Life and Death Decisions Part II: Bogey's Story

Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a mobile, board-certified surgeon in Allentown, PA. Find him online at He is the co-author of “Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound” (

Katie Kegerise, a Certified Veterinary Technician in Reading, PA, contributed to this article.

Bogey, a cute but silly 6-month old Labrador retriever, presented after swallowing a large piece of ham bone.  Ouch!  The clients had noticed that Bogey had been vomiting for a few days and had progressively become more and more lethargic. Sure enough, X-rays showed an obvious bone in the stomach.

Unfortunately, after discussing the somewhat urgent need for surgery, with most likely a happy outcome, the clients shared their extreme financial constraints.  They would not be able to pay for surgery. Bogey was vomiting and dehydrated, but we could help with that – for relatively little money.  Sadly, we can’t perform surgery for free.  Medical treatment would give them time to find help, until they could afford surgery.  Every conceivable payment option was offered, but none was satisfactory.

Sure, the simplest and cheapest way to deal with a foreign body in the stomach is to cause the dog to vomit. However, based on the size of the bone, it would have been a risky proposition. For the same reason, performing endoscopy (placing a tube with a camera into the stomach to try to catch the bone), was a tricky - and certainly not free - procedure.  By causing vomiting or trying endoscopy, there was a definite possibility that the bone could get stuck in the esophagus (the tube between the mouth and the stomach).  This would be a much worse situation because it is more difficult to remove the bone from the esophagus than the stomach.

To my horror, the clients asked me to euthanize Bogey.  This was their solution to prevent their dog from further suffering. For ethical and hopefully obvious reasons, I refused to euthanize an otherwise healthy puppy. I felt terrible for the client. Yet I feel strongly that owning a pet is a responsibility, not a right.  Adopting a cat or a dog is not like buying a toaster oven.  You don’t discard it when it has become useless.

We tried to come up with other creative solutions.  We discussed relinquishing the dog to the hospital or a friend or a local shelter. None of those solutions were good enough for the client.  They just wanted me to euthanize Bogey.

And I refused. I just couldn’t do it.  It was against everything I believe in.  They unfortunately would have to find somebody else to do the dirty job.

So what is the moral of this sad story?

  • Owning a pet is a huge responsibility, including financially.  Pets have a tendency to get into problems.  They eat stuff.  They run away and get hit by a car. They get diseases.  As long as reasonable treatment options exist, our responsibility is to take care of our pets.
  • Avoid avoidable problems: always keep your pet on a leash; pet proof your house; never leave a pet unattended with a toy or an object that could be swallowed.
  • If you are not prepared to spend 1, 2 or sometimes 3 thousand dollars on an emergency procedure, you may want to look into pet insurance – the greatest thing ever invented in my humble opinion.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.