Rethinking Healthcare

American people are treated like dogs

American people are treated like dogs

Posting in Cities

Every American should be treated by the medical system as well as a middle-class dog.

We put our dog down yesterday.

Browny was a good old dog. He was 14 when he passed away, a victim of arthritis, failing kidneys, cataracts, painful hot spots on his skin, and plain old age.

He couldn't get up the steps any more. He had trouble getting on his feet at all. He couldn't sit, but would wake us so he could try and pee four times each night, grunting at the effort. He was suffering. It was time.

It was once unusual for a dog like this -- a 67 pound shepherd-chow mix my kids said "followed them home" in early 1997 -- to make it to 14.

No more.

The reason is stellar vet care. (A shout-out here to Browny's vet -- good people.) Today's U.S. pet industry is worth about $20 billion, with freshly-minted vets making $70,000 each.

The nation's 70 million cats and 65 million dogs are served by an army of about 50,000 vets, better than one vet for every 3,000 animals. Then add their support staffs.

That's not all. Animal care is a growth market in every city, with grooming, supply, training and boarding services a common denominator in most quality neighborhoods.

Increasingly courts are seeing animals as having human rights. Malpractice awards in the five figures, operations that cost thousands of dollars, and courts awarding custody based on the "best interests of the dog" are raising the stakes. (When we had Browny trained he was given the title CGC -- Canine Good Citizen.)

Despite all this love and money, not every pet is as loved as Browny was. It's estimated 5 million animals are euthanized each year because no home can be found for them.   We're all told to get our pets "fixed" but many see procreation as the only human right they'll grant -- never mind the consequences.

Browny was one of those consequences.

Pet breeders evolved specialist animals of every type over time. Then reckless owners devolved them into strange mixes like our dog, who would try and herd smaller animals on the one hand and try to inspect them with his open mouth on the other. He would jump fences to roam the neighborhood, then make sure he slept between his owners and any open door.

My point is that we are also evolving a health care system for our animals that is much like the one conservatives dream of for the rest of us. Those who can afford it get the best care anywhere, and those who don't die in cages.

The "rights" we grant pets are based on income. Those animals owned by people with means live to a grand old age. Had Browny not been "found" that day he wouldn't have lasted six months.

So the question occurs. Does every American deserve to be treated at least as well as Browny?

That's what the issue of universal care comes down to.

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Dana Blankenhorn

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Dana Blankenhorn has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age's "NetMarketing" supplement and founded the Interactive Age Daily for CMP Media. He holds degrees from Rice and Northwestern universities. He is based in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure