By: Dr. Jack Stephens
Since graduating from Veterinary School, protecting pet family members has been my mission. My observations back in the late 1970’s that economic hardship was often the culprit in pet owners not being able to restore a pet to health caused me to wonder how as a society we could overcome that obstacle.
One day as I pondered the solution to helping more pets and before I ever thought about starting a pet insurance company a lady and her daughter brought in a middle aged dog to my practice that was very ill. As I examined the pet the mother kept telling me that “I should do whatever it takes to heal Fluffy, she is family.” She related, “Fluffy and been in the family since her daughter was an infant and she was family.” The daughter was crying and the mother was consoling her. After a preliminary exam, I told her that Fluffy had a serious medical problem and that I needed to take some blood to test her liver, as she was showing symptoms of liver disease. The mother replied, “Do what ever it takes” over and over. I told her we may need additional test, to which she gave the same reply, “Do what ever it takes.” She was quite well dressed and they lived in an expensive house in an expensive community, all the trappings of success. As I started to review the preliminary estimate of the cost for initial treatment, hospitalization and the testing, the mother started asking “If Fluffy was suffering?” I replied that she was very ill and was feeling more like a severe flu, than pain. She stepped behind her daughter and kept repeating the new mantra, “We don’t want Fluffy to suffer” and would shake her head from side to side in the negative to me as a signal she did not want to pursue diagnosing and treating Fluffy. I replied that although she was ill, if we were successful we would have her back feeling good soon, but until I knew more there was no guarantee. The mother again replied “We do not want Fluffy to suffer.” I got the hint and replied there was another alternative for terminally ill pets, which was putting her to sleep (euthanasia). She immediately said “If I thought that was best for Fluffy then we should put her to sleep.” Again, I stated I did not think that best, but it was an option. The mother continued to assert only that option as best, signed the approval for euthanasia and left.
Several months later I was shopping in the local grocery store with my wife and we met the client and her daughter. She said hello and said to her daughter, “You remember Dr. Stephens don’t you dear?” The response changed my life.
Her response was, “Yes, he is the man that killed Fluffy!” I was stunned! I do not remember how the conversation ended, only that I was the villain who had caused that young girl to lose her beloved pet. As a veterinarian I only wanted to treat pets, I studied even more after I entered practice than I had in school, I agonized when I could not diagnose or cure a pet, now I was a villain! To that young girl I was at fault, not the real villain the family’s finances or their attitude toward pets. Appearances can be deceiving, I will admit. As a Veterinarian I have had clients who seemed to have no money, yet they provided very expensive care for their pet and like this lady who seemed to have much wealth, not willing to spend even the $300 I estimated was necessary to find out if we could save Fluffy. Again, was it the willingness, motivation or simply having the money that was the problem? So much for Fluffy being part of the family.
After that day, I resolved to never euthanize a pet that was not terminally ill. Others could do it, but I would not. Others could put a pet to sleep because the people were moving, the pet was ill, they simply did not want the pet any more, but not me. Of course, reality is not that simple, so there had to be another way to protect pets. That’s when I started my campaign to develop pet health insurance. I had no expertise in the field; remember I was not particularly a fan of insurance. But I knew if I was to really help pets on a large scale, there had to be a broad economic method, not my skills as a veterinarian helping one pet at a time. After that day, I started the campaign to develop Pet Insurance.
“The average dog is a nicer person than the average person.”