By LARRY WOODY
While channel-flipping the other day I came across a woman on one of those morning chat shows, distraught and fighting back tears. She was worried about an impending medical procedure for her "best friend."
Her best friend was curled in her lap -- a fat old tomcat named Fluffy. Seems Fluffy was ailing from either hemorrhoids or irritable-bowel syndrome.
The woman had taken her best friend to a pet clinic, but the diagnosis was vague and the vets wanted to take another look (do a cat-scan?) for another $500.
Fluffy's medical bill is part of an estimated $10 billon -- that's billion with a B -- that is spent annually in the U.S. on health care for pets.
I agree with Garrison Keillor when he writes:
"If your gerbil Mitzi needs a new heart valve and you've got the fifteen grand to spend on it, I am not here to stand in your way."
I also agree with Garrison that it's stupid. He said he tends to look at pets in much the same way as his dad:
"He did not purchase jewelry for them, or talk to them in a high-pitched voice. He would have blanched at the thought that the average cost of a visit to the vet with your cat is now $172. The chance of Dad paying that much to care for Snowball was about the same as Snowball's chance in hell."
Some of today's more extreme pet-pamperers refer to themselves as a "pet parent."
When we got our black Lab Buddy from the pound as a puppy, I explained to him how it was going to work around our house: We weren't his "parents." We were his "owners" and he was a "dog."
We agreed to keep him fed, but not on any of that fancy gourmet dog chow. Buddy would eat mostly leftovers from whatever we ate.
We'd keep him cool in the summer and warm in the winter, but weren't going to knit him sweaters.
He'd have a collar, plain, no jewels. There would be no bling for Buddy.
We wouldn't be sending him to "pet spas" for relaxing rubdowns. We would occasionally rub his tummy and scratch his ears, and that was about it.
There would be no manicures -- I occasionally clip his toenails -- and no bubble baths. About once a month I soak him down with a garden hose, shampoo, rinse and sprinkle on some flea powder.
We take Buddy to a vet for an annual rabies shot and distemper shot. That's his "annual checkup."
If he gets worms, I buy a bottle of Worm-B-Gone and stick a couple of capsules in his food.
If he gets sick from eating a dead gopher he found in the back yard, he'll just have to hack it up. There'll be no ride to the emergency room with lights flashing and sirens wailing. Buddy can lie on the porch and do his own wailing -- and remember not to eat any more dead gophers.
We warned him not to chase cars; there's no future in it. Even if he caught one, then what?
We explained all this to Buddy, and told him if the terms were acceptable he could come live with us. He wagged his tail, which is dog talk for "OK."
That was 14 years ago, and Buddy has always been healthy and seemed happy. Well, except for scarfing down an occasional dead gopher. That's his problem, and he has to deal with it.
Buddy's medical insurance doesn't cover gophers.