by Lisa Stahr
Something we hear regularly from our rehab clients at Scout’s House—especially the new ones—is, “My friends think I’m nuts for spending this kind of money on my dog, but I love her so much and I can’t stand to see her like this.”
Every time I hear that, I’m struck by how judgmental some people can be when a friend or family member spends money on a pet.
I know there are all sorts of arguments you can make about the ethics of spending money on animals, but to me it comes down to one thing: Love.
When someone you love is in trouble and needs help, you help, and most of the time you don’t think twice about doing it. And whether you realize it or not, your reasons for helping aren’t completely altruistic: You do it because it makes your life better too. And why is that? Because you love them. They bring something to your life that makes you feel good. They make you laugh, they keep you company, or maybe they just soothe your soul at the end of a day. For whatever reason, you love them and so when they hurt or suffer, you hurt and suffer too. And, heaven forbid, when they die, a part of you dies with them.
Love is important to us as human beings. It’s so integral to our happiness and well being that we seek it out and nurture it whenever and wherever we can. We look for love. We thrive with love. And if we don’t have love, we wither, just like plants that never see the sun. Love is so critical to our survival that we’ll go to great lengths to keep it. And often, especially for those of us who love our pets as family, that means we spend money on them. Sometimes, a lot of money.
People who don’t have pets, or who don’t relate to their pets in the same way, don’t understand why we do that. They criticize us for our choices or they tell us that what we’re doing is wrong, misguided, unethical, or wasteful. When our dog Scout was sick, my husband and I took a lot of heat from family and friends for spending money on her care. Thankfully, we didn’t listen to them. We recognized that it was our money and our choice and if other people, including our immediate family members, didn’t agree with our decision, that was their problem. We loved Scout and we didn’t want to lose her; losing her would mean losing love and that, in turn, would undermine our happiness. It would uproot our lives, impact our bodies and change the chemistry in our brains.
And it would break our hearts.
Looking deeper, though, the disapproval people felt obliged to share with us about Scout subtly conveyed the message that she wasn’t worth saving. Well, I have news for you, Scout was worth saving. Forget that she launched a business that has impacted the lives of thousands of animals and their owners, Scout was special to us. She made us happy. And she taught us that just because an animal is disabled doesn’t mean she’s disposable.
But that’s something I think I always knew. When I was just out of college, I adopted an 8-year-old Manx cat who everyone else passed over at the SPCA. And one day, I took her to the veterinarian because she leaked urine when she slept. At the time, I didn’t realize that Manx cats, like Bear, often had incontinence issues, but the vet I saw explained that to me, then in the next breath, he casually recommended that I put Bear to sleep and get another cat who didn’t leak.
“There are plenty of other cats out there who need homes,” he said. “Put this one to sleep and go get one that works for you.”
Oh. My. God.
I clutched Bear to my breast and ran out of there as fast as I could. Yes, he was right, there were plenty of other pets out there looking for homes. But that didn’t mean I wanted to get rid of the one I had and buy another. I loved that cat. That personality. To me, Bear was a sentient being, not a garage door opener. And emotionally, I understood then she was disabled, not disposable. Those are two very different things.
It’s no wonder I ended up starting a physical rehabilitation therapy center for special needs pets. And why we grew that business to encompass boarding and daycare so that the owners of special needs animals can go on vacation once in awhile and know that their family members will be cared for correctly and with compassion.
And it’s no wonder I never went back to that veterinarian. I’m sorry to say he’s still in practice in our area and who knows how many dogs and cats have been put to sleep because he couldn’t see beyond their disabilities. Today, I understand that his limited vision as a veterinarian (let alone as a compassionate person) has cost him much more dearly than he will ever know. Many of his clients have come to Scout’s House after seeing him and told us a similar tale. Thankfully, they didn’t listen to him either and we were able to help their pets recover—or sometimes even just maintain—a level of functionality that he couldn’t imagine.
But thanks to him and “well-meaning” family and friends, I’ve been forced over the years to really think about why I find their admonitions so offensive. And I’ve realized it’s because I cherish the animals I’ve had the honor to live with and I respect their right to live. And for the ones who have disabilities—as Bear and Scout did—I understand that just because they’re disabled doesn’t mean they’re disposable.
So text that 50 times to your friend next time she tells you you’re crazy to spend your money on your cat, or repeat it like a mantra to your family when they say you shouldn’t spend money on surgery or rehab therapy for your dog.
It’s all about love, people. And disabled pets are just as lovable as able-bodied ones.