A Sad Tale from the Vet’s Office

and the broken teeth had become infected. The young man had been presented with an estimate for surgery to remove the broken teeth and put a plate in the jaw


A couple of months ago, I was at the vet’s office with my dog Otto. He had a small wound between two of his toes that he kept licking; it looked like a classic foxtail/grass awn hole. These things have to be probed with an instrument to make sure that the awn isn’t still present in the wound and traveling upward (ever upward), the way they do.

As I was waiting, I could not help but overhear a conversation that was taking place on the other side of a swinging door between the waiting area and a hallway to the exam rooms. A young man was growing quite agitated and was raising his voice. He kept repeating, “Oh my dog, my dog!” and “There is no way I can afford this!”

A few minutes into this, I heard someone tell the young man to wait in the waiting room and that a doctor would discuss things with him further in a minute.

He came into the waiting room. He was very emotional. And he absolutely reeked of marijuana. It was as if a skunk who had just sprayed a dog had just entered the small room.  It was that strong.

Where I live, in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains in northern California, there are marijuana farms of various sizes all around. He could have been a worker on one of those farms. Or he could have cancer and using high doses of pot to treat his symptoms. Or he could be suffering from extreme anxiety over his dog. Or he could just be a huge stoner. There’s no telling, and I’m not judging, I swear.

A few minutes later, a veterinarian came into the waiting room. I don’t know why she chose to discuss the matter with him in the waiting room instead of an exam room, but it was at the end of what looked like a hectic day. They started to discuss the young man’s dog. The gist of the conversation was this:

The dog had a broken jaw, several broken teeth, and the broken teeth had become infected. The young man had been presented with an estimate for surgery to remove the broken teeth and put a plate in the jaw, and he said he couldn’t afford it. He wanted to know what absolutely had to be done for the dog, and what could wait. He said the dog had gotten loose on his job site, and had been hit by a forklift or tractor or something, and he had been wetting her dry dog food for a few days, but that she had stopped eating or drinking.

The vet said that so far, all they had done was take an x-ray of the jaw and give the dog something for pain and fluids for her dehydration. She said the dog absolutely had to have antibiotics to treat the infection, and a soft diet (canned food) for the indefinite future. And she (the dog) should also have pain medication – but that the whole thing might not heal properly if surgery was not done, soon, to remove the damaged teeth and repair the jaw.

At this point, the young man emptied his pockets on the counter and started counting cash. He said, “Let me see how much I have been able to raise. I’ve called everyone I know. I just moved here. I don’t have any family here, and I work in construction, and I just met these guys on the job site. They gave me a few dollars, but they don’t even know me yet.”

The vet asked if he had a credit card, or had someone in his family who had a credit card they would let him use. He said no. She asked if he had called and applied for one of those emergency credit cards for veterinary medical bills. He said he had called earlier in the day, when he dropped the dog off, and had been denied credit.

He finished counting, and said, “I have about $140. You can have it all. Just do everything you can for her.” He left the money on the counter and went outside for a minute.

JUST the week before, I had paid an $850 vet bill for relatives who didn’t have money to treat their dog. My mind was racing as I tried to think of what I could do — and shouldn’t do (considering it would take me a month or two to pay off that other bill) — to help a dog I still hadn’t even seen. I knew I had a case or so of canned food samples left over from our last review. I asked the receptionist if it would be much longer before Otto could be seen, and mentioned that I had some canned food I’d like to donate to another patient. She said, “It will still be a while, so if you won’t be long, that would be very nice.” My office is less than a mile from the clinic, so I took Otto and drove quickly to go fetch the food.

When I got back, I carried the food into the reception area and put it down on a chair by the door, and made eye contact with the receptionist to let her know Otto and I were back. A tech had just brought the young man’s dog out from the treatment area. She was groggy, as if she had been tranquilized, but was wiggling and super happy to see her owner. She was a pit-mix, who, judging from her stretched and dangling teats, had obviously had more than one litter of puppies. The young man pulled a piece of rope out from his pocket and put it around her neck; she had no collar (or ID tag, obviously). The techs were bustling about, preparing some antibiotics and some pain meds to send with the dog. I said to the young man, “Hey, here’s a bunch of canned food for her.” He was distracted, but he said thanks. And then the receptionist called my name, and Otto and I went into an exam room.

They were gone when I came out of the exam room with Otto. I saw a different veterinarian than the one who had been discussing the dog with her owner. He probed, but didn’t find a foxtail in Otto’s foot.  He sent me home with some antibiotics, which, honestly, I didn’t give to Otto, whose foot healed just fine. The visit cost me $140.

I don’t know what became of that dog or her owner, but I can’t stop thinking about them. I imagine that cases like these haunt veterinarians, too.


  1. I’m currently dealing with this as well. My dog is injured and I can not afford to get the surgery. My brothers pit bit my 12 week old puppies face and mangled his jaw and fractured his teeth or jaw.

    • I don’t know what your relationship with your brother is like, but it seems to me that he ought to pay, or at least help pay, for your dog’s treatment, given that his dog caused the injury. Have you discussed that with him?

  2. We just had this happen today. Nigel broke his jaw eating a bone (those knuckle bones they sell as a treat). He stopped eating a few days ago. We got “credit” for pets for up to 500.00 and today at the vet for the diagnoses, pain killer, antibiotic it’s maxed out. We are seniors with no extra cash. The surgeon is estimating around 5,000.00 to fix his jaw that will be necessary to let him eat again. They said the only other choice was to have our baby put down. Our IRA only has 2,500 and not a single vet (yes, we’ve called) will take payments. We are going to try to force feed him even though that’s not “recommended” because THAT is why he is dying… starvation because of the broken jaw. If we can get him to eat enough to hang in there we can start saving until we can afford the surgery. This is a horrific situation. This is a family member to us and we’re being asked to execute him simply because we cannot afford the surgery and have no credit (and because no one will take bloody payments). I am heartsick tonight and it isn’t going to get better.

  3. to mrs. pfeiffer ( or miss) , my heart goes out to you and people in the same predicament. It is a sad sad state that the cost to save a dog is much cheaper than it is a human but yet the charges seems to be the same. if a vet or a veterinarian business is only doing it for the money then they need to get out of business. The only way that I have dealt with the death of my dog is to understand that he is in a much better place! there is no money in heaven.!