A dilemma such as this one is new in the history of pet owning. Sixty years ago, the average pet owner could expect to spend at most a couple of hundred dollars for care during the entire life span of his or her pet. Now the lifetime cost of the American pet could reach $60,000, and this isn't due simply to inflation. As veterinary students train in specialties and subspecialties and subspecialties of those subspecialties, Fido, should he need it, can receive a kidney transplant, chemotherapy, back surgery, a titanium hip replacement, radiation, neurological correction—you name it. Add to this the fact that dogs and cats are living longer than ever before because of improved nutrition and vaccinations. In an earlier era, my Lila may very well have died before reaching old age and its complications, like glaucoma, and I would thus have been spared the difficult game of weighing the relative value of my daughter's summer camp versus my dog's comfort.
My husband felt I was being led like a blind donkey on the string of sentimentality, and that if I took a hardheaded view of things, I would see that spending $400 a month on a decade-old dog was wrong—wrong for our family, wrong for our marriage, wrong for the world. To get the money, I took on every extra work assignment I could. According to my husband, everyone would be much better served were I to donate the monthly medication payments I was earning by working overtime to the starving continent of Africa, to the Green Party, to victims of lymphoma. His beliefs are echoed by Dr. Bruce Alexander, professor emeritus at Simon Fraser University and the author of an upcoming book on globalization gone awry: "If Americans were to take all the money they spend on dog food, it would be enough to make a significant dent in the problem of world hunger." In other words, dog lovers are baby killers. Shame on us.
Shame on Darrell and Nina Hallett, a couple from Washington who in 2004 spent $45,000—which included a stem cell transplant—on their dog with T-cell lymphoma. Shame on Pauline Wilson of Manhattan, who spent $50,000 in less than half a decade in an attempt to keep her "Baby Cat" alive. Shame on families who spend more than $4,000 for end-of-life hospice care to ensure that their pets die in more comfort and with more dignity than far too many human beings who have no one to help them through. In much of the Third World, people tend to feel that doting on one's pet is a sign of Western excess. Wrote Aleetha al-Jihani in a letter to Al-Madina newspaper in Saudi Arabia, "One bad habit spreading among our youths is the acquisition of dogs and showing them off in the streets and malls...this is blind emulation of the infidels."