stakes of pet ownership. Fueled by an ever-growing slate of veterinary services -- from oncology to organ transplants to, yes, CAT scans -- vet care spending will reach an estimated $12.2 billion in 2009, up from $11.1 billion in 2008, according to the American Pet Products Association.The average dog or cat owner spends about $200 annually on vet visits, according to The Humane Society of the United States. But whether to fork over thousands of dollars more because Fluffy ate a bag of rubber bands can be complicated by factors such as the wobbly economy and the fact that unlike human medical care, pet care is usually paid out of pocket.Jacque Green of the Responsible Pet Owners Alliance, based in San Antonio, said she gets dozens of calls per week from desperate pet owners who say they can't afford their vet bills."I tell them the only thing they can do is ask their vet and see if they'll work with them," she said. "If not, call the vets around town and see if they'll work with you. That's all you can do."Veterinarians say their jobs have become more difficult, especially recently. Because of economic factors, pet owners are waiting longer to bring in their animals for visits, sometimes despite signs of illness, and conversations about finances are getting sharper."Cost is a huge part of the job I wasn't expecting and never wanted," said Amy Ujiki, 32, a veterinarian at Family Pet Animal Hospitalon the North Side, which solicits donations at the front counter for pet owners who struggle to afford care. "I'm not a business person, and I didn't go into this business to discuss finances."Ideally, Ujiki said, she'll run baseline blood work when diagnosing an ailment, but where a human doctor can run such a test as standard procedure, knowing that insurance will cover the costs, pet owners are increasingly balking."Some people are -- and I don't know where it comes from -- they're skeptical of veterinarians. If I offer blood work as part of our protocol, there are some clients that say, 'Why would I do that?' " Ujiki said. "We're having those conversations more and more frequently."Industry observers say there are likely some vets who are overanxious, resulting in more tests -- but so are some people doctors. A good vet will be forthright and open about costs, so ask questions, said Sharon Granskog of the American Veterinary Medical Association."With veterinary medicine, it's always been difficult because there's a lot that veterinarians can do for pets, but it is costly," she said. "It's important to talk with your vet about what tests they want to run and what they hope to accomplish."The cost spike has made pet insurance increasingly popular. The number of pet insurance policies in North America grew from 610,000 in 2005 to 850,000 in 2007, according to figures in a study commissioned by the National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues. Policies can run from the low hundreds to thousands per year depending on the breed, age and sex of the animal.Christine Merle, an Indianapolis-based veterinary consultant and co-author of the study, said the policies should be thought of as more akin to car insurance than human health insurance: You're hedging your bets against paying out of pocket should catastrophe strike."It's like indemnity insurance," Merle said. "For individuals looking at how to reduce the cost of vet care, especially the accident and illness side, and who don't want to have to make a financial decision, it can be useful. Is it for everyone? No."Several vets said the backup plan for people without pet insurance is usually a service such as CareCredit, an emergency credit service for medical procedures, both human and pet.CareCredit -- and raiding her condominium fund -- is how Jessica Weiss, 27, of Evanston saved her cat, Oscar, two years ago after she noticed he hadn't eaten for three days. An X-ray showed his stomach full of the elastic hair bands Weiss used. She didn't hesitate to spend $800 for the surgery, but Oscar didn't respond well to the anesthesia, sending him to an incubator and ventilator for five days. She ended up spending more than $4,000 -- $2,800 coming from the condo fund and $1,500 from CareCredit. She's still saving for that condo, but without regret."I always knew I would pay it," Weiss said. "Everyone at my work said they wouldn't have done it. They said, 'It's just a cat!' I don't pay them a lot of mind. I tell them he's my family and that's what you do."Though not always. When her large goldfish of eight years, Bernard, developed a tumor on its eye, the vet told Weiss the growth could be removed and the fish kept alive with twice-daily shots to the eye socket.The fish's advanced age and her own squeamishness about sticking a needle in Bernard's eye led Weiss to have the fish put to sleep. It cost $

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Free Rides for Seniors

Reprinted with permission of Skyline News

3/11/2009 10:00:00 PM
Felicia Dechter

CTA rides means freedom for seniors

Heart of the 'hood
Last week, I got on the bus at the urging of Lake View resident and senior citizen Charlotte Newfeld, who wanted me to not only see how many seniors use their free rides, but also what those rides mean to them.
Charlotte and I got on the Broadway bus at Cornelia, and rode to Foster Avenue. Right off the bat, I couldn't help grumbling at the $2.25 I had to pay without being able to buy a transfer. The short ride to Foster and back cost me $4.50. I remember when you could get a transfer for a quarter, and use it a bunch of times.
Seventeen percent of the city's seniors live below the poverty level, and 13 percent have incomes significantly lower than that, a city source told me. And Social Security averages $13,000 per year, leaving some seniors without money for basic necessities. Income is a huge obstacle.
Charlotte says getting older means "more and more" isolation. The free rides help people get out, and they talk to each other on the bus. We found seniors coming from church, the doctor's office, volunteering, etc. They shop, go to the library, see their friends and do things they might otherwise not be able to. We went out at lunchtime, and there were dozens of seniors riding and plenty of seats.
"Seniors aren't riding at rush hour and taking up space ... it's too dangerous unless you're athletic," Charlotte says. "These buses would be running empty."
"The bus is a communal thing," she added. "You might not always like who's on it..."
Our bus driver, Jose Rodriguez, says the CTA is trying to take the freebie away and charge $1 by summer. "It's coming for sure," he says. "Ninety-five percent of the big guys agree on it." Yet Rodriguez says he doesn't.
"What's fair is fair, come on," he says.
Edgewater resident Beverly Stormont, 80, rides every day. Her church at Addison and Broadway holds senior meetings, exercise classes, a book club, show movies, etc. "I think the CTA is the best thing Chicago has," she says.
Barbara Bell, an Uptown senior, says, "When you're low income, it helps a whole bunch.
Now I don't have to sit and wait for somebody to come pick me up."
Lake View resident Jessica Vance rides the bus to see the doctor and to do volunteer work, and Lincoln Parker Nomy Jose shops, goes to the doc, and keeps active with free rides. Laura Ramirez, of Andersonville, said it gets people out more to shop in the community, and Rogers Parker Delores Tronstad - out shopping for a birthday present - told me, "It comes in very handy."
No matter what they were doing, one thing was crystal clear: seniors rely on the free rides. I hope the "big guys" will think long and hard about that.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Tell Me Where It Hurts, an incredible read

Tell Me Where It Hurts, by Dr. Nick Trout

This is a wonderful book about people's devotion to their pets. In particular the heart wrenching tale of a senior and his German Shepherd and the depth of his attachment to his dog. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in all kinds of animals an for those who ever wondered about the life of a vet. I'm reading it for the second time.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Don't forget the birds!

Below is a link to an article about wild birds in Chicago. The woman in the article is a very active senior (and pet owner) as are many of the volunteers who care for this bird sanctuary located near Chicago's lakefront. And oh yeah, she's my mother.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Honey & The Moose

Here's a little video of my dog Honey and her doggie friend and neighbor Moose. Enjoy!

First entry on new blog

I'm Julie Newfeld, President and co-founder of Pet Support for Seniors. That's me to the left, with my dog Bronson (lying on the grass) and Honey (in my arms).

Pet Support for Seniors (PSS). PSS grew from my experiences as a Social Worker working with low-income seniors in Chicago. In my work I found many seniors with pets who were struggling to pay for pet food and other pet related expenses. Some were sharing what little food they had with their pets, others not getting the medicine they needed or paying utility bills or even avoiding needed hospital visits in order to care for their furry friends.

Many were scrimping by, living on as little as $600.00 per month. Many seniors had to give up their pets as a result. It's heartbreaking to think of people having to give up their only source of comfort, warmth and companionship because they don't have the necessary resources to keep them.

My husband Greg Pranski, and friends Jill Donovan and Rob Bagstad, all life long pet lovers decided to start this new non-profit as a way to help these seniors keep and care for their pets.

With this blog I hope to chronicle the growth of our organization. I'll keep you posted as to what we are up to. You can also visit our website for more information.

I welcome any and all suggestions, and comments that will add to our knowledge and experiences for our fledgling non-profit. Thanks for tuning in, and please join me often.