My dog’s death in Seattle trigggers thoughts about economics

Roswell in 2009 at “age 91”

Of all the places I’ve lived–and that’s a bunch–it’s hard to top Seattle when it comes to a local love for dogs. With so many residents having two or three, I frequently observe more canines walking along sidewalks than humans. Since I became New To Seattle this summer, the number of dogs I see on a daily basis beats anything I witnessed when I lived years ago in New York City. And that’s a place so dog-driven it forced enactment of one of the nation’s first pick-up-after-your-pooch laws. To me, man’s best friend in Seattle seems more popular than even iPhones.

I, too, was a Seattle dog owner–for all of 10 days. That’s when we made the very difficult decision to put down Roswell, our basset hound so friendly she actually purred like a cat every time someone rubbed her stomach or pet her head.

Reference works say 50% of bassets die from bloat, cancer or heart problems.
Rozzie had all three, and then some, including, as it turned out,  insurmountable stomach issues. They left her in a coma before we authorized a shot of pentobarbital, which humanely stopped her breathing in less than 10 seconds.

It fell to me to be the family witness to her passing.

Roswell (named after the town in her native New Mexico infamous for a bogus alien spaceship crash) died six weeks short of her 15th birthday. That’s more than three years longer than the lifespan of the average basset, and 104 in dog years. So she had a pretty good ride. That’s especially true if you don’t count the day a decade ago when a boxer bolted out of a house along the Albuquerque street named for Nobel Peace Prize winner Martin Luther King Jr. and tried to take off one of her floppy ears.

The purpose of this post is not to lament the passing of a gentle, affectionate dog or to elicit sympathy from acquaintances and total strangers in my new place of habitual abode. It’s to ponder the economics of dog ownership and the trade-offs that entails.

Why explore dogs? Well, it’s considered bad form to openly put a value on the life of a human. Of course, this is done quietly across the country all the time in wrongful-death lawsuits, government rule-making and private-sector decision-making on safety issues like whether there should be more steel in that tiny car.

Even though they become family members, dogs are a lot easier to discuss, even if just as emotionally. And the issues bear more than a passing similarity to the great national debate over health care costs and insurance (for humans) and, more broadly, the proper allocation of limited resources.

Obama and Boehner, pay attention!

Thanks to the magic of a 20-year-long Quicken file and my bean-counter personality, I know to the penny what Rozzie cost since her birth in Albuquerque on September 2, 1996. The total: $36,846.24. That included the $250.00 we paid for her on October 18, 1996, six weeks after her birth, and the expenses attendant to her final illness, about which more in a bit.

The average yearly cost was $2,456.42, or slightly more than $200.00 a month. If that seems high to you, that seems high to me, too. But it’s not just because we lived seven years in high-cost California, where some greedy veterinarians marking up the expensive drugs they sold routinely violated state law by refusing to give written prescriptions that could be shopped around for a lower price.

Here’s the main reason. Of the $36,846.24, a whopping 70%–$25,924.29–went for all kinds of medical bills. Put another way, aside from health-care expenses, the warmth that Rozzie generated cost us just $2 a day every day of her life. But her collective medical bills boosted that figure by 237% to $6.73 a day.

Expressed on a daily basis, that still may not seem like so much. But it’s roughly equal to three off-peak trips on Seattle’s wildly overpriced mass-transit system or 4 1/2 servings of Starbucks‘ smallest brew. It’s 22% of the amount the U.S. considers the poverty line for a single human. It’s even sufficient to feed a half-dozen kids in Africa.

Rozzie’s health-care expenses certainly were formidable.  They ranged from routine shots and treatment for all kinds of infections to expensive surgeries on various parts of her rather long body. These procedures included everything from an elongated leg to a twisted stomach to removal of growths attributable to cancer (with which she was diagnosed three times in California).

This tab included medicines and supplements. Near the end of her life Rozzie was taking 12 pills a day as well as iron drops and a daily anti-arthritis squirt. The top of the kitchen microwave oven where we kept her meds looked like a drug warehouse.

For humans it is said that health-care costs peak in the first and last year of life. I’m not so sure that holds for a dog’s entry into the world, which generally doesn’t involve a hospital stay; Rozzie’s first year health-care tab was just $347.00.

But it certainly was true for her exit.

In her last three years of life, Rozzie’s health care bills amounted to $16,217.49–nearly half the entire lifetime cost of her support.

The medical bills for her final 12 months was $6,973.73, the highest of any one-year period in her life.

The bill for her last hour as a living being on earth: $918.09.

That was the tab after she was rushed to a Seattle animal hospital on a sunny afternoon for the second time in two days, barely awake after not eating or drinking.  The charges included $150.80 for X-rays, $195.90 for CPR (Rozzie had a heart attack), $146.95 to set up an IV, $40.79 for meds and $110.25 for abdomininocentesis, the removal with a needle of fluid build-up.

And $176.15 for Rozzie’s euthanasia and routine cremation–all collected, of course, in advance.

I declined in writing the opportunity to pay a lot more for a “private cremation” that would have returned her ashes in my choice of a wooden box or ceramic urn. My memories of her joyous life were sufficient.

And free. Or at least pre-paid.

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My dog’s death in Seattle trigggers thoughts about economics — 11 Comments

  1. A column which resonates with us right now, to say the least. Always enjoyed hearing about Roswell, and looking forward to reading about your adventures with your new little girl.

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  6. Dear friends, I am also saddened by your loss. Rossie was always an invitation for chatting and petting with neighbors and strangers. People would see her and seek her out, movie people and random kids – she’s a real treasure. You’re right priceless. Hey Bill, how have your walks changed? I wonder if you look like the Gorden’s Fishermen. lol Love to you both.

  7. sorry for your loss, Bill, but (not surprised) this is a pretty lucid illustration of the health care problems in America. I’m going to share this with some other journos. I’d say we miss you in LA but I’m stuck in sweltering NYC for the time being and thinking how nice it would be to have a constant drizzle cooling me off.

  8. it is never easy to say goodbye to a dear friend…interesting that she waited until you had moved to make her grand exit–what a pal!

  9. Hi William, so sorry to hear about Roswell”s passing. He was a great dog who brought joy to everyone who he met. He will surely be missed. Take care. Sincerely, Steven

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