CHICAGO, Jan. 8 (UPI) -- A Florida woman heard her missing long-haired cat mewing on her front porch Thanksgiving night and opened the door to find the kitty had been hit by a car.
Giggle-Blizzard had vanished days earlier, an apparent runaway. After 11 days, he'd dragged himself home, his back legs smashed. The vet bills for two surgeries came to $3,000, The St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times reported.
That's a dramatic -- and expensive -- lesson about the cost of caring for an injured pet. More than half of U.S. households have a pet, about 80 percent of them dogs or cats.
Twenty years ago my wife and I had a similar experience with a calico cat we adopted after a stray birthed four kittens under our backyard deck.
My wife bought a metal dog crate and after much cajoling and baiting with treats captured the tiny kitten, whom we named "Callie."
We tried to turn her into an indoor cat but Callie had the wanderlust. She would always run to the door when it opened and look out longingly. One day my wife said, "Go ahead, Callie," and the cat stepped out, looked over her shoulder and disappeared.
My wife was distraught. "Wasn't I a good mother?" she asked. "Why didn't she come back?"
In the next week we spotted her in the alley, in the park and one night she tried to claw her way into the basement through a plastic window well cover.
During the worst heat wave in 100 years, she showed up. I was bringing in packages and left the screen door open. When I came back into the kitchen, there she was.
She looked up at me, meowed a couple of times and ran into the basement. We knew something was wrong.
Callie probably had been hit by a car or got hung up on a fence. Her collar dug deep into her neck and one of her front legs, and a festering wound was covered with maggots.
The bill at the Pet Emergency Center came to more than $500 -- a lot for us at the time. We had never even heard of pet insurance.
These days, the cost of medical care for pets rivals that for humans. Even dogs and cats can get H1N1.
The American Pet Products Association estimates pet owners will spend $12.2 billion on veterinary care this year, up from $11.1 billion in 2008. Animals now get chemotherapy for cancer and dialysis for kidney disease, just like their owners.
But only about 1 million U.S. pets are insured.
Unless one is happy adopting a battery-powered Zhu Zhu toy hamster, there will be vet bills. Even routine shots and examinations are expensive.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates it costs about $670 annually to take care of a cat and nearly $900 a year to care for a dog.
Premiums for pet insurance typically range from $10 to $75 a month depending on the pet's age, breed and location. Most require owners to pay vet bills upfront and file for reimbursement, The Wall Street Journal said.
Americans love their pets so much, Congress, which has yet to adopt final legislation reforming healthcare for people, may someday consider legislation to create a tax break of as much as $3,500 for pet care expenses. Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, R-Mich., proposed the tax break in October after he was contacted by veteran actor Robert Davi, who appeared in "The Goonies," "License to Kill" and "Diehard."
The Humanity and Pets Partnered through the Years Act, a/k/a the HAPPY Act, would cover all legally owned pets, from dogs and cats to hedgehogs, reptiles and presumably even chickens.
"There is a general acknowledgment that people really care about their pets," Betsy Dribben, vice president of government relations of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, told ABC News. "Taking care of pets does cost money, and during the dramatic decline of people's income and shaky economy, any possibility of assisting people in meeting those costs should be looked at."
The bill has the support of animal welfare groups, but critics worry about people taking advantage of the law dumping or abusing the pets while taking the tax write-off. Others say pets are a luxury, especially in this economy.
"We've had reports of people having to turn in pets because of the economic recession. And when you think about the relationship between people and pets and the humane way that it helps people think, it seemed to me to be a good idea, and we dropped it in," McCotter told Doggy TV, a YouTube channel.
"Obviously, healthcare is on the front burner. But when the time comes, if people are letting their member know they like it, they'd like to see them get behind it, I think that will be helpful in this instance."