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Daphne Livoni, M.S. L.Ac.
Office for humans in Oakland. Pets seen in El Sobrante, Walnut Creek, Greenbrae + Alameda, Contra Costa & Marin Counties.
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Inside Bay Area - Oakland Tribune

Caring For Senior Pets Worth The Cost

by Tammerlin Drummond

One frightening morning, my beloved dog Sophie, 11, fell over face first in her food dish. When she tried to stand up, her back legs buckled beneath her.

I rushed her to the veterinarian. After running X-rays and a battery of other expensive tests, the vet proclaimed Sophie a canine invalid. Left elbow and both hips shot. Too old for a replacement.

"Replacement?" I asked incredulously.

The now former vet suggested, without much compassion in my opinion, that I use a towel as a harness under Sophie's stomach to hold her up so she could squat and relieve herself.

Well I wasn't about to give up on my Jeep co-pilot. She's the loyal friend who has been by my side for the last nine years.

I decided to visit a pet acupuncturist.

Daphne Livoni is a holistic healer with a degree in animal science from UC Davis. For the last seven years, she has been practicing acupuncture on cats and dogs along with some horses.

She uses the needles to relieve everything from arthritic pain to problems with kidney and liver function.

Thanks to once-a-month acupuncture treatments ($60), along with pain pills and Prednisone, Sophie is walking again. Slowly, and with a gimp, but at least she's moving.

"It's beautiful to watch it work on them," Livoni says.

We pet owners spend $43 billion a year on pet health care. Many of us will do just about anything — spend just about anything — to make our dog or cat as comfortable as possible in his or her senior years, regardless of how crazy others think we are.

When Dorian Laird's 14-year-old cat Cornflake was recently diagnosed with cancer, she didn't think twice about putting him on chemotherapy. Cornflake's medical bills take a huge bite out of the substitute teacher's salary. Laird estimates that she has already spent a couple thousand dollars on hospital stays and medications.

It costs $50 for 15 Leukeran chemo pills — with a pharmacy's discount — which last about a month.

"I've had him since he was 8 months old and I love him," Laird said. "He's not ready to check out and I'm not ready to let him go."

But what if you can't afford hundreds upon hundreds of dollars on pet medical bills?

Sophie's current vet, Maureen Dorsey at the Oakland Veterinary Hospital, not long ago had to put down her own dog. She counsels her clients not to feel guilty if they can't afford state-of-the-art vet technology. Just like with older people, just because a procedure exists, it's not necessarily in the best interest of the pet or the owner.

But it's hard to resist the temptation to pull out all the stops.

A whole industry has sprung up around caring for senior dogs and cats. There are special orthopedic beds with harder mattresses for the arthritic who have trouble getting up. There are ramps to help lame dogs get into the car. Not to mention medications such as Rimadyl for doggy arthritis and Anipryl for Doggy Alzheimer's Syndrome.

Other businesses might be suffering in the recession, but industries that cater to the senior pet are going strong.

Candy Harper, owner of Waiterock Kennel in Lafayette, offers a special $8-a-day package that caters to older pets. It includes extra play time, late night potty breaks, and a glucosamine snack.

"We'll also rubber-mat the kennels for these old guys and give them extra bedding," Harper says.

I feel comfortable leaving Sophie there when I'm traveling because I know that she'll get the special attention that senior pets require.

I can already feel some of you reading this and rolling your eyes. It's just a dog, you say. But dogs aren't just dogs—they're members of the family. A reflection of how our lives have evolved as pets have taken on increasing importance in many of our lives.

When my grandmother was dying of lung cancer, Sophie would rest her chin on Nana's knee, carefully avoiding the tubes from the oxygen tank. My grandmother would stroke Sophie's neck with fingers gnarled by arthritis and she would smile contentedly.

After so many years of unwavering devotion, how could I possibly abandon Sophie now that Father Time has come for her?

IIyse Opas has had her dog Sierra for 15 years. It saddens her to watch Sierra's deterioration. She has severe arthritis, she's lost her hearing and has become incontinent.

"It's a labor of love certainly," Opas said. "But these pets give so much to us, it's easy to reciprocate."

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