Log In

Reset Password

A new appreciation for crowdfunding

First Prev 1 2 Next Last

Looking back, I should have known how much I stood to lose based on the first form I filled out at the veterinary clinic.

At the bottom sat a question that in some combination of words asked: did I want the staff to perform CPR on my pet, if needed?

The cost, it explained, would be $250.

I checked “yes”, thinking there was no way it would ever come to that.

The little cockatiel who sat quietly — too quietly, in retrospect — in a pet carrier next to me didn't seem that sick. When my family woke up that morning — excited to head to New York to see my mom and sisters for the first time in nearly two years because of the pandemic — she was shaking slightly and appeared lethargic.

We decided to delay the drive. We placed her in the carrier and I drove to a DC-area veterinary clinic that treats birds and other exotic animals. We figured sh would get a check-up, maybe some medicine, and we would either bring her home that day or in a few days.

My husband and I had raised her and her brother for 11 years, and in that time, they had never been seriously ill. Normally they were full of energy, always ready to play, and they were never quiet in that carrier. They despised it, and they let us know that by flapping their wings and pleading persistently with a whistle that sounded a lot like “Please, Mama” until we let them out.

It was one of their four main whistles. The other three: a melodic whistle that echoed the intro of The Andy Griffith Show. A wolf whistle — the kind heard in cartoons that show a pant-wearing wolf's eyes bulge out when a lipstick-wearing wolf walks by. And a sirenlike whistle the two birds reserved for each other. If ever one ventured beyond the other’s sightline, that whistle blared. I imagined it expressing, “Where are you? I need you. I’m worried.”

My husband and I hadn’t planned on getting two cockatiels. We had both had birds as children and knew they required a lot of attention. But when the cage door opened and it came time for us to pick out the baby bird we wanted to take home, two hopped on to my husband’s arm. They had hatched around the same time, and it only felt right to keep them together.

In a world of dog and cat people, bird people are often seen as strange. We know that. We don’t care, though, because we also know this: birds are smart and social, and when they see you as family, they show you that in fascinating ways.

After I had my third miscarriage and wasn’t sure if I would ever have children, our birds sat on my shoulders, offering kisses as I sobbed. When I was pregnant with my first son, our birds took turns perching on my bulging belly like little guard dogs. It became a favourite spot of theirs. And when two little boys eventually joined our family, our birds made them laugh and ate popcorn from their hands during family movie nights.

My one regret is that we didn’t give them better names. We considered tough-sounding ones, absurdly fancy ones and traditional Mexican ones to fit with my heritage — think Frida and Diego. But none of the names we picked stuck, and somewhere along the way, we started calling them “G”, as in “the O.G.” and “L.B.”, short for Lady Bird.

In my job, I write a lot about loss and struggle, and that often takes me onto crowdfunding sites. While on those sites, I have seen countless pages asking for donations towards the medical bills of pets and, admittedly, I have always scrolled past them.

I never understood how pet owners could ask strangers for financial help when other requests showed families facing homelessness, people struggling to afford critical medical treatment, and children unable to pay for a funeral for their parents, or vice versa.

Growing up in a family that didn't have much dispensable income, when our pets got sick, a trip to the veterinarian wasn't an automatic response. Home remedies were tried, and if those failed, sometimes home burials followed. The reason wasn’t a lack of caring; it was a lack of resources. I understood that.

Then came the morning I walked into the vet with Lady Bird in a too-quiet pet carrier.

I soon realised that every little decision came with a large price tag and the uncertainty of how many more would have to be made. Did we want an X-ray? Did we want blood taken? Did we care about her enough to do everything? That last question wasn’'t really asked. It just felt like it.

I’m not faulting the veterinarian. He was kind and didn’t rush my questions. He told me she looked healthy other than a bit of blood in her stool, which could be nothing to worry about or a sign of kidney disease. I opted for the tests he suggested and decided to leave her there for a few days to be monitored. A staff member brought her to me so I could say goodbye. Then another staff member asked me to leave a substantial down payment.

As I handed her my credit card, I started thinking about all the people who wouldn’t have the ability to make that payment. The pandemic caused two seismic shifts to occur in the pet realm. It created a swell of new pet owners, straining veterinarian services in some places. It also pushed more people into financial hardship, leaving them unable to afford the pricey tests and treatments that are often needed. There is a phrase for pet deaths that occur because their owners don't have enough money — “economic euthanasia”.

Theresa Vargas is a local columnist for The Washington Post. Before joining the Post, she worked at Newsday in New York. She has degrees from Stanford University and Columbia University School of Journalism

When I see those crowdfunding pages now, I look at them differently. I understand them. They don’t just reflect the medical needs of animals; they also show the desperation of humans.

On GoFundMe right now, a pregnant woman who lost her home to a fire is trying to raise $5,000 to help her injured cat. Another page aims to raise $10,000 for a police horse who went through emergency surgery for a displaced colon. And in the DC area, one page tells the story of how people came together to raise $5,140 for a puppy who was picked up on a Friday, showed signs of sickness on a Saturday and, ultimately, didn’t survive.

“Falling in love with him, and losing him in less than a week’s time is a type of hurt I don’t know that I could ever explain,” reads an update on that page. “But not having to worry about financial limitations gave us hope, and let us walk away without any fear we hadn’t done enough. And that is worth far more than the money raised.”

The author's pet cockatiel often sat with her when she worked from home (Photograph by Theresa Vargas/The Washington)

The update also includes an itemised invoice that shows just how expensive veterinarian care can be — even when your pet doesn’t come home.

Overnight hospital admission: $156.67.

Blood pressure 24 hours: $155.20.

Ultrasound/sonogram: $551.62

The morning after I left Lady Bird at the vet, I woke up at 5am and checked my phone. It showed two missed calls.

The first came at 4.32am from a technician who said they were starting CPR. He asked me to call back to let them know whether they should continue.

The second call came at 4.48. The technician said they had tried CPR for 15 minutes and “unfortunately, we have passed away”.

In the days that followed, there were many tears — and not just from my children — the veterinarian sent an e-mail saying he was “devastated” and “shocked” by what happened, and our other cockatiel refused at times to stop whistling the tune he reserved just for his sibling — “Where are you? I need you. I’m worried.”

A staff member at the veterinary clinic also called. She asked if I was interested in cremation. The cost: more than $300.

I declined. I said I would take her home and we would bury her. My sons wanted to paint a headstone for her.

She then asked if I wanted a necropsy performed to find out why she died. I said no, before hearing the price.

Theresa Vargas is a local columnist for The Washington Post. Before joining the Post, she worked at Newsday in New York. She has degrees from Stanford University and Columbia University School of Journalism

You must be Registered or to post comment or to vote.

Published August 09, 2021 at 7:59 am (Updated August 09, 2021 at 7:58 am)

A new appreciation for crowdfunding

What you
Need to
1. For a smooth experience with our commenting system we recommend that you use Internet Explorer 10 or higher, Firefox or Chrome Browsers. Additionally please clear both your browser's cache and cookies - How do I clear my cache and cookies?
2. Please respect the use of this community forum and its users.
3. Any poster that insults, threatens or verbally abuses another member, uses defamatory language, or deliberately disrupts discussions will be banned.
4. Users who violate the Terms of Service or any commenting rules will be banned.
5. Please stay on topic. "Trolling" to incite emotional responses and disrupt conversations will be deleted.
6. To understand further what is and isn't allowed and the actions we may take, please read our Terms of Service
7. To report breaches of the Terms of Service use the flag icon