As Angell Animal Medical Center turns 100, the Globe Magazine looks at its remarkable influence on veterinary medicine.
For me, 2014 was the year of felinus expensivus.
Let me put it another way: My cats cost me a fortune.
First Isabel — a persnickety creature with sleek black fur and a serious catnip habit — was diagnosed with cancer and by Valentine’s Day she’d moved on to Rainbow Bridge. In March, her sister, Peanut, started displaying asthma symptoms and then lost interest in food. Both cats had required multiple trips to Angell Animal Medical Center to see their veterinarian, Dr. Lisa Maciorakowski, and various specialists. That’s right, specialists.
With treatment, Peanut quickly resumed hoovering up meals. We didn’t see the inside of Angell’s cinder-block walls for months. Then she started walking a funny way and stopped hopping on the kitchen counter — which didn’t exactly displease me. It soon became clear she needed to be checked, and that’s when my anxiety set in. What would I do if I needed to pay for more than just a quick office visit? I had visions of moving in to my sister’s basement. But I’m like millions of pet-crazy Americans who consider their four-legged friends part of the family — meaning, I had to figure out what was wrong with her, even if it resulted in a heart-stopping bill.
So in September I found myself on the floor of an Angell orthopedic exam room with my cat. There was no exam table. The surgeon, Dr. Sue Casale, had asked me to let Peanut out of her crate to roam, and she sat on the floor observing the little brown tiger cat’s gait before scooping her up. She held Peanut in her lap, first gently scratching behind her ears, then beginning the physical examination. Casale bent and unbent Peanut’s hind legs, felt the bones for deformities, and tested both kneecaps. Mellow by nature, Peanut offered no resistance, though she looked dubious and shed about a pound of fur onto the doctor’s blue scrubs. When Casale released her, Peanut hobbled off and burrowed under the beach towel from her crate. Clearly she hoped the exam was over.
Peanut’s left patella was popping out of position, said Casale, explaining that’s why she’d falter mid-stride or mid-jump. She used a model of a knee joint to demonstrate. While she flipped the plastic patella back and forth, all I could think was: Cats have kneecaps?
The treatment involves surgery, she added.
Trying not to sound like Cruella De Vil, I asked the question to which I really didn’t want the answer: How much?
Around $2,500, she estimated.
I wanted to crawl under that orange, green, and black towel with Peanut. That’s more than double what I usually paid annually for food, litter, scratching posts, catnip, and routine vet visits for two cats. Plus, I was still trying to cover the earlier vet bills.
I asked Casale two things: Is Peanut in pain? And does this need to be done immediately?
No and no, Casale said. Her answers were a relief. At least I’d have some time to figure out how to handle the surgery and my rent without testing my sister’s hospitality.
During Isabel’s illness, grief had driven my decisions. There was no real thinking or planning. I just handed over my credit card and ignored the soaring balance. My only goal was to keep her comfortable. When Peanut started having issues, I was freshly heartbroken over Isabel; not wanting to risk another loss, I handed over the plastic again.
By September, however, I was back to my practical mind-set: I needed to rework my budget. So I got my act together, which included applying for CareCredit — a credit card for certain health bills that doesn’t charge interest if you pay the balance within a set period — and cutting down on eating out and my cable bill. Then I booked Peanut’s surgery.
No doubt $2,500 is a lot to spend on anything for a 12-pound fuzzball. But to me there was no choice. It wasn’t like splurging on a Caribbean vacation. I made a commitment to care for Peanut, and she has lots of life left in her. Of course I’d find some way to pay.
One of my co-workers jokes that when cats hit 10 their warranties expire and they begin falling apart — like when humans turn 40. He may be onto something. Isabel and Peanut, who came from the same litter, were 9 years, 8 months when suddenly we became regulars at Angell. Maybe I should consider pet insurance? About 4 percent of pet owners had it in 2014. I got an online quote for $34.94 per month to provide $5,000 a year in coverage for Peanut.
In the meantime, Peanut has the spring back in her step. She can easily run for cover when her new kid brother, P.T., chases her around. He’s only 4. So I’ve got six years left on his warranty. I hope.
Stacey Myers is a member of the Globe Magazine staff. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.