By CHRISTOPHER BYRNE
When Steven Goldsmith and his partner John got their mini poodle at 9 weeks old, they named him Jersey. It made sense because at the time both men were then appearing on Broadway in Jersey Boys. Jersey was just nine weeks old, and Steven and John acquired all the necessities for having a new puppy in the house—dishes, toys, bed and so forth. They also got one other thing: a health insurance policy. With a new puppy, that might have seemed like an extravagance at the time made sense to them even if it was an added monthly expense. After all, for many families their pets become members of the family and need no less care and attention than human pets.
Nearly fifteen years later, the insurance proved to be a lifesaver…literally. Jersey got sick, as older dogs do, and needed extensive medical treatment. Without the insurance, Steven and John would have had to pay as much as $10,000 in treatment and related costs, a budget-straining expense at any time. They would, alternatively, have been forced to make a very difficult choice about their beloved family member, one they simply and understandably weren’t ready to face. Fortunately, this story has a happy ending. Jersey came through all the treatments with flying colors, as they say. He’s still an old dog, but he’s a healthy dog once again, and out-of-pocket expenses were minimal—about $450 according to Steven.
In 2022, more than 70 percent of U.S. homes have pets, according to data from Lemonade Insurance, a pet insurance company. John and Steven had their coverage through another company, Trupanion, and there many companies out there. Because American attitudes towards pets have changed significantly in the past few decades—as mentioned they are considered part of the family—the attention to pets’ care, both throughout their lifetimes and in emergency situations is a significant consideration. Moreover, Steven and John’s story isn’t unique; there are literally thousands of stories of people who have been able to ensure that their pets survive—and thrive—because they were able to provide appropriate care.
There are many plans out there, and many levels of premiums, so it’s best to do your homework. However, depending on the level of coverage and such things as deductibles, you can fairly easily tailor a plan to meet your specific needs.
Sam Negrin, director of marketing and creative strategy for Fetch by the Dodo, one of the many plans out there says that she is also a customer—and had purchase insurance for her dog long before she took on her current role. “Pet insurance should be part of your checklist,” she says. “The sooner you get it, the more coverage you’ll have.” She does recommend that new pet parents get a vet check-up within about fifteen days of bringing home the new family member. For Fetch, that’s required for a policy.
Fetch by the Dodo plans are extensive in their coverage. Their plans cover dental plans—‘”every tooth in the mouth and the gums”—as well as holistic therapies, including acupuncture, which Negrin says, has proven highly effective for dogs.
The Fetch plans also cover breed-specific conditions. For example, German Shepherds are susceptible to hip dysplasia as they get older. Even knowing this, the plans will cover treatments for that condition, should it arise.
Companies are fairly aggressive in pointing out the advantages of their plans, but, as noted, all of them have deductibles, which you can adjust up or down to affect your premium. Once the deductibles are met, plans typically pay between 80 and 90 percent of covered costs. If this is beginning to sound like your personal health insurance, well, it’s not that far off. Many of the same principles apply.
Fetch by the Dodo has also reached out specifically to the LGBTQ+ communities, crowd-sourcing a list of LGBTQ+-owned pet and pet service companies in order to help people support businesses in their communities.
Just as with human healthcare plans, many pet plans also include provisions for ensuring the ongoing wellbeing of a pet. Wait, isn’t enough just to feed, walk and play? Is that enough for you?
The result has been a new emphasis on dog training that, like medical plans, takes on some of the aspects of human care. Celebrity dog trainer Michael Hill has established himself with all kinds of dog owners through his “owner-empowering” approach to dog training—something, he says, that goes well beyond simple obedience. “I always point out how odd it would be if the desired outcome of working on a relationship with another human being was simply obedience. Mutual respect, effective communication, and emotional wellbeing are far better goals.
As to the long-term health of a dog, Hill says effective training is essential. “It can be lifesaving—the difference between successfully living with a family for an entire lifetime, versus unfortunate endings when a dog becomes a risk to its environment. Excessive stress and anxiety takes a toll on any living thing’s body, and dogs are no exception. Not only are dogs happier when their mental health is cared for, they’re physically healthier, too.
It won’t always be smooth sailing. After all, you are developing a relationship with another living creature. As Hill says, “Sometimes learning to live with a dog can be difficult and frustrating, and many owners don’t even realize they’re taking it personally. Patience for both yourself and your dog in the learning process is crucial.”
It’s a lot of investment both in time and finances, but it’s no less than you would do for any member of the family, right? And in the case of Jersey, it’s given him-and his pet parents—a joyful third act.