John Doyle Globe and Mail Review of CBC TV programme “Pets, Vets and Debts”

March 31, 2016

More than half of Canadian homes have pets and, in fact, more homes have cats and dogs than children. This results in a great deal of business for veterinarians and there is now no limit to the medical treatment that is available to pets, sometimes costing many thousands of dollars. Pets are considered part of the family so owners are willing to spend vast amounts of money at the vets. But, is this actually true in the ethical sense?

The CBC television programme “The Nature of Things” entitled “Pets, Vets and Debts” opines that “Not everyone buys into the concept of pets as family.” Has pet health care gone too far? John Doyle states: “It is a toxic question loaded with emotional heft. These days many people are far more indulgent of their pets and willing to spend vast amounts of money when their pet is ill or injured.” The television programme provides detailed coverage of such complicated and expensive procedures as stem cell therapy to extend the life of a cat.

Why are we so indulgent, asks John Doyle? David Grimm, a guest on the programme, states that we are increasingly reliant on our pets for true, authentic companionship. We spend less and less time with other humans in a world where “virtual friendship is the norm”. So, pets become anchoring emotional figures in our lives. We invest much more time in our pets unlike previous generations who put less value on the life of a pet.

The Toronto Veterinary Emergency Hospital has state-of-the-art technology and its large staff is ready to handle all kinds of emergencies, but at significant costs. Most Canadians don’t have pet insurance. Hospitals such as this one “are among the most fraught, emotionally difficult places to spend time. John Doyle tells of his experience with his own cat, now deceased and is missed, which for a couple of years succeeded in getting injured, especially on long weekends. His cat went to the emergency vet, survived and lived long.

Pet owners sometimes have to make brutally hard decisions at the emergency vet, sometimes late at night. Many choose to spend a great deal of money on medications and treatment. John Doyle remarks that then some people will be appalled because it is not a person, it’s an animal that’s at stake. These decisions are among the most difficult we face in life.

“Pets, Vets and Debts” raises issues that we are obliged to acknowledge – how much is a pet worth to us? John Doyle states that the TV programme takes a pretty superficial look at the contemporary circumstance of our adoration of pets. Yet, the question remains, why do animals have such status in our lives?