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Should I Donate to a Child in Need, or Pay for My Loving Dog's Surgery?

04/24/2015 12:58 EDT | Updated 06/24/2015 05:59 EDT
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When my husband John got home from work yesterday at 10 p.m., I asked him if he could take our dog Jessie out for her last pee. They seemed gone an awfully long time. Jessie usually goes quickly on our front lawn and high tails it back inside to pack it in for the night.

When they finally came back in, John looked crushed.

"What's wrong?" I asked alarmed.

While John was outside with Jessie, a woman approached on the sidewalk, a small frail collie at the end of a leash. They struck up a polite conversation, and the woman shared that her Jasper was being put down the very next day. This was Jasper's last walk.

As John looked adoringly at Jessie, who is the most wonderful family dog in the world, I saw tears in his eyes. Jessie is turning nine this year, and she is starting to struggle. She had surgery on her "good" leg six months ago, and has difficulty hoisting her 70-pound weight from lying to standing. She used to jump effortlessly onto our bed -- now she puts her shaggy chin at the edge of it and pleads with her beautiful brown eyes for someone to lift her up.

It is almost criminal how these creatures worm their way into our hearts.

At the time of Jessie's surgery it was not lost on me that she receives better health care than the majority of people on the planet. She was carefully assessed, x-rayed, and operated on by the best veterinary surgeon, and then received excellent private follow-up care. All of this cost several thousands of dollars.

I did not think twice about spending the money. Jessie is my girl, my canine daughter, my cubicle-mate and my confidante.

But after reading a piece in the New York Times recently, John and I began to grapple with the ethics of directing so much money to an animal. The story profiled a brilliant philosophy student (a student of Peter Singer's at Princeton no less) who veered away from academia to become a Wall Street trader. He took a high paying job so he could contribute significantly to charity. In 2013, he donated more than $100,000 primarily to the Against Malaria Foundation, which saves a child's life for just a few thousand dollars.

A few thousand dollars to save a child's life? Jessie will likely need future surgery, as there is a 60-80 per cent chance her "bad" leg will eventually give out. It will cost at least a few thousand dollars. I know we will pay it. But it's too depressing to do the math on how many lives the money spent on Jessie's surgeries could save.

Last year my older son who attends university out of town called me to say that he and his roommates were thinking of adopting a dog from the pound. Now, I try not to be a Debbie Downer with my kids, I really do, but this seemed like an insane idea.

In my most supportive Mom voice I said, "Jake, pets cost a lot of money. Jessie's dog food alone is $40 a month and vet bills could easily add up to more than you earn all summer."

But one of Jake's roommates is from a farming family. He is a hunter who owns a gun." Phil would just shoot the dog if he became lame," Jake countered. "That's what they do on the farm."

"Yes, Jake. But you didn't grow up on a farm. You grew up in Riverdale where people love their dogs more than their kids. We both know you would be asking for my credit card to bail you out."

I know myself well enough to know that I would not deny Jake the cash to save a canine member of his family. I couldn't make a rational decision like Phil, even though intellectually I know I would rather save a child's life than a dog's.

Do you also have the best family dog in the world? How do you wrestle with these moral dilemmas?

Originally published on The Relationship Deal

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