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My unexpected $2,400 vet bill
That was the answer the Honeybee gave me three years ago after I asked her how much she would pay to save a pet's life.

Unfortunately, last week we got a chance to reconsider that question after we returned from a weeklong family vacation up the California coast.

Almost as soon as we got our 9-year-old Rhodesian Ridgeback, Major, back home from doggy day care -- essentially a kennel where dogs have the freedom to roam the facility alongside other canine "guests" and their human caretakers -- he began showing signs of illness.

At first it wasn't anything disconcerting. Just softer-than-usual stools.

Within a couple days, that condition progressed to diarrhea. Still, a little research indicated that common doggy diarrhea was typically nothing to worry about. A quick check of accompanying factors that would have suggested the need for immediate attention were thankfully absent: Major was still eating, there was no blood in his stool, and he was able keep food and water down.

Twenty-four hours later, however, things took a decided turn for the worse.

Our typically fun-loving, gregarious dog became completely detached from the family, uncharacteristicallyr03; keeping to himself in the corner of our living room. Not long after that, he stopped being able to keep anything down -- not even the smallest amount of water.

Compounding matters, it was now Sunday, which happens to be the only day of the week that Major's vet is closed for business. So we had to take him to a 24-hour specialty veterinary clinic.

By the time Major arrived at the clinic, he was barely responsive and clearly in trouble. Needless to say, the vet began bombarding us with the necessary litany of questions in an urgent attempt to make a diagnosis.

Unfortunately, in Major's case, the symptoms he was displaying were indicative of multiple problems ranging from giardiasis -- an infection caused by the nasty giardia parasite that's typically acquired from pigeon droppings -- to a life-threatening intestinal blockage or even the deadly canine parvovirus.

Of course, the only way to know for sure why Major was suddenly fighting for his life was to conduct a battery of tests -- and they weren't cheap:

* X-rays ($176.40).
* Blood panel ($142.03).
* Barium series and administration ($426.41).
* Additional blood test ($75.34).
* Fecal test for giardia ($53.02).

Add it all up and that's $873.32 just to (hopefully) figure out what was wrong. I know.

A cynical pet owner might suggest that the vet was recommending all those tests to pad the bill, but the fact is, veterinarians have a much tougher job than medical doctors when it comes to pinpointing the cause of their patients' problems. After all, unlike humans, our pets can't tell their doctors exactly where it hurts.

With time of the essence, we authorized all the tests and, after leaving a $1,000 deposit, admitted Major to the vet hospital. At the time, we had no idea whether he would make it through the evening, but we prayed that they could stabilize him.

By Monday morning, Major was stable but still suffering from diarrhea. Thankfully, the vet had ruled out an intestinal blockage, which meant there was no need for surgery.

Meanwhile, the vet bill was getting bigger by the minute. We were being charged $9.98 for every hour Major spent in the hospital.

The medicines used to help control his diarrhea and vomiting, and fight any intestinal infection that might be to blame, weren't cheap. Major was given nine injections at $70.35. Each. For those of you counting at home, that's $633.15.

And you think gasoline is expensive? The first IV given to my dog cost $147.26 -- and I was billed $44.10 for every additional liter of fluid administered thereafter.

By Monday evening Major had gone through five liters of intravenous fluid, but he was finally able to keep his water down. He also ate his first food in more than two days and kept that down, too.

We got Major back on Tuesday, about 10 pounds thinner -- and still not 100% -- but he was clearly on the road to recovery.

And I'm happy to say that, five days after we got him home, he was finally back to his old happy-go-lucky self.

As for the the final diagnosis, the vet attributed Major's ails to a somewhat mysterious affliction known as canine hemorrhagic gastroenteritis. Its cause is unknown, but the vet said stress seems to play a role.

When all was said and done, the final bill came to $2,406.88. Thankfully, we had enough money in our emergency fund to cover the expenses.

Yes, that's a lot of money. But in exchange for that princely sum we didn't just get a dog back; Major is a bona fide member of the Penzo family. And for that reason alone I'd do it all over again -- even at two or three times what I paid this time around.

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