What is the Cost of One Dog Barking?

April 27, 2007, 1:05 PM UTC

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal had a story that typifies why that paper continues to hold our interest on a lot of days when nothing’s going on of any note in the world of business. On the front page of the Personal Journal was a story headlined, “How Much Is Your Dog’s Life Worth?”  It seems that in the wake of the pet-food problem now bedeviling pet owners nationwide, lawyers have entered the ring and are attempting to quantify the value of a poisoned dog to its owner, and then to monetize that value.

I am fortunate enough not to have fed my dog anything that contributed to its demise. But I came close very recently. And I can tell you exactly what a dog’s life is worth: Whatever it takes.

Our story begins in  the bucolic Marin County town where I live when I am not in Manhattan. It’s really beautiful out there. I highly recommend it. People talk about different things and eat locally grown organic food without smirking. Perhaps they drink too much coffee and indulge in too many team sports for children, but that’s another story.

About a month ago, I ate some chicken. What kind of chicken is not really important. Suffice it to say that when I was done with the chicken, not being a total barbarian, I threw away the bones.  There they sat for a few hours in an open garbage can. Neither my wife nor I noticed that Julie, our usually vocal and somewhat omnipresent Cavalier King Charles spaniel, had grown preternaturally quiet, and had positioned herself in a subtle but inoffensive manner near the garbage can. She did nothing while we were in the house. It was only later that she struck.

After a quiet afternoon, it was time for us to go to a birthday party for our friend Bruce, who does body work in Fairfax. We were looking forward to it. A Marin party often involves very good food and outrageously tasty wine in demented quantities and this gathering proved to be no exception. There was noise and healthy comestibles of all sorts, and even some unhealthy stuff, too, which is always nice, and organic vodka from the region that tasted somewhat weird but did the job. When we could wassail no more, we returned home at about 10 PM to find the garbage can upended and nothing but a grease spot on the floor where a mound of chicken bones should have been.

I have had Lab/German Shepherd mixes who have eaten entire pastramis and lived to tell the tale, having suffered nothing but a Biblical thirst for a week and a month of bloat afterwards. My great dog of the 1980s, Blanche, a samoyed/collie mix, once ingested an entire chicken and the aluminum foil surrounding it and suffered no ill effects that I could see, although she was a bit thoughtful for a week or so afterwards. But Julie is a small thing, only 18 pounds. By midnight, she was lying on the floor panting. By 3 AM, we were up with her because she was circling the house impatiently, whining, asking to be taken out. Once out, she attempted to attend to her duties but was unsuccessful. At about 5 AM, my wife read about a home remedy online, one where you soak cotton balls in cold cream, a concoction that, eaten by the dog, ostensibly smooths the way for the bones to exit into the outer world again. So we were up before dawn at the Safeway, with Julie in the passenger seat of a shopping cart, purchasing nostrums for her.

At dawn, it was clear that nothing was helping our little friend. She was in trouble. Her enormous brown eyes stared up at us with liquid intensity. Couldn’t we do something? Anything?

By the time we took her to the animal hospital, she had begun to throw up and show all the signs of, well, having a problem that would require surgery. And this where I believe the question that is posed in the Journal may be answered. Not for one moment did either human being in control of this situation think to him or herself: “I wonder how much this is going to cost?”

Okay, we have some disposable income, but we’re no Buffetts. It didn’t matter. As Lear said when presented with a future that was grossly unacceptable to him, “Oh question not the need!” We did not. Julie must be fixed. The world needed to be put back into proper operating condition.

In the end, our greedy little canis moronis did not need to be opened up and 1/2 of a poultry extracted. She merely needed three days in the hospital and a lot of recuperation to be set right. I’ll spare you the details, which were truly disgusting, but it could have been worse. The tab came to $2000. We were planning on a trip to Disneyland this spring. Maybe next year.

Of course we’re crazy. Of course such an expenditure in a world full of needy human beings is reprehensible, thoroughly. But I’ll tell you something. When I get back to California at the end of the week and put down my bag in the entryway, and Julie comes out to greet me with her plump end wagging, and she flips over for a tummy rub… let me tell you: there’s nothing in business like it. And what’s that worth?