Sunday, September 24, 2017

Is Pet Insurance Worth It?

Just about everyday on Facebook, I see a post somewhere asking if pet insurance is a good idea. In my personal experience, the answer is simple - Yes. Here's why.

Once upon a time we didn’t have pet insurance. Why? Well, we figured if one of our kitties had a serious illness, we would just pay for it. Then that happened. Sugar was diagnosed with mammary cancer. And we paid for it. Holy sh*t did we pay for it. To the tune of about $13,000 when all was said and done.

That’s when we got pet insurance. 

Of course I knew the mammary cancer wouldn’t be covered, but I still put Sugar on the policy along with our other three cats. It was May 2013 and the premium for all four was around $80 a month.

Just three months later, in August of that year, our then 12 year old cat, Chai, was diagnosed with small cell GI Lymphoma. Over the course of 18 months, before she died, she had exploratory surgery, endoscopies, ultra-sounds and was on expensive medication. It was all covered.

Less than a year later, in February 2014, our then 6 year old cat, Eve, was diagnosed with diabetes. She spent three days in the vet hospital because she was DKA (Diabetic Ketoacidosis). She was covered. Six months later, she was diagnosed with Pancreatitis and spent three days in the vet hospital, she was covered. In April 2014 she was diagnosed with asthma. Covered. In October 2015 diagnosed with IBD - yep, you guessed it, covered.

Eve is now on meds for diabetes. (Lantus insulin, $350 a bottle every 6 months), Flovent inhaler for asthma, ($400 every 2 months), and misc drugs for her IBD. All medications, test strips, testing meter, syringes, Aerokat, all are covered at 90%. She continues to need tests, bloodwork, and ultrasounds. It's all covered.

In May 2014, Sugar was rushed to the ER due to labored breathing. Ten days and $4000 worth of tests later, we had the diagnosis - lung cancer. She was covered. Unfortunately, we had to euthanize her then, but that was covered too.

In March 2016, at the young age of 2 years old, Max had osteomyelitis. Covered.

In September 2016, our then 13 year old cat, Little Bit, was diagnosed with IBD and kidney disease. She’s had ultrasounds, endoscopy and is on daily sub-q fluids. She takes meds for hypertension. Covered - all of it. 

Some people say, they’ll just take what they would pay in premiums and put it the bank for when their pet gets sick. Well, we’re paying around $90 a month for four cats, so in four years we would have saved less than $5,000. Our carrier has paid out over $40,000 in that time period. Clearly, we’re getting the better end of the bargain.

They have paid out over $20,000 just for Eve. And she’s only 11 years old with four chronic conditions. As long as we pay her monthly $23 premium, these conditions are covered for the remainder of her life.

So, yes, IMHO pet insurance is worth it. Which one? It depends. Some are better for chronic conditions. Some have more complicated pay-outs and different deductibles. Most don’t cover well-pet care. But really, that’s not what I'm worried about. I want pet insurance for the big stuff. The surgery that’s going to be $6,000. The treatment that’s going to be $10,000. The inhaler that costs $400 and lasts two months.

So why don’t more people get pet insurance? I don't know. Maybe they can’t afford it or they may they think it’s too expensive. Maybe, like me, they don’t realize how expensive it is when your pet has a serious illness. Or maybe they don’t think they’ll go the treatment route if their pet has a serious illness. It's a personal choice, of course, and it's your business whether you get insurance on your pets.

But if you've been thinking about it and just haven’t gotten around to it, here’s a word to the wise: Get around to it. Because no one in the pet insurance world covers pre-existing conditions. Once you have a diagnosis, you cannot get coverage for it. You can still cover your pet, for other illnesses and accidents, but you're on the hook for the pre-existing condition. And that can be very expensive.

Now do pet insurance companies try to get out of paying claims? Sometimes. I’ve had to appeal two claims in four years. I won both of them and they paid. 

Finally, remember this. You don’t get pet insurance because of the illness your pet has had or does have. You get it for the ones they might have. Hopefully, you get it when your pet is healthy. And yes, you’ll pay premiums and not use the insurance.

But when the day comes that you need it, you will thank your lucky stars that you have pet insurance. Because with all of the anguish that comes with having a pet with a serious illness, the one thing you won’t have to worry about is how you’re going to pay for it.

You’ll be covered.

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Power of the Paw

I'm a crazy cat lady, and in 2007 I found a website called Catster. It changed my life in the most wonderful way.

Last Monday, Ted Rheingold, the founder of Catster and Dogster died at the much too young age of 47. Although Ted was very ill with an aggressive cancer, it was still a terrible shock to learn of his death.

I told my husband that I felt like Walt Disney had died. And the comparison is appropriate. Ted was our Walt Disney. He created a fantasyland where we could interact socially as our dogs and cats. It was a magical place, and those of us who embraced it, loved it and spent many happy hours there.

A group of Catsters visiting HQ in 2009.

It's hard to describe the Catster experience - you just had to be there. Was it silly? Of course it was, we were play-acting as cats. As our cats, we sent friends requests, joined groups, had parties, played games, got married to other cats, and some of us even divorced other cats.

But there was a serious side to Catster. We shared practical medical and behavioral advice and we grieved together when a cat went to the Rainbow Bridge.

We became a community, sharing the good times and the bad times.

And most amazing is that, from the fantasy world that our "Top Dog" Ted created for us, real relationships were formed. Lifelong friendships were created and they continue today stronger than ever. Tomorrow I will walk with my team "Sugar's Trekkers for Ta-Tas" in the Avon Breast Cancer Walk. Our team would not exist without Catster, without Ted, because that's where we met.

Sugar's Trekkers for Ta-Tas at the Chicago Avon Breast Cancer Walk in 2016.

Last year, after our team walked in Chicago, we had a dinner that was attended by many Catsters. This was shortly after Ted's cancer diagnosis, and at the end of the dinner, we spontaneously decided to send some messages to Ted to let him know we were thinking about him. We wanted to thank him for bringing all of us together. So, we signed the paper tablecloth and I brought it back to San Francisco and mailed it to Ted.

What we didn't know, was at that point in time, Catster was not a good memory for Ted. But when he received our messages, the Catster magic once again began and Ted wrote in his Medium blog about it here.

Ted getting showered.
Being Catsters, we couldn't stop with just a few messages. So we did a "card shower" where over 100 cards and messages from Catsters and Dogsters all over the world were mailed to me. Along with Lori, Catster/Dogster's former Community Manager, I had the great privilege of delivering them to Ted in a pet carrier.

Ted was blown away. I'm not sure how long it took him to read all of the cards and letters, but I hope that after he did, he understand just how grateful we are for the lasting impact he made on our lives. It's a ripple effect and although the heyday of the Catster and Dogster websites is behind us, the community Ted created will live forever.

So in my best Catster parlance, I wish Ted a gentle journey and a soft landing at the Rainbow Bridge. As my angel kitty Sugar would say, "He is in the land of love and light now, where there is no pain and no cancer."

And to all who are grieving Ted's passing, who are struggling to rebuild their lives without a friend, a colleague, a brother, a son, a father, a husband, may the Power of the Paw be with you.


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Everyday is Thanksgiving

So there you are cruising along through life and **bam**, something bad happens. Something really bad. You feel numb for a while, and then as you regain your balance, you realize that this really bad thing is happening to others. Lots of others. And you say, "Someone needs to do something about this". Then you look in the mirror, and you say, "I need to do something about this".

So you do.

Because you've never done it before, you make mistakes and you learn from those. But you also do a lot of things right. You learn from those too. Throughout, you are focused on the end result, and it keeps you going.

And then the most amazing things start happening. You become the recipient of kindness and generosity both material and spiritual. You begin to connect to others in unexpected ways. You find out you have friends who will walk 39 miles with you, wearing cat ears and tails because they believe in you and the mission. You get support from total strangers who become loyal and true friends. You meet a guy who tirelessly motivates others while wearing a cow suit. You meet people who love your angel as much as you do and they faithfully show up for you and her everyday.

Your friends are there for you - they buy your merchandise and generously participate in your fundraisers. And all the while they are cheering you on, every step of the way. You are are on a mission, one you could not have imagined, yet one that has become a driving force in your life.

You are humbled.

You realize that some of your friends aren't really friends and that is disappointing. But you also see that some strangers really are friends.

You learn that there's a fine line between obsession and passion and that your mom was right, you do get what you give. You accept that it's OK to shed a tear everyday.

Although you'll always hate that the bad thing happened, and would change it if you could, you are grateful for the good that has come from it. You remember what someone else who had been through the same bad thing said to you at the beginning, "This will change you". She was right and you are grateful for the changes, because you are now living something you've said countless times, "It's not about the destination, it's about the journey". You realize how true that is and you're grateful for what this journey has given you. It has taught you that no matter how dark things may be, the world is filled with good people who are generous, kind, compassionate, and loving.

You have discovered the power of gratitude. It has become your guiding compass in life. It has become your religion. And while you may not formally celebrate it everyday with turkey and stuffing, you realize that everyday is Thanksgiving.

And for that, you are thankful.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Ripple Effect

It's been over three years since Sugar was diagnosed with feline mammary cancer. Since then, my life has changed in ways I could never have imagined. In fact, I can't think of a single event that has changed my life as much as Sugar's mammary cancer.

When I started Sugar Rub!, there were two goals:

  1. Raise awareness that pets get breast cancer
  2. Encourage pet owners to do monthly breast exams on their pets

Then I learned how little research has been done on this hideous disease, so I added a third goal to fund feline mammary cancer research, and the Penn Vet Sugar Rub! Feline Mammary Cancer Fund was created. 

Over time, I started receiving messages like this one,

 "I was giving my kitty a Sugar Rub! and I found a lump. She's going to the vet tomorrow". 

Sometimes the lump was nothing, just fatty tissue, but sometimes it was breast cancer. Because of Sugar Rub!, this pet had a chance. And I was gratified that my mission was accomplishing its goals.

But what I never anticipated was the ripple effect. 

"Now I give my pets a Sugar Rub! every month, and then I give myself one too. I never did that before".

"Sugar reminded me to get my annual mammogram".

Wow! Sugar Rub! is not just raising breast cancer awareness for pets, it's influencing human breast cancer awareness too.

On the first anniversary of Sugar's breast cancer diagnosis, I published this post on Facebook. I think it bears repeating now, modified, because she is no longer with us here on Earth.

By all accounts, Sugar was an ordinary cat. She was a tabby, the most common of the feline coat patterns. Like thousands of other cats, she was a rescue from a shelter. Even her mammary cancer did not set her apart; one in 4000 cats are diagnosed with breast cancer and it is the third most common feline cancer. 

But despite being quite ordinary, Sugar did something extraordinary. She raised awareness about this disease and now a lot of people know that animals get breast cancer. Pet owners know that they need to check their pets at least once a month and contact their vet PDQ if they find anything suspicious. 

Sugar has created a community and has brought together a network of people who are sharing the Sugar Rub! mission. She has raised almost $30,000 for a feline mammary cancer study at Penn Vet. Her tabby paws have touched hearts all over the world.

In addition to all of that, Sugar and her illness have taught me a lot of lessons:

  • I've learned what it's like to be humbled by the kindness and generosity of others. 
  • I've learned what it is to feel empathy for anyone who hears the word cancer in the same sentence with the name of someone they love.
  • I've learned that there are thousands of compassionate, truly good people in the world - more than I ever imagined.
  • I've learned about the amazing power of hope.
  • I've learned that there are angels here on earth.
  • I've learned how truly precious simple things are - the sound of your kitty's purr, the smell of her fur, the soft brush of her whiskers against your face. 
  • I've learned that your supply of tears is endless when someone you love has a serious, life-ending disease.
  • I've learned that my husband is an incredibly kind and compassionate man.

And perhaps the most important lesson is the simplest one. Anyone can make a difference - even an ordinary tabby cat.

Friends, we all have the ability to make a difference, and never underestimate the ripple effect. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Day One - A Small Pink Ribbon

Day One of the Avon Walk comes early as we drag ourselves out of bed at Oh Dark Early.

Like soldiers preparing for battle we assemble our gear, making sure we are prepared for this arduous day of walking 26 miles on a sunny but cold New York day:

Fanny Pack - check.
Water Bottle - check.
Cap - check.
Cat Ears - check.
Cat Tail - check.
Gloves - check.
Chapstick - check.
Moleskin - check.
Advil - check.
Charged Cell Phone - check.
Extra Socks - check.
Space Blanket - check.
Bling - check.

And then there are our mementos. Wristbands, pins, posters, and signs showing who we are remembering or honoring. I carry Sugar's sign and 100 pink ribbons.

The ribbons are small, 1/2" x 2", but their significance is enormous. Each has a  name on it, the name of a warrior, a person or pet who did something I've never done, faced and fought cancer.

They occupy a small physical space, but their place in my heart is huge. Carrying these ribbons is a sacred trust, a way for these brave souls to matter, to be honored, to be remembered for their strength and courage. It is a privilege to carry them.

We assemble in the lobby for a team photo, then ride the bus to the pier and gratefully sip hot coffee as we wait for the opening ceremonies.

Just as it becomes light, we are off. We walk, we talk, now and then we shed tears. We stop at our pit stops to eat a snack, refill our water bottles, and use the port-a-potties. People ask me about Sugar's sign and I share her story; most are amazed that a cat can get breast cancer.

I meet one of Sugar's followers from the Sugar Rub! Facebook page.

Seth, the MooCow Guy is everywhere! He hands out Cow Tales candies. He cheers us on!

We walk across the Brooklyn Bride and see Angie, our personal team cheerleader. Soon, we stop for lunch.

We walk through Brooklyn and back to Manhattan. It's getting colder and some of our team members gratefully wrap up in the space blankets provided by my husband.

Finally we reach Randall's Island. The last two miles are brutal in the cold and relentless wind. But finally, we are there!
After a quick dinner in the freezing cold food tent, we ride the bus back to our hotel. We gratefully take hot showers, take some Advil, and hop into our warm and comfy beds.

And so Day One has ended. We are tired, cold, and sore. Our hearts are full, and we are happy that we only have to walk 13 miles tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Arriving in New York for the Avon Walk

My flight from San Francisco to New York was very pleasant and the flight attendants were kind enough to let Sugar ride in the First Class closet. I worked on my memorial and honorary ribbons during the flight. As I left the plane, the flight attendants assured me that Sugar had been a very good traveler.

My roomie, Tomi, found Sugar and me at the luggage carousel and off we went to our hotel in midtown Manhattan. Unfortunately Tomi's luggage wasn't with us, but it did arrive the next morning.

We enjoyed a nice dinner at a close-by restaurant and were joined by another team-mate, Julia, and Anne, another cat lady who lives in New York. We had all known each other online for a quite a few years, so it was a real treat to finally meet in person.

The next day we walked to Ground Zero. None of us had seen the completed 9/11 memorial and it was a very sobering experience. It was meaningful to see the name of the woman who's name is on the bracelet I purchased at the gift shop several years ago on one of my visits to Ground Zero. 

That night, Julia, Tomi, and I had dinner at Bobby Flay's restaurant, Gato. Where else would three cat ladies on the prowl eat in Manhattan? We had a wonderful time and appreciated the attentive service of Luciano.

On Friday, we took a short walk in Central Park, then went to the Avon Walk registration where we met up with our remaining Trekkin' for Ta-Tas team-mates, Laura, Andrea, Sue Lyn, and Gina. I also had the pleasure of meeting Seth, the MooCow Guy, and we found that we have **many** things in common! He immediately fell in love with Sugar, but then who wouldn't? Just look at her sweet tabby face!

Friday night the team went to dinner and we were joined by Andrea's husband Barry, and two more cat ladies, Angie and Carol. 

Because we knew we had to be up early for the walk the next day, we called it a night around 9 pm. 

It was a wonderful time and in my next blog post you will hear all about the walk itself!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Cat Lady Walks

In just two days I leave for New York to participate in Avon 39 - The Walk to End Breast Cancer. This is my fifth breast cancer walk and my third since Sugar's feline mammary cancer diagnosis.

For me, October 17 - 18 is the culmination of four months and hundreds of miles of training walks, as well as raising over $2000 in donations. Along with my team-mates and a few thousand people, I will walk 26 miles on Saturday and 13 miles on Sunday. It is no small thing.

Why do we do it?

If you ask 100 people, you'll get 100 different answers. Each individual has their reasons for walking. I walk in memory of Sugar and to raise awareness that pets get breast cancer too. But united we all walk for one purpose - to end this hideous disease.

This weekend, wherever you are and whatever you're doing, please take a moment to think of those of us who are walking in New York. Wish us well or send us some positive energy. Heck you can even wear something pink!

If you're in New York City, come out and cheer us on along the route at one of the many cheering stations. Your encouragement is the best fuel to help us along the way. NYC Cheering Stations

If you're not in New York and you'd like to follow along, just check back here on my blog as I document our pink journey. Feel free to make an encouraging comment here and it will be shared and appreciated by our team.

And finally, if you haven't done it this month, give yourself a breast exam. And if you have pets, give them one too.