…Where Caring About Your Pet Becomes Almost as Expensive as Caring About Yourself

my dad's adorable cat, Rani.

And I thought human health care was difficult enough to figure out.

The husband came with three cats, one of which we sort of accumulated together. We had been arguing outside of a hotel when I was visiting/staying in Salem, so when he came back in from smoking a cigarette, him bringing in this pretty much killed the petty argument we were having:

look at the drop of milk on her lil' nose!

Nothing was open at that time of night (it was maybe 2 or 3am) except the Hess petrol pump, which had no cat food, and certainly not something suitable for such a tiny runt. She couldn’t have been more than 7 or 8 weeks old. It’s not like there was a cat food vending machine in the (non pet-friendly) hotel, so my husband bought the only thing he could think of: a small carton of half-and-half, even though dairy really is not something you should feed to a cat. But she was fine. She ate, pooped and slept just like any other kitteh. We named her Kashmira.

It’s weird how my mother once thought the same thing – just feed an abandoned baby animal some milk and it will persevere. Growing up on a large estate in India, her father would bring home all kinds of animals – once he’d rescued a baby deer after some business partners tried to shoot the mother (Grandpa wasn’t into hunting). The deer lived on their estate and actually lasted a whole year before one of his employees’ kids fed it dry pitta bread…and the poor thing choked.

But my mother was used to stray cats and accumulated rabbits, dogs and other pets. So when a bird’s nest had fallen off our roof one day (sadly crushing a lot of the babies), we had to take care of the surviving baby. It was a scrawny-looking thing, and we knew that its mother would never come back. Being July, we couldn’t leave it out there in the dead heat (yep, even in Britain it can get hot in July), so we kept it in a softly-lined margarine tub and called him Charlie (ignoring my protests for Tweety). My mother didn’t know what to feed him, so she would roll up a piece of kitchen towel into a ball, dip it in milk and drip it into the baby bird’s mouth. He seemed to take to it, but he sadly died a few days later. That was my first and last childhood pet.

And then came Rani.

the day we got rani.

We drove all the way to Coventry one summer to get her, which was, funnily enough, the same city in which I was born. Naturally, they named her Rani, which is Hindi for “Queen”. My name just means (lowly) “princess”. So naturally it was important that we take the proper precautions regarding her healthcare. Sadly, there is no NHS for pets in the UK, and, being a Persian, she was likely to be prone to health problems. She is a pedigree and a full persian, but yet doesn’t have that smashed-in-face look (the info in this link was so upsetting it made my mother cry). At 4 years old, she has no health problems, but she did have to have 9 teeth removed last year. The poor thing sulked under a blanket for the rest of the day after the surgery.

I believe this was covered in the pet insurance that my Dad took out. She’s covered for life, for all manner of crazy things, but he only pays out less than £15 per month. He uses Petplan, who also have operations in the US. I went to the US website and entered the same info that my Dad did in the UK, and I got this:

By choosing the cheapest deductible and the highest amount of reimbursement (I barely even know what that means), I still have to pay over $30 per month for the lowest, crappiest possible policy. Yet in the UK, if I want the bare minimum, I pay around what my Dad does, and it even covers him for things like if he has to cut short or cancel a holiday if Rani is sick, or even emergency repatriation if she gets sick or passes away while abroad. (I’m getting upset just thinking about this, even if it is such a cute thing to cover in a policy).

Many conversations I’ve had with other pet owners often revolve around how they had to put the pet to sleep because they couldn’t afford advanced healthcare or major surgery, or how they almost bankrupted themselves to pay for said surgery. It’s still something we need to look into before the cats get too old. Even my poor landlady has lost three of her dearly beloved pets this summer, and not even chemotherapy was enough to stave it off. At least they led long happy lives with an owner who cared for them so much.

Even the nearest animal hospital to Salem is actually in Hingham. Hingham! Their website proudly states that it was voted “Best of Salem/Beverly”, but, like supermarkets/malls/music venues, if you don’t have a car, you’re pretty much stuck for options. There are no vets, catteries, kennels or animal hospitals in Salem with a website, and the only place I could find where we could affordably get Kashmira spayed was called the Spay Waggin’, a travelling spaying…truck. Despite the fact that it’s a a legitimate program set up by the Animal Rescue League, it still sounds like some kind of tacky bestiality fetish club that Quentin Tarantino would make a movie about.

I am looking forward to visiting home this Christmas. I might just steal Rani and bring her back with me (the UK, the US and a few other countries are among a few places that allow you to travel with your pet without putting them in quarantine – unless they appear sick on arrival).

And she’s never had any health problems since the dental surgery. In fact, just the next day, she was already up and about, prancing like a lunatic, and doing that thing where she pretends to be scared and runs away, but when you turn your back, she punches you in the leg and gallops off with her cat laugh and her trilling battle cry. Here she is in attack mode:

She’s so FLUFFEH!!!11

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