The Cost of My Cat Beating Up My Dog

As it turned out, it was not exactly a fair fight

My family has always had pets. The current configuration includes a Doberman named Sash; a rescued Maine Coon named Gustave; and most recently, my rescued ex-racing greyhound named Bruno. “You commit to a pet for the whole of its life,” is the first commandment in our family pet bible, so committing to my own dog was A Very Adult Decision.

There’s been a lot of attention in the Australian media about the use of live bait in greyhound training. Basically, trainers tie a piglet, a possum, or a rabbit to the lure and let the dogs chase it. Apparently the noises of the dying animal make the dogs run faster. Greyhound racing is not getting much good press at the moment. In one state in Australia, the decision has been made to close down the dog racing industry completely.

As soon as I got my greyhound, well-meaning friends were worried about how we could ensure Gustave the cat’s safety with a greyhound in the house. What they didn’t realize was that, under normal circumstances, the greyhound is far too lazy to chase a cat, and the cat is far too angry to put up with any dog nonsense. The two uneventfully co-existed for six months.

Then, one night in July, I heard Bruno the greyhound barking in the dark back yard. Sash the Doberman raced outside to assist. When we got out there, we initially thought Bruno had a possum. His barks quickly turned to shrieks. He did not have a possum; rather, Gustave had him.

In the first second of seeing the situation, I was terrified the dogs were going to tear the cat in half. We separated them as quickly as possible. Gustave ran inside; Sash the Doberman followed the cat into the front room where he was hiding under furniture; and Bruno the greyhound was left standing outside with blood seeping from his chest onto the back deck.

After a quick triage, we decided to do two runs to the emergency vet, rather than take the cat and dog in the same car. Bruno went first, his bleeding staunched by a pair of clean knickers I’d grabbed off the clothes line. The vet quickly sedated him and clipped all his injuries so they could see how bad they were. He was covered in gashes and puncture holes. They took him in for surgery.

Cost: AU$1,372.20 including surgery, an out of hours fee, an overnight stay and a bunch of drugs

We returned home in search of Gustave. He was crouched under furniture, clearly cranky, but not bleeding. Our concern was for the possibility of internal injuries. The vet checked him over, did some tests, and informed us his only obvious injury was a single missing claw. I assume it was buried somewhere in Bruno.

The vets gave him a shot of methadone, and a 24-hour anti-inflammatory and he was sent home, flying high.

Cost: AU$260.79 including an out of hours fee, a blood test and some drugs that made him very chill

Gustave: a smug jerk

I picked Bruno up the next morning. He was a very sorry sight, covered in bald patches and sporting a hematoma that extended from his neck, across his chest, halfway up his ribs, and into his armpits. He had a small odd-looking green smudge on the skin at the back of his neck. They’d shaved the top of his head, so he looked like a little old man. I opened the car to help him in and threw the keys on the front seat so I could pick him up. I put him in and shut the back door. The car promptly locked itself, keys and phone inside. The vet called roadside assistance for me.

Cost: free (my annual subscription is AU$85), and a small amount of my dignity when I explained to the roadside assist man what had happened

I took the day off work to stay home with my dopey cat and dog and make sure Bruno wasn’t licking his stitches. It was my second week in a new job, so I didn’t have any leave accrued — we get 10 days paid sick leave and four weeks paid holiday leave a year — so I took a day of leave without pay. My lovely new boss was okay with this.

Cost: AU$240 (before tax) or AU$160 (after tax)

A week later, I noticed that the green smudge on Bruno’s skin was still there and had developed a ring of scabbing around it with a diameter of about 5cm. Worried, we went and saw our regular vet. She told me it was probably an abscess caused by one of the injections at the emergency vet, and the green skin was dead. She said it would peel off leaving an open wound. Bruno was put on antibiotics and had to have the abscess checked by the vet every three days.

Cost: AU$208.05 (antibiotics, a test of the ooze in his abscess, and a consult) + AU$135.15 (cream and a consult on a public holiday) + AU$67.45 (more antibiotics and a discounted consult fee — I assume the vet was feeling sorry for us by this stage) = AU$410.65

As predicted, the skin peeled off. It was the most disgusting thing I’ve seen in my life; however, it didn’t compromise the quick development of my wound management skills. The vet’s concern was with him needing a second surgery if it didn’t heal properly.

We were lucky. The abscess healed and Bruno’s hair grew back. There was no need for further surgery. Bruno now studiously avoids eye contact with the cat — to the extent of refusing to drink from his water bowl if the cat is nearby, and he definitely does not go out into the back-yard at night if the cat is out there.

Bruno: to celebrate his hair growing back, he selected his own toy from the pet shop

We’re still not 100% sure what happened in the darkness of the backyard that night. Did Bruno see movement in the dark and mistake Gustave for a possum? Did Gustave follow Bruno outside and ambush him? These days, we’re extremely careful about managing who is in what space.

Next time someone asks how I keep the cat safe from the greyhound, I’ll show them the pictures: Bruno, covered in stitches and bruises; Gustave, looking smug. The cat is not the pet that’s likely to be injured at our house.

TOTAL COST: AU$2,203.64, about US$1,660, and all of Bruno’s street cred

In Australia, we have universal healthcare. Our system might not be as good as Sweden’s, but it’s good enough that we don’t know how much medicine costs until we have to buy it for our pets. Whining about the cost of vet bills is a common pastime within the crazy-dog/cat people community in Australia. Everyone is convinced the vet is ripping them off with a $500 x-ray. In fact, our human x-rays probably cost that, or more.

We feel uncomfortable when we have to decide whether we can afford the attention our pets need. In other countries, people have to make those decisions about their human healthcare. We’re incredibly lucky to have a system in place that means we don’t have to pay for it. I’ve never had a medical procedure that cost as much as my vet bills do and I’ve never had to skip medical attention because I can’t afford it.

There are three pet calming diffusers plugged in around the house. I also signed up for pet insurance the next day ($AUD65/fortnight, ongoing). Lesson learned.

Chloë Moss is a Political Science and Writing major at the University of Queensland and a public servant. Chloë (and most of the main characters in this story) can be found on instagram, here.

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