Don't Judge Me by How Much I Spend on My Pet's Health Care

Medical billing statement
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Last week, the Wall Street Journal featured a piece on outsize pet expenses. When Max the Wonder Dog maxes out your credit card with his cancer therapy, ACL tear or penchant for eating rocks, even the WSJ starts to take veterinary medicine somewhat seriously.

Now that pet expenses have climbed precipitously (on par with similar double-digit percentage point increases in the cost of human health care), veterinary medicine has become shockingly expensive in some cases –– prohibitively so for a great many. We’re talking four-figure invoices for anything but the most routine surgeries. And estimates well into the five-figure range for pretty standard cancer therapy.

With that kind of sticker shock, is it any wonder that the paper felt fit to delve into the issue on the front page of the "Personal Journal." I think not.

Nonetheless, there was one aspect of the piece I took issue with, something I’ve often had cause to take up with the paper's editorial staff on things pet related: They always relegate the pet stuff to the gee-whiz section, as if truly impressive animal health care expenses aren’t worthy of a serious discussion.

After all, cars, movies, TV and fashion all get solemn evaluation in the "Marketplace" section, and sometimes even the finance and front pages. So why diss the animals when it’s clear the financial aspect of pet keeping –– animal health, in particular –– contributes significantly to this country's GDP?

Perhaps it's because spending big money on pets isn't yet considered commonplace enough to adequately inspire the paper's editors. Although I assume these individuals count themselves among those willing to dish out a sizable sum for their own pets’ health care, which I judge based on their recurring willingness to tackle animal themes, albeit in their “fluff” sections.

But I do get why many people, including some of the WSJ editors marvel at the expenditure. I’m not incapable of understanding that plenty of non-pet types view heavy spending on animals as obscene. “It’s a pet. Get over it!” they’re likely to exclaim.

So why the bias that says it’s OK to spend $40,000 on your car’s luxury upgrades and $50,000 on composite quartz countertops, yet it’s déclassé to spend serious bucks on the dog-cat front?

Back to the WSJ piece, when the family featured in the article purportedly maxes out a credit card on Max, the implication is twofold:

1. Max is dearly loved and the expenses represent a significant trend worthy of consideration.

2. Max’s family is a tad touched in the head for spending 10 grand in two years on a pet while living on a medical paraprofessional’s relatively meager salary.

It kind of annoys me, you know. If there’s anything that rings untrue about articles like this, it is that they’re almost invariably indicting those of us who are willing to go out on a financial limb for our pets (myself included). It's as if there’s something unnatural about spending more money on our pets than on a luxury vehicle or kitchen remodel.

Did they never get the “it takes all kinds” memo? Not all of us go mad for leathered cars and quartzified counters, you know?

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