Man’s $40K vet bill to save dog’s life
HOW much is your pet's life worth? If it came down to a dollar and cents life or death decision, would you borrow $30,000 to save them? Ashton Mills is facing that dilemma now.
Gus, his adored eight-year-old cavalier King Charles spaniel, has a terminal heart condition known as degenerative mitral valve (MVD).
The only cure is an operation half way around the world that could cost up to $40,000.
"I've been tearing between saving my boy's life and having money to live off," the 45-year-old Sydney resident told The Daily Telegraph.
"Honestly, I'm afraid to make the decision because either way, it's going to be tough."
While some pet owners wouldn't dream of spending such a sum, many others would. Pets are considered family members by more than two thirds of Australians and they're spending more than ever on prolonging their lives.
For Mr Mills, Gus is family. He bought him and his brother Ludo eight years ago with his former partner. When the couple's relationship ended, he kept the dogs.
Tragically six months ago, Ludo died from MVD after presenting in a critical state at the vets. It was a traumatising event that also affected Gus, who would come to Mr Mill's bedroom at night whimpering.
"It devastated me, I literally went home, fell on the floor and cried for three days straight," he said.
"The kind of emotional pain I felt losing Ludo, the last time I felt something like that was when my father died when I was in my twenties.
"There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the sort of bonds we have with these creatures is comparable to a human being."
Mr Mills has already spent thousands on his dogs' healthcare. While Ludo's illness was covered by pet insurance, Gus's condition was known since birth and insurance has not subsidised treatment.
"I watched Ludo slowly deteriorate and I've been watching Gus go down the same path. I imagined he had three to six months at most, as Ludo's descent was rapid," he said.
MVD is a leading cause of death of cavalier King Charles spaniels and treatment options have previously been limited to symptomatic and palliative.
But The Jasmine Clinic in Japan has pioneered a radical open heart surgery using a cardiopulmonary bypass machine that has a 93 per cent success rate of curing the condition. People travel from around the world to get their dogs the surgery.
Currently, Mr Mills is paying close to $300 a month just for Gus's medications. To see if he is eligible for the surgery in Japan, last week Gus underwent an echo cardiogram and X-Ray at SASH hospital at a cost of $1100 with cardiology specialist Dr Niek Beijerink.
Dr Beijerink gave Gus more than six months to live but said heart failure will eventually come. He is consulting with the team in Japan on Mr Mill's behalf.
"If the Jasmine clinic says he's not eligible then it's taken out of my hands," he said.
"If they say he is, I have to work out everything else."
Weighing up the cost and then the logistics to undertake the Japan operation is huge.
The surgery itself will cost about $22,000, then there's the hospital stay depending on Gus's recovery rate, flights, hotels and time in quarantine in Melbourne on return.
"The Japan team sent me a checklist … there's another nine to 16 tests that I would need to get done," he said. "I'd be looking at $35,000 to $40,000 in the end."
Mr Mills said he would try to save for the surgery in the coming year but if things should change and Gus deteriorates, he would "figure out the money as I go".
"I know people might not understand why I would want to take my little boy to Japan and try and save his life, but it's no different than loving a child," he said.
"To me, it's a no-brainer because I love him."