Too many times in the emergency department of AERC, we see pets brought in by a divorced pet owner whose ex-partner shares custody of the pet but doesn’t agree with the treatment plan selected and either refuses to provide authorization for care or to share the cost of treatment. Either situation can be scary and stressful, so it’s important that if you share custody of your pet with an ex, discussions regarding emergency care of your shared pet take place prior to the care being needed.
It is critical to be sure both parties agree on 1) what to do when emergency care is needed for the pet(s) 2) which party is authorized to make decisions should emergency care be needed and 3) how the cost of such care will be divided, if at all. Emergency care, due to its nature, often allows little time for such decisions to be made after care is needed. Our emergency doctors sometimes find themselves in the difficult position of trying to explain care options to divorced individuals while a pet’s life hangs in the balance. While not a frequent occurrence, clearly, it is a situation which all involved would prefer never took place. Even when a breakup is mutual and amicable, an emergency involving a beloved pet can stress everyone to the max.
If conversations in regards to critical care have taken place in advance and the answers written down and kept with the rest of your pet’s medical records or in a wallet or purse, not only can it reduce stress, but it may save your pet’s life. Such questions may include:
- What is the maximum amount of money you would spend if our pet was given an excellent/good/poor chance of survival?
- Would you want to proceed with an emergency surgery if our pet stood an excellent/good/poor chance of full recovery?
- Would you want our pet to be provided with CPR if he/she needed it, knowing that CPR is very costly and is often not successful?
- How would costs of care be covered? Would costs be divided even if only one person was making all of the care decisions?
- Do we have a preferred facility to provide emergency care?
- Would you want to provide palliative care instead of euthanizing if we could manage our pet’s condition at home and buy some time to say goodbye?
- Would you want/need to be present if our pet needed to be euthanized after an emergency incident? What if our pet was suffering?
- Would you want our pet’s cremains returned, and would we divide them or would one person retain them?
Many of these questions may seem morbid, and they certainly aren’t fun to think about. You may even find that some of them simply cannot be answered in advance. They should, however, at the very least, spark discussion that will enable both of you to know more about what your ex-partner thinks about providing care, care outcomes, and costs of care in an emergency situation for your pet.