The Calgary Journal
The Calgary Journal

Pet owners encouraged to take advantage of pet insurance

petinsurance-thumbLike many pet owners, Rhonda Phillips never expected to be in an emergency situation when it came to her dog, Rocky.

She said she didn't have pet insurance because she didn't think she would ever use it and figured it would have been a "waste of money."

But when Phillips noticed that her dog didn't seem well, she said she realized she was wrong. Phillips had no idea how serious it was until the vet told her that the 12-year-old Sheltie needed to be rushed to the veterinary hospital, and that he might not even survive the car ride.

When she got there, Rocky was taken away from her and rushed to the back. As she sat waiting for news, she was surprised to be handed a bill.

"I know they have to do it because it's a business, but it's a little bit cold-hearted when you're coming in there with your family pet and they take him in, and then they come out with the paperwork," Phillips said.

"Basically, it's a minimum of $600 right there, and you have to pay it right then just for them to look at him.".

She said she recalls being in panic mode while signing the paper and finding out later that night that Rocky needed emergency surgery for blockages he had in his urinary tract. She said that she was given an estimate of $1,800 for the surgery — on top of the $600 — and told that she would have to pay for half of it up front.

"We had enough to cover that at the moment, but then as they got in further and further it got more serious," Phillips said. "He had to stay for a week and it kept going up and up as they kept finding more stuff wrong with him. We had to sit down with our kids and say, 'Look, we don't have the money', because after we picked him up at the end of the week, it was $8,000."

Pet insurance for all

petinsuranceRhonda Phillips now has pet insurance on her two dogs after spending thousands of dollars for medical treatment for her dog Rocky. Rocky later had to be put down.
Photo by: Roxanne Blackwell
On Feb. 23, the City of Calgary announced a new partnership with Petsecure that will provide pet owners with a free month of premium pet health coverage, as well as no enrolment fee, when they renew their dog or cat's license and purchase a new Petsecure policy.

Calgarians looking for a new pet will also receive a six-week trial of Petsecure insurance when they adopt a cat or dog from the Animal Services Centre.

In the announcement, Petsecure's Bill Skubovius said, "Our partnership will introduce pet families to pet health insurance while providing them with peace of mind knowing they can offer their pet the best in veterinary care without having to worry about the cost."

After bringing Rocky home, Phillips said, "the real kicker was a week later we got a call from the doctor who had Rocky's test results in and he said, 'I don't know how to tell you this, but he's got cancer.'"

The doctor then suggested they come in to discuss treatments for the dog, which included radiation and chemotherapy, and would cost anywhere between $8,000 and $12,000. Although the family was devastated, they opted for pain-relief medication instead of the cancer treatments.

Rocky had to be euthanized three months later.

"That was tough to explain to the kids, because they don't understand." Phillips said. "They're like, 'Just pay it, we have to save him.' Then we're in to it over $20,000 and that's a huge amount of money."

It's situations like these that Mark Hilborn, manager at Calgary North Veterinary Hospital, said he sees on a regular basis.

"Unfortunately, what sometimes happens is people have to make the decision between paying for a procedure and euthanizing," Hilborn said.

He said that in general, an accident – such as being hit by a car – could cost $10,000. He said that it is important to stress the value in pet insurance, because most people never think something like that will happen to them.

Phillips said she was in that mindset with her dog Rocky, but she has learned from that experience and now has pet insurance for her other two dogs.

"After that (getting pet insurance) wasn't even a question. Right away we looked in to it and I thought I don't ever want to be in that position again," she said.

An easy cost to manage

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Hilborn said that his staff recommends two different pet insurance companies – Petsecure and Trupanion – to every client, but still feels that there is an awareness problem.

Trupanion has been offering pet insurance to Canadians for 12 years now, but Karen Belanger, Alberta territory partner for Trupanion, said that she would estimate that only two to four per cent of pets in Canada are covered.

"Pet insurance is there to create peace of mind so owners can base decisions off of their pets' well-being instead of finances," Belanger said.

She also noted that the earlier a pet is covered, the more effective the insurance can be. Pre-existing conditions aren't covered, so they encourage owners to get insurance for their pets while they are young and before any serious health issues develop.

To encourage people to try pet insurance, most veterinary offices will give clients a free trial form after their pet gets an examination. After the vet fills it out, pet owners can go online and activate it to receive 30 days of free coverage.

Hilborn said that people tell him all the time that they had no idea pet insurance was available, but he said he thinks the insurance companies and The City of Calgary are heading in the right direction when it comes to promoting it.

Phillips said when the free trials are over, the cost of pet insurance is easily manageable, especially considering the amount she would have saved if she had it in the first place. Phillips pays $100.93 a month for both of her dogs' insurance coverage through Petsecure, and said that she wishes she had secured insurance for Rocky before he died.

"Decisions would have been easier at such a stressful time. You hate to have to think about money at a time like that," Phillips said

Hilborn, who also has pet insurance for his two cats, agreed that the cost doesn't bother him since he is well aware of how much emergencies can add up to.

"It's less than a cup of coffee a day kind of thing," Hilborn said. "The cost can be very inexpensive. There's really no reason not to have it. It's in the best interest of the animal, which is what we're here for."

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