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The high cost of health care for pets

   I got the idea to do a story about the high-tech - and expensive - veterinary care available today after hearing a lot about it from friends and acquaintances.

   MRIs? CT scans? Hip replacements? Orthodontic braces? Chemotherapy?

   Yes, all that and more is available for pets, and their owners are willing to do whatever it takes for their "luvies," as Kimberly Cudzilo refers to her cats.

   Cudzilo has "joint custody" with her ex-boyfriend of three cats that all have special diets, but her 6-year-old Tyler has serious health problems.

   Tyler had an eye infection, he had most of his teeth removed due to recurring dental infections and he must take a daily pill - mixed by Cudzilo - to help with digestive problems. He also must take three eye drops, two ointments, a steroid and an antibiotic each day.

   "I never complain about it, because I do it because I love them," said Cudzilo, an educational coordinator from North Tonawanda.

   While some pet owners are considering getting pet health insurance, most do not have it and have to pay for the care out of pocket.

   "King of the Hill" took note of the increasing cost of vet care in an episode in 2005, when Hank agrees to care for a cat owned by a soldier stationed overseas.

   Actor Jason Bateman provides the voice for a veterinarian who convinces Hank that he has to spend thousands of dollars on testing and treatment for the ornery cat.

   Veterinarians I interviewed say they don't push their clients to pay for unnecessary procedures, and many devoted owners say they don't care how much the procedures cost.

   After pouring so much of themselves into their pets, many owners take their deaths hard.

   Shelley Cavanaugh, a North Buffalo jeweler, said one dog she owned, a mutt named Henry, was "her soul mate."

   She got the dog in 1995 when he was 5 months old. He survived an intestinal virus known as parvo, but at 5 developed incurable lupus.

   Henry ended up staying at a vet clinic in New York City, where Cavanaugh lived at the time, for one or two weeks at a total cost of $6,000.

   After Cavanaugh found Henry dead one morning in 2000, she laid on the floor with him, petting his body and crying into his fur.

   "I would have done anything for him," said Cavanaugh, who still gets emotional while talking about Henry nine years after the dog's death and has his ashes on her mantle.

   What do you think? Do you have stories to share about your experiences as a pet owner with veterinary care? And how much have you spent to keep a beloved pet alive?

    — Stephen T. Watson


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