Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

Monthly Archives: April 2007

Water: the next oil


I’ve known this intellectually for at least 10 years, if not longer – what this earth is going to run out of first, and what will limit life on this planet first, is water. Drinkable water.

I read “Price of Fire” recently, and went to a talk by the author, Ben Dangl, last week. We watched a short documentary on one of the issues the poor people of Bolivia have fought – the right of access to potable water. This particular documentary featured the fight against Suez. A few years back the people fought against Bechtel.

Here’s how it works – the people have a certain amount of access to water, often from wells they dug themselves, and pipes they laid themselves. The IMF comes in and tells the government “privatize the water, or you’ll get no more money from us.” So the Bolivian government does. Actually, this kind of thing has happened all over Latin America. Neoliberalism experimenting with the lives of people. Real people who really are dying of water-related health issues now that the private companies have come in, claimed that they own the access to all water sources, including the wells that were built by the people themselves. The cost to access the water is so high that, for people who make an average of only $2/day to support their whole family, many can’t afford to hook up to the now-expensive water from the private company that doesn’t care about the people dying right outside their plants.

Nice show of humanity, that.

I devote the majority of my time to Animal Rights, and when I learn about these social issues, it is hard to not feel like limiting myself to animal rights is perhaps a concern that only people in privileged situations have the luxury of spending their time on. That thought didn’t come from me, however. It is a relatively common critique of animal rights movements. How can we focus on what humans are doing to animals when what humans are doing to humans is just as big of an issue? But then I think about it a bit more, and I realize that not only is it all connected, veganism is the key on many levels to getting a handle on changing the world so that these survival issues are given the proper attention. I can’t directly affect what happens to the people in Bolivia, but I can directly impact my own water usage. Veganism is an obvious and drastic water savings. That isn’t all i should do, but it is a great starting point. Taking it further, advocating for animal rights has an inherent human rights element. Humans are animals, after all, but that is only one part of the issue. Veganism is all-encompassing, or should be.

Water will be the next oil, the next resource that wars are fought over. If we go vegan, we’re lightening up that demand, and that is no small thing. If the IMF is driving the privatization of water resources in Latin America and pure profit is driving the privatization of water in the U.S. (Detroit is fighting this right now), lessening the demand will help the people of Bolivia, indirectly. It will help the environment directly and immediately. There is more we can do, but considering the huge difference it makes in water consumption to produce plants as opposed to exploit animals, having a water-saving toilet is meaningless if you aren’t also vegan.

Something that humans have a tendency to forget, also – if we’re ruining the water supply for ourselves, we’re ruining it for everyone. The non-human animals have as much of a right to that water as the humans do, and when access to water is limited for the humans, it is limited for the non-humans. We do not have the right to do this to others, pure and simple. Water is necessary for survival, and we do not have the right to limit the ability of others to live, to survive. It doesn’t matter if they’re human or not, rich or poor, every being that has an interest its own survival, that is sentient, should have the right to live its life. Polluting the water, limiting the access to water, making water a privilege instead of a right goes against animal rights and human rights.

In addition, when we pollute the water, we hasten the extinction of our own species. The pollutants are in the animals, the plants, the water, the air, the earth. Most likely the earth will survive the human species. The question is whether humans can survive the human species.

flowers in dc


Eastern Shore Sanctuary

eastern shore sanctuary

I drove 140 miles to Eastern Shore Sanctuary this weekend. It is on the (you might guess) eastern shore of Maryland, right in the middle of chicken land (by which I mean chickens-raised-for-short-lives-and-horrible-deaths land), and I have the utmost admiration for Pattrice Jones and Miriam Jones, who co-founded the sanctuary. The sanctuary is home mostly to chickens, but also a few ducks and cats and dogs. Karen Davis has done something similar on the eastern shore of Virginia, with United Poultry Concerns.

They certainly are located in an area where they can directly help many chickens, where chickens need a lot of help. The trucks filled with live chickens on the way to slaughter rumble by the sanctuary, and many of the residents have come to Eastern Shore Sanctuary by virtue of escaping the truck as they are on their way to their death. Many chickens who do this come to an immediate end on the hard asphalt, but some lucky ones survive and are brought to the sanctuary to live out their lives.

Their short lives. Even after being rescued, the genetic abuse they have been subjected to shortens their lives to about a year. By then their skeletons are overwhelmed by the massive size their bodies grow to, and they often die of sudden heart attacks.

But on this particular sunny, gorgeous day, we got to see chickens “sleeping like the dead” but alive and basking in the sun, nibbling on food, exploring their world. When they lay sprawled on the ground to nap in the sun, completely still, they really do look like they are sleeping the long sleep. Pattrice says they routinely fool her when they do this, and it is easy to see how! Despite the time I’ve spent at Poplar Spring and the few visits to Peaceful Prairie, I had never seen chickens doing this. There is always something new to learn.

We mucked out the chicken’s main barn, and hosed it down. It was the first nice day in quite a while, and warm enough that it would have time to dry. We cleared areas of the yard to make them more chicken friendly, and curious types that they are, they wandered to where we were working, delighted to find yummy green things growing in this area they had been ignoring. We examined the solar panels powering the pond’s pump with curiosity and envy, as well as a sort of vicarious satisfaction – Pattrice is one to live her beliefs with every action. She is as passionate about the environment as she is about animal rights and human rights, but she doesn’t just talk about it. She teaches kids at a local college, she runs a sanctuary for chickens, and she lives as green as she can possibly manage, composting toilet and all.

We didn’t check out the composting toilet, but we did absorb the peace of being away from the city, at a sanctuary that creates a world within its boundaries that the world around it really should strive toward. The chickens get to choose whether to roost in the trees, go feral, or spend their nights in the barn. They can decide for themselves what they prefer, between safety and absolute freedom.

The sanctuary feels very much like a it was set down there from a different planet. The peace and the joy on the property, the far reaching impact the sanctuary has on those who visit, that Pattrice has on those she teaches, talks to, and on those who read her writing; it is all so different from the surrounding area, from what you’d naturally expect from an area where there are chicken farms just barely out of sight in at least two directions.

Pattrice has a way of making you think. At least, she makes me think. I am so glad that I’m only 140 miles away. I’ll be going back.

eastern shore

Some hope

bank warning

The world is a pretty scary place, between the wars, the IMF, the IRS, and the pollution. It is worse to an uncountable degree for the other species we share the earth with, because everything we do to our fellow humans gets visited on the other earthlings in yet worse ways. They have no sanctuary from the pollution we dump in their homes, no recourse from the decisions we make about their lives and deaths. Granted this is true about all too many humans as well, but humans at least have a voice and organizations like Equal Exchange and Human Rights Watch. Imperfect, but better than nothing. All the animals have is our consciences.

I was thinking about this last night and today as I processed some pictures from Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary. I was reading their stories at the same time. The chickens that jumped from the truck on its way to slaughter, an amazing enough feat, and survived the fall to the ground, something that few manage. The cow that escaped from a truck, the cow that the farmer couldn’t quite kill – either through a change of heart, or by the cow’s intelligent refusal to board the slaughter truck.

These are the exceptions. Most broiler chickens live only a few short weeks, their mangled deformed bodies a product of the living conditions and grotesque breeding practices that have created unnatural bodies in unnatural time frames. They still have natural desires – to take dirt baths, to sun themselves, to live. Most cows are killed a few weeks after their birth, if they’re male, and a few years later, after they can not produce as much milk as their exploiters wish, if they are female. Billions of animals every year share this fate.

The animals that aren’t farmed still are deeply and negatively impacted by humans. The 10 million homeless animals killed by shelters every year, the garbage in the ocean, the fishing, the reef destruction, the melting ice caps, air pollution, and essentially an endless list of ways the earth has been harmed. Harming the earth always leads to harming its residents, and that includes humans as well as every other species.

There doesn’t seem to be much hope in that list. My hope comes from things like the vegan dosa cart in Washington Square Park in NYC and the long line of people waiting for their tasty vegan lunch. Going vegan is just one thing that can be done by each of us, but what we chose to eat is something that has a profound impact on our health, the environment, and the animals affected by our choices. There is nothing else we can do that will have as big of a direct impact on so many levels. The cynics among us know that it won’t miraculously change the world, at least not overnight, but that does not change the fact that what we choose to consume is almost always within our control, and it is a choice that matters. There are other things we can do in addition to going vegan, such as grow some of our own food (yes, even in urban settings, we can grow food not lawns), drive less, use more efficient light bulbs, unplug our chargers from the wall when we are not using them, buy locally grown organic produce, donate time to help others, rescue some animals…what we can do to have a positive (or at least less negative) impact is another list that is endless, really.

Get busy, is what I mean to say. There is a lot to do, a lot that we can do, and no excuses for doing nothing. The dosas, by the way, are delicious.

dosa cart

Circus cruelty

circus poster

I have never been to a circus protest, mostly because it has never worked out schedule-wise for me. I hear that they’re nasty. At fur protests, most people are in support, even if they are leather-wearing carnists. A bit strange, perhaps, but true. At circuses, the activists become evil humans in the minds of the parents hustling their kids to watch the greatest show of abuse on earth. Well, the greatest show of abuse that people pay to take their kids to watch.

From what I have heard, one of the complaints that parents make is that they don’t want their kids faced with the information that is being handed out. This reaction, to actively avoid any information that interferes with one’s preferred world-view, especially if it interferes with one’s pleasure or entertainment, is common. It is normal. It is why TV is such a great sedative.

Some things you expect to be obvious. Cruelty in caging wild animals, forcing them to perform should be obvious. The cruelty in the training of them might be somewhat less obvious, but not hard to grasp. Yet most people are shocked when presented with the information, and often refuse to believe. The cruelty is well documented, not that we have a right to treat sentient beings as property, no matter how nicely they are treated. When it comes to circuses, though, there is no grey area. The ethical choice is obvious as well as easy – don’t go to the circus. When there is an easy and obvious ethical choice, you would think the majority of people would make that choice.

Then again, I wouldn’t have thought it would need to be explained that stairs are not wheelchair accessible.

wheelchair accessble

Kofa NWR – please write letters!

purple flower csp

I received an email today from Ron, who worked for many years at Kofa as a biologist. Looks like the Kofa managers are at it again, trying to open the refuge up for mountain lion hunting. Some of you may remember that they tried to do this earlier and it was cancelled because of a court ruling – the Kofa managers hadn’t done an environmental review. This time they’re trying to blame the declining bighorn sheep population on the mountain lions as an excuse to hunt the predators.

There are two really obvious problems with this argument. First of all, there is no evidence of any sheep kills by mountain lions this year. Second of all, they have 10 hunting permits for humans to kill sheep for December 2007.

Let’s think about this – we have a declining bighorn sheep population, there have been no kills by mountain lions; is the obvious solution going to be opening a hunt on mountain lions, or canceling the hunt by humans?

For years at least some scientists have been trying to educate the public on the importance of the large carnivores in the overall ecosystem’s health.

Aldo Leopold, the father of modern wildlife management and author of A Sand County Almanac, admonished wildlife managers to retain all the pieces of our ecosystems(1953). Using modern analysis, present day ecologists are finding Leopold’s directive to be right on the mark. Predation and particularly predation by large carnivores is a necessary component of all healthy ecosystems. Study after study has shown that predator loss leads to biodiversity loss (Diamond 1992). Large predator presence is so important, in fact, that conservation biologist John Terborgh (1988) wrote that “Disrupting the balance by persecuting top carnivores, by hunting out peccaries, pacas, and agoutis, or by fragmenting the landscape into patches too small to maintain the whole interlocking system, could lead to a gradual and perhaps irreversible erosion of diversity at all levels – both plant and animal.” Recognition of this importance has prompted leading wildlife professional organizations such as The Wildlife Society and The Society for Conservation Biology, to dedicate special issues of their journals expressly to predator ecology and conservation. Moreover, these scientific societies have placed the restoration of predators high on their list of conservation priorities.

Likewise, other predators hunt differently and take different animals at different times and under different circumstances. Predator-prey relationships are very complex and have evolved over thousands and thousands of years. As our understanding of the interplay between predators and prey has increased, so has our acknowledgment these relationships should be maintained intact.

The science simply backs up my ethical stance on hunting. Leave the predation to the carnivores, and let humans practice compassion and good health instead. I hope you take the time to write a letter to the Arizona Game and Fishing Department’s Commission. They are meeting this Saturday, April 21, 2007, so now is your chance to let your voice be heard. To speak for the mountain lions as well as the bighorn sheep. The managers of the refuge don’t seem to care about the animals in their refuge nearly as much as they care about the money they would make from selling hunting permits. Hopefully together our voices will be loud enough to make a difference.

Contact information:

State that the e-mail should go to the Commission in the Subject Line and the body of the e-mail. DirectorsOffice at azgfd dot gov.

Catalina State Park

Taxes and farm subsidies

rooster at poplar spring

Farm subsidies are very annoying, upsetting, misleading, and unavoidable things. From my perspective, and my taxes, the subsidies paid to farms to assist in their animal exploitation feels exactly the same as knowing that part of my taxes funds the wars that I’m completely opposed to. Quite a conundrum – the ethical choice really is to not pay any taxes. The problem is that first of all, they are taken directly out of my paycheck, and second of all, I think tax evasion probably has longer prison terms than murder.

So I pay my taxes to keep myself from having to deal with the IRS, and to keep myself out of prison, even though the taxes I pay fund the war machine and the animal exploiters.

Usually I don’t have to think about this much, but preparing my taxes tonight it was driven home, as the tax program asked me all sorts of questions, giving me an opportunity to claim numerous exemptions and credits if I had been busy in 2006 making money from various animal exploitations. What makes it even more of a slap in the face is that animal sanctuaries get no assistance at all. That’s right – if you actually save animals and provide for their care and well-being for their entire natural lives (and by “natural life” I don’t mean “until it is time to send them to the slaughterhouse to profit from their terror and death and dismemberment”), you get no benefit from the government, from the taxes we all pay. Why don’t I get a choice in the matter? Why can’t I choose which type of farm to support with my taxes? Why does the government only prop up the rich businessmen who make their money off of the people exploiting animals? It is a bit like organic farms being exempt from the farm subsidies. Anything that is not detrimental to people’s health, to animals, to the environment is not able to get assistance from the government.

I’m sure someone is thinking “what about the tax credit for hybrids?” As far as I’m concerned, that tax credit was designed to entice people to buy more new vehicles, and encouraging consuption even if for a hybrid is not exactly environmentally friendly. Notice that the electric car was killed within a decade after it was introduced, despite the success. It didn’t use any gas at all, if you ignore questioning where the electric itself came from, since it was possible to charge the cars up with green energy. How unamerican.

Yes I’m cynical. After Katrina and Iraq and Darfur and East Timor and all the steps the government has taken to make it easier for Big Business to pollute with impunity, the real question is why isn’t everyone this cynical, at a minimum?

sherman at peaceful prairie

The Onion and Zoos

flowering trees

I was surprised to see a video on The Onion today that brought up a spectrum of AR issues surrounding zoos. It came about because of the headlines the elephants in the El Paso, LA, and Philadelphia zoos have been getting lately, I’m sure, perhaps added to the controversy surrounding Knut the Berlin polar bear cub abandoned by his mother.

What I found interesting was that, even though it was a spoof, they did a good job of making various AR arguments – that animals would have a view of zoos drastically different from the “benevolent humans” who imprison them, that the breeding in zoos is actually a forced impregnation, which is essentially a rape, and that the emotional and physical distress that these animals suffer from might very well mean that if they could communicate to us, they might tell us that they would rather be dead than living “protected” in the zoos.

What I couldn’t quite figure out is whether the folks at The Onion were sympathetic to AR or not. Did they expect that the viewers of the video would laugh at the notion of animals having their own interest in their lives? Would it be funny to someone who refused to think about it from a non-human perspective that a panda bear might hate her life imprisoned in a zoo to the point that she wouldn’t want to bring another life into that situation?

Then I got an alert about an opinion piece in a philly newspaper about why the two remaining elephants at the Philly zoo should stay, even though they fully admitted that it was a wretched life for the elephants which would more than likely lead to an early death. There was no logic anywhere I could see in the entire piece, other than “they earn us a lot of money, therefore we should continue to exploit them, at the cost of their life” type logic.

The Philadelphia Zoo should keep two of its elephants, even if they are bored, even if they cannot roam the savannas, woodlands and forests of Africa or Asia, even if captivity means a shortened life.

It’s worth the trade-off if Kallie, Bette or Petal stay to fire the imagination of children and educate young and old about wildlife and the importance of conservation.

Zoo officials are closing one of the most popular attractions: the elephant exhibit. The space for these behemoths is too small – most zoos’ space for elephants is too small, according to animal-rights activists.

A movement is afoot (a big foot in the case of these largest of land mammals) to liberate elephants and other animals from the confines of zoos. Studies have shown that elephants in zoos suffer behavioral and digestive ailments. They have foot and joint problems from being fenced in and walking on the concrete floor of their indoor shelter.

No news flash there – an elephant living in Philadelphia is in an unnatural environment. (Hey, Bette, would you like that tree branch wit?) Good zoos are trying to create healthier conditions for animals, but they never will be able to replicate the wild. They shouldn’t have to.

The insensitivity shocked me, and I can’t figure out if I’m that out of touch with how the average person justifies things, or if this person really is more insensitive than most. Or perhaps simply more obvious about their disregard for others in their statements than most. Certainly the actions of the average person show little sensitivity to anything but their own interests.

alternative activisms

allison and chloe at poplar spring

This may come as a surprise, but I love taking pictures, and I take a lot of them. Okay, probably not much of a surprise. I try to use that interest and do what I can with it in my activism. Other people write so well that I feel like I’m right there, experiencing everything they describe. And others are excellent at organizing or fund-raising or creating business plans or websites or creating amazing food or any number of things. The point is that we all have our own talents and interests, strengths, skills, and experience. There are ways we can use our skills to aid our causes in ways that are outside the more typical things we see being done. Activism doesn’t begin and end with protests and letters to the editor, as helpful as those are. They simply might not be suited to everyone’s talents.

Just thinking about the shelters, sanctuaries, and rescue organizations, and the needs they have provides almost endless space for people’s talents, whatever they are. When there are animals that can be adopted out, having good portraits and well-told stories goes a long way to helping individual animals find homes. Artists can use their talents for fund-raising, creating calendars for the organizations to use, or donating art work to be sold at their fund-raisers. People with organizing talents can help take on the burden of organizing the fund-raisers, or with the endless paperwork that needs to be done. The options are almost endless.

I’ve had people encouraging me in the past few months to do more. Actually, it started about a year ago when a good friend put the idea in my head to use pictures combined with AR activism in a blog. At the time, to be honest, I expected to document things like fur protests, and that’s about it. I have done some of that, to be sure, but being the shutterbug I am, I started seeing AR issues in everyday things, news articles, and events in my life. So I didn’t stop with documenting fur protests, and as time has gone on, I’ve seen more places where I can potentially help.

I know that everyone has something special to them that they can use as a form of activism. This can be as big as writing books and doing podcasts, or as subtle as encouraging and supporting other activists, creating the sanctuary that, as Pattrice Jones wrote about in “Aftershock”, we need to help prevent or recover from burnout.

I don’t have much to say in this post other than to encourage everyone to think about what they can do to contribute. If anyone has ever felt like they should be doing something, but were stopped by certain constraints, the trick is to look at things from another perspective, to find a way to contribute that they might not have thought of before. Or maybe just to look at what they already do and acknowledge the ways they already contribute. We don’t have to be martyrs to our cause, after all. The added benefit to doing things we enjoy in ways that can help our causes is that we are less likely to suffer burnout, as long as we don’t forget to take care of ourselves at the same time. There is a middle ground, and we should seek it.

white flower commons

“Pet” Insurance, Part 4 (reviews)

tempest on patio

There is an unfortunate lack of reviews of pet insurance, despite the fact that there are at least 1 million animals covered by pet insurance! I will actually start with a review of a discount program (Pet Assure) and move on to the reviews I was able to find on the US insurances.

The review for Pet Assure is 7 years old, but I see no reason why anything would have changed. They bring up an excellent point about people with anything other than dogs and cats. I said in “Part 3” that your only option was VPI if you wanted something other than a cat or dog covered, and that is true for actual insurance, but Pet Assure is another option, because it is a simple discount program. If your vet accepts it, you get 25% of the bill, period. Here is part of the review:

I love this service because it’s so easy to use. I pay for the service for my pets and I am ready to go!

The best aspects of the company are that I can walk into the vet clinic and show my card. I automatically get 25 percent off my bill with the exception of food or flea products. It’s that simple! No forms, no hassles, no pre-existing conditions to worry about like some of the other companies! They accept any type of pet as long as the clinic seeing them accepts Pet Assure, so it’s not just for dogs and cats. It can also be used at many groomers, pet shops and other pet friendly places for selected discounts. It’s worth every nickel spent on the policy.

The worst aspects are that not every clinic is accepting it yet. So, while your regular vet might take it, the emergency clinic might not. Also, if you change vets, you would need to change to a clinic that carried it. Be sure to check this out before paying if you are worried about this. While some of the other more well known companies are accepted by just about any clinic, Pet Assure still isn’t accepted widespread.

Who would I recommend it to? Anyone with pets provided their clinic of choice uses it. It covers any animal, even the exotics like reptiles, equine, rabbits, pot bellied pigs, birds, whatever, as long as your clinic accepts it. Be aware though that using the 25 percent discount usually means that it’s the ONLY discount you get. So, no senior discounts or “dental month” discount, etc. This is up to the individual clinic to decide the policy for themselves. You will usually get whichever discount is greater, but can’t combine them. (so if they offer a 10 percent multi-pet discount, you don’t get 35 percent off, just 25 percent)

Since this service costs $99/year for dogs or horses, $69 for cats/rodents/reptiles, and “family plans” for up to 4 animals is $149 ($20 for each additional beyond that), it is an inexpensive way to save on normal costs as well as an automatic savings on the unpredicted big costs…as long as your vet or a vet you like is part of their “network.” Keep in mind that this might not include an emergency clinic.

Some of the reviews for the insurances, I have to warn you, speak more to people not understanding how their insurance works. One person was upset that her insurance didn’t go down, since she didn’t use it. It isn’t like car insurance, though. Rates will go up as the cost of care goes up. You don’t get lower rates for not using it – it is a lot closer to human health care than car insurance.

So, read these with a critical eye, but there are several reviews of Pet Care Insurance. Most of the reviews go back years, and some of the negative reviews are more or less ignorance on the part of the people reviewing – there is a waiting period of at least 2 days for every company, and I can’t see why we should expect any different. If we were allowed to sign up at the time of an accident or illness, and have everything covered, the insurance companies would all be out of business, because everyone would sign up when the animals got sick, and cancel in between. And frankly, as much as that would please us, that isn’t the point of insuring against future need! But, two reviews follow:

Feb ’05:

I’ve had my one dog insured through PetCare since he was six. It’s been a positive experience for me. They have covered everything they said, even covered three root canals for teeth that were sheared off by chewing on hard items (covered them under “accident”). They did exercise their right to increase my premiums (now are at just under $40/month Canadian), but they have still paid out significantly more than what I put in. It will be interesting to see if my positive experience continues as my guy starts to get more of the gerentological conditions like arthritis, cysts, etc.

October ’03:

I have had a very negative experience with PetCare Pet Insurance. I have nothing good to say about this company that provides insurance for pet owners in both Canada and the U.S. They refused to pay when my Pomeranian was stricken with cancer which a covered disease. I filed complaints with the local Attorney General’s Office and the Better Business Bureau and the Insurance Commission. They wouldn’t budge. They kept changing their reasons for refusing to pay, initially they claimed it was a pre-existing disease because it was initially thought to be heart problems. They later said that if it was diagnosed they would pay, well guess what, they never paid the nearly $1,000 that they owed me and they were very rude in the process. Yet they gladly collected my premiums. I would not recommend this company to anyone. Stay away from Petcare Pet Insurance, you are better off not insuring your pet.

Neither review at review center was positive.

VPI, the biggest and oldest pet insurance company, had a lot more reviews. 35 total on epinions, though again many of these reviews are at least 7 years old. A disturbing review regarding the payout of claims going back only one year (April 2006):

Initially I signed up with Veterinary Pet Insurance, Brea, Calif. because we had adopted a rather old dog and I felt considering his age we would most likely run into health problems.

About 6 months or so after we had him enrolled he developed Cancer. We were devastated and took him to not only a veterinarian but a Veterinary Oncologist for treatment. Despite numerous letters explaining the time frame of his illness coverage was denied.

Despite this we enrolled our other two dogs with the company. We felt we understood the hesitancy of the company to cover him since the Cancer could have been pre-existing and we just weren’t aware of it. We did have the Vet send letters explaining all this to no avail however, we were too devastated to continue to fight the issue.

Several months later we got another Chi. He later took a fall. We had an emergency visit to the Veterinarian, nothing was broken. He was put on pain medication and at the time they also pointed out that he had a luxating patella (knee joint that dislocate). This is a genetic problem Chihuahuas are prone to. It had nothing to do with the fall but the company refused to cover this as well, again despite numerous letters from our Veterinarian explaining that there was no connection.

Our third Chi developed an abscess-again, visits to the Vet. Again, no coverage.

I called the company and gave them the whole story and cancelled the insurance. This company doesn’t back up any of its claimed services. I would avoid them like the plague. They offer a horrifying lack of support just when you need them the most.

Two more reviews, more than 6 years old, but within a couple months of each other, and both dealing with customer service and claims responses. The first is negative, the second glowingly positive.

I bought pet insurance from Veterinary Pet Insurance [VPI] for my current Beagle after a previous Beagle had medical problems that cost me over $2,500 before he passed away from his conditions [lupus and diabetes] at the age of only four years . It has always been a problem to do what you’re supposed to do for VPI’s requirements… they won’t accept the normal detailed Vet bills, they always want something special before they’ll consider payment. And although their literature and reps say they process claims within a week, it typically takes *two to three months* to get payments from them. These are small inconveniences. Their service has cost about $320 per year for my 3-year old male Beagle, and I have gotten about $100 total back in payments over the years after my deductibles [$40 per incident deductible]. I have their “best” plan, the Advantage Plus Plan. I also have had the “hard sell” and high pressure tactics applied by customer reps when at renewal time I wanted to switch from their most expensive plan to the next plan down. The pressure on the phone was unrelenting and worse than a car salesman’s whining and dire warnings. I eventually caved in and kept the higher-priced service. My most recent experience [Saturday, September 9, 2000]: I recently got a female Beagle from a rescue organization to be a companion to my male. To make a long story short, almost immediately they got into a real fight and before I could separate them, two of the female’s lower front teeth were almost pulled out. I rushed her to an emergency Vet clinic [not my normal Vet, who was closed, after 6PM] and they did surgery on her mouth to try to save the teeth, although they made no guarantees that the teeth would “take.” It cost me $423, and I hadn’t had her but a few days, so I hadn’t yet applied for pet insurance through VPI. I just called Veterinary Pet Insurance and went through their voicemail system and finally got to talk to a representative. Here’s how the conversation went: Me: “Hi, my little female Beagle just had to have surgery to try to save two of her front teeth after a dog fight and the charges were $423. I’d like to find out how much your insurance would have reimbursed me for her care.” VPI Insurance Rep: “I’m sorry, we don’t do that. We’d have to see the bill and all the charges…” Me: “I can fax it to you, I have a fax machine.” VPI Rep [snappishly]: “We don’t have time for that. We don’t *waste our time* on that.” Me: “[long pause] …Well, I guess if you don’t have time to help me, I don’t have time to buy your insurance. Thank you.” And I hung up. These are just my experiences, but I have to say that consistently, their customer service is extremely poor, rude, and pushy. Take this into account when deciding which company to buy pet insurance from.

My husband and I rescue dogs in the streets. Some we find homes for, some adopt our home. Sometimes we also find the dogs’ owners. About a year ago, I found this little dog in the street and took him in. He didn’t have any tags and even after posting signs, publishing ads and alerting shelters, no one claimed him. Turns out he was around 10 years old and had some medical problems. In a matter of days, he became a special pooch to us.

We had Veterinary Pet Insurance on our two others dogs and had always been happy with the company and how great their customer service department is. Claims got paid really fast and that meant a lot to me because I didn’t always have the cash when emergencies occurred.

About 7 months after I found Alley, he stopped eating. This wasn’t like him since he just loved to eat even though he was a little guy. He ended up in the hospital for 5 days with kidney problems. We were able to bring him home and even thought he might be okay for a few more years. Maybe we were deluding ourselves – but about 7 weeks later, it all happened again and we had to rush him back to the emergency hospital. He was there for about a week when he had to decide if it was time.

We cried and cried and cried … but his vital signs were going down and we didn’t want him to suffer. At least we didn’t have to make our decision based on money. The insurance made it so we just thought about our Alley and not if we could afford the treatments. We tried some things that really didn’t help but at least when the time came and we had to say good-bye to the little guy who stole our hearts, we didn’t feel guilty.

A few days later we buried Alley with our other dogs at a local pet cemetery. So, we had all these medical expenses from his second hospitalization and the cemetery was about $500 all together. A few days later VPI sent us our reimbursement check and between the two emergency hospitalizations we got back over 70%. I was astounded and that’s when I started to tell everyone I know with pets to get Veterinary Pet Insurance.

As you can see, within a few months of each other, drastically different opinions on the same company. I believe you’ll always see more negative opinions posted than positive, as well, so the fact that VPI is rated only 2.5 out of 5.0 should be taken with a grain of salt. However this next review is something that worries me about VPI, especially with the extremely detailed (micro-managed, in my opinion) Benefit Schedules:

Benefit schedule is waaay outdated
by kodabra ,Oct 29 ’06
Pros: Timely and hassle free payments
Cons: Veterinary costs could easily exceed the maximum payments…
My dog had this insurance since he was a puppy. A few months ago he was diagnosed with epilepsy: the maximum amount VPI pays for this disease is ~300 (200 for testing and 100 for treatment), so far we have already spent ~2000 in 6 months on treatment… (3 hospitalizations @ 400-550 each plus numerous tests)…

The insurance covered only tiny part of it 😦

And this hits another worry that I have regarding the “per incident” or “per system” limits – VPI maxes out on epilepsy at $300, even though the max yearly overall might be in the thousands under the plan this person has. Yet they can’t see the benefit of that, because the benefit schedule is micro-managed.

Two reviews for VPI as of January ’07 complained about the slowness of the claims processing as well as the low amounts covered. Personally I care more about how much is eventually covered now that I know about Care Credit, which would allow me to cover the large bills at low cost until the reimbursement from the insurance came in. However, if the insurance isn’t covering enough, that’s a problem.

No positive reviews of VPI in the 12 at review center.

Pets Best had no reviews on epinions, and only one on review center, which was not based on experience with a claim payout. Embrace, the newest insurance having been around for about a year now, had no reviews listed anywhere that I could find.

The bottom-line, I believe, is to read the fine print, and perhaps track down how much each company would have paid for past illnesses or accidents. That would give you an idea of the payout as well as the customer service.

Many of the reviewers seemed to want the everyday vet visits covered. There certainly are companies who offer that, but personally I am more interested in having the big costs covered. The unexpected illnesses, accidents, emergencies. I would also want to know that if my cat develops diabetes, for example, her ongoing care for that would be covered. I know that Embrace has a specific “continuing care” option. I did not see anything listed for the other companies that gave me an idea of where their policy stood for that, though Embrace’s comparison page (comparing against both the Standard and Superior plans of VPI’s) did imply that ongoing coverage was covered on both of VPI’s plans.

The question as to what looks good on paper and what would be most beneficial in reality is something that is still difficult to determine. Pets Best insurance has a comparison page that shows actual claims and actual payouts, and compares the cost of their plan as well as their actual payout to the assumed VPI payout and plan cost. It is illuminating, but it is provided by Pets Best – they naturally will put their own company in the best light, so it is up to you how far you would trust that information.

My overall feeling: I don’t trust VPI’s Benefits Schedule to cover what I would need to cover (it hasn’t been updated for five years!). Every company I could find reviews on had both positive and negative when it came to claims processing, and I like the simplicity of Embrace’s “UCR” philosophy as opposed to the Benefits Schedules that the other companies have. My final decision hasn’t been made yet. If I figure out what additional information I need to help make the decision, I might post about it, but for now I think I’ve finished the Pet Insurance series. Good luck with your own choices!

tempest looking out window

“Pet” Insurance, Part 3 (companies and options)


Having done a general overview of the insurance and a limited examination of the cost benefit, it is time to look at the companies themselves and the options they offer. Not all allow you to chose the copay or the deductible. Not all allow you to have routine vet visits covered. Not all will insure pre-existing conditions, and the companies also differ on the maximum age of initial enrollment. Some give discounts for microchipping and spaying, others don’t.

If you are convinced that insurance would be a good thing, there is still alot to think about and research in terms of which options fit your needs or preferences, and which companies offer the insurance that would fit you best. Hopefully this post will help make that easier. I will do my best to track down information on the claims paid out as well, but that will have to be for another post another day! I should also mention that some of the companies I’ll talk about cover both the US and Canada. Some cover your dog or cat when you travel to certain other countries. I’m going to be comparing them from a US perspective, only. There are a lot more companies in the UK, and there are companies all over the world. I’ll refer you to Embrace’s blog for what looks like a comprehensive list of these companies.

didi wild lookThe companies I will be looking at are: Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI), Pet’s Best Insurance, Pet Care Insurance, Shelter Care, Quick Care Pet Insurance , and Embrace Pet Insurance. I will do my best to dig down and get to the fine print, but as a disclaimer – don’t take my word for anything. Use it as a jumping off point and do your own research to make sure you know exactly what you are getting!

I’m going to make it easy for anyone who is looking to cover anything other than a dog or a cat – you have one option, and that is VPI. For anyone who wants routine visits covered, VPI and Pets Best are the two offering optional coverage for that, but remember you also have Pet Assure (mentioned in Part 2) as another possibility. If you don’t want to deal with somewhat complicated per incident or per system benefit schedules, Embrace is the company you want. Read Embrace’s description of the difference to better understand what “Usual, Customary, Reasonable” vs. Benefit Schedule means.

What all of these insurance companies have in common:

  • coverage at any vet in the US, even emergency and specialists (though the policy can’t always be purchased in your state of residence, depending on the company)
  • pay the vet first, then submit claim for reimbursement
  • once an animal is enrolled, they can remain enrolled the rest of their lives, the enrollment age does not apply to them

Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI) is available in all 50 states and DC. It offers coverage to dogs and cats, as well as birds and other “exotics”. (They are the only ones to cover anything other than cats an dogs.) They offer a “routine care” option, for $99/year, no deductible, with set limits for each specific type of care covered. Spaying and Neutering is included in routine care. They base their reimbursements on a Benefit Schedule, which to me looked quite complicated. They have 3 coverage types: Superior, Standard, and Exotic. They all have a $50 deductible, after which 90% of the Benefit Schedule or vet bill (whichever is lower) will be covered, with different max benefits. Superior: max per incident or illness = $4,500, and max per policy term = $14,000. Standard: max per incident or illness = $2,500, max per policy term = $9,000. Exotic: max per incident or illness = $2,000, and max per policy term = $7,000. Under Standard there was this “benefits coverage renews each year. No lifetime cap.” What wasn’t clear to me is whether this applied to Standard and Exotic as well, and whether this meant that if my cat broke her leg this year and another next year, whether that specific “incident benefit” max was renewed, or whether the incident max is for her lifetime. (or as long as she is covered by their insurance) That is something I’d need clarified. There are some group discounts for some associations and employers, and a 5-10% discount for more than one animal. The cost, based on my cat’s species, breed, age, and zip (I am assuming these are taken into account, but I am not 100% sure) would be: $23.42/month for the Superior ($281 annual), or $12.25/month for the Standard ($147/year). Either can have the Routine Care added for $99/year, and included in both is a $12 “Lost and Found Registration”, which I didn’t look into at all. When I looked at their Benefit Schedule, each illness and specific treatment was detailed with max dollar amounts. This could make your covered amount far less than the maximum incident amount listed. Look carefully at the pdf file on their site.

Pet’s Best Insurance is not available in all states. It is not available in mine, or several neighboring states (on the east coast), but it is available in California. I didn’t try others, and I didn’t get a comprehensive list of which states are covered. They offer 2 Illness and Accident plans, an Accident only plan, and a Routine Care option. “Holistic care (except supplements)” is included in the Accident and Illness plans, they all cover 80% of the bill after the deductible and up to the limits, and all plans offer some coverage of burials or cremations and humane-reason-only euthanasia. The “Pets First Plan” has a $75 deductible, with a $7,000 per incident limit and $99,750 lifetime limit. The “Pets Basic” plan has a $200 deductible, $2,500 per incident limit, and a $42,500 lifetime limit. These plans start at $24.00/month for cats and $30.92/month for dogs. The “Pets Accident Plan” has a $75 deductible, and the coverage depends on the specific injury. The cost is $7.42/month for cats, and $9.92/month for dogs. The “Pets Wellness” is the routine care option: no deductible, quarterly benefit maximums, and the previous quarter’s benefits will carry over into the next if they are not utilized. The cost for dogs is $21.42/month with a $134/quarter benefit. For cats the cost is $26.00/month with a $163/quarter benefit.

Pet Care Insurance, Shelter Care, Quick Care Pet Insurance are all related – if not in actuality (I didn’t research this), at least in the surface look at their benefits and costs. Shelter care has all of the same program options as Pet Care, with one addition. Quick Care has all of the same programs as Pet Care except “Quick Care Intermediate”, “Tenant Care” and “Emergency Care”. One thing I want to point out right away is that the “Emergency Care” listed referred only to emergency care needed when your cat (I only looked at cat programs) is lost. I don’t know, and would have to verify, whether emergency clinics are covered normally.

This is by far the most complicated company (or set of companies). Pet Care has 9 program options, and they all have different costs, limits, deductibles, etc. Expect it to be confusing. If you like having a lot of options, it might very well be your company, but do spend time on their website looking at the detailed information there. The programs:

  • Quick Care Gold: all accidents, $2,500 per incident, unlimited lifetime; all illnesses, including hereditary, $30,000 lifetime max; choice of 70%, 90%, or 100% covered, after $100 per incident deductible, enrollment age is 8 weeks to 10 years. Additional benefits for accidental death reimburses up to $500 of original purchase price (yuck), and if you end up in the hospital for more than 48 hours, pet boarding or home care is covered up to $25/day with a $250 total max; recovery benefits up to $150, and euthanasia up to $100. These additional benefits have no deductible. Cost is from $18.95/month to $26.95/month, depending on percent covered.
  • Quick Care Preferred: all accidents, $5,000 per incident, no lifetime max; all illnesses, including hereditary, $60,000 lifetime max. 70% is paid, up to max, after $100 per incident deductible, enrollment age is 8 weeks – 10 years. Additional benefits (no deductible) include accidental death, your hospitalization/boarding benefits, recovery and euthanasia (coverage amounts the same as for the “Gold” program). Cost = $21.95/month
  • Quick Care Intermediate: select accidents (see site for specifics on which, and extent of coverage), first time illness ($1,500 max, limits on how many illnesses per year), 90% paid after the $100 per incident deductible, enrollment age is 8 weeks to 6 years. Additional benefits (no deductible) for recovery and euthanasia, same max amounts as listed in “Gold” program. Cost is $13.95/month.
  • Quick Care Indoor Cats: select accidents, select illnesses (see site for specifics on which, and extent of coverage), 100% paid after the $200 deductible, enrollment age is 8 weeks, no upper age limit. Additional benefits for euthanasia, no deductible, as outlined in “Gold” Program. Cost is $10.95/month.
  • Quick Care Plus: select accidents, and select illnesses (6 categories), see site for specifics; $75 deductible and 100% coverage for each, though the illnesses are covered only 80% after age 8; enrollment age is 8 weeks to 10 years. Additional (no deductible) benefits for euthanasia and accidental death, as described in “Gold” Program. Cost is $13.95/month
  • Quick Care (accident only): 100% coverage with a 50% deductible for select injuries (see site for specifics; Additional (no deductible) benefit for accidental death as described in “Gold” Program. Enrollment age is 8 weeks with no upper limit. Cost is $9.95/month.
  • Quick Care Senior: specific accidents (see site for details) have a $50 deductible and 100% coverage (up to max); select illnesses (see site for details) that were not pre-existing in the 36 months prior to enrollment have a $200 deductible, and 100% coverage up to max. Enrollment age is 8 weeks with no upper limit. Additional (no deductible) benefits include boarding at a kennel, trip cancellation, recovery, owner bequest, euthanasia, and accidental death. The details vary slightly from “Gold”. Cost is $21.95/month.
  • Tenant Care, for pet owners living in rentals: first time illness only, with a $75 deductible and $500 per illness coverage; select accidents have $75 deductible and 100% coverage up to max. There is an additional no deductible property damage ($500 – $700) benefit, as well as recovery. The cost is $15.95/month.
  • The emergency care is available for cats microchipped with 24PetWatch only; vet fees while lost are covered up to $3000, and $250 recovery benefit. Note: this is only for times when your cat is lost!
  • Shelter Care Intro (available only through Shelter Care): selected accidents, unlimited number, no pre-existing conditions, $100 deductible (may vary by state: see site for specifics on all details) and then 100% coverage up to max; 1st time illness, $100 deductible, $500 max; enrollment age is 8 weeks to 6 years. Additional no deductible benefits include recovery ($150 max) and euthanasia ($100 max). Cost is $12.95/month.

PetCare is available everywhere except Alaska; I didn’t check for Shelter Care or Quick Care. There is no option for maintenance or routine vet visits, but there are some things like prescription foods covered (25% for first 6 months) and holistic medicine if prescribed by a licensed vet.

Embrace Pet Insurance is the final insurance, and thankfully, they’re quite simple. They are the only company to have a “Usual, Customary, and Reasonable” reimbursement method rather than a benefit schedule; this will depend on the area you live in (costs vary). They have only one limit: the annual maximum. They imply that emergency vet clinic care is covered, but I would need to contact them to verify. The enrollment ages are: for cats – mixed breeds, 8 weeks to 10 years; pure breeds 8 weeks to 8 years. For dogs: mixed breeds, 8 weeks to 8 years; pure breeds, 8 weeks to 6 years. Accident only can be enrolled in at any age. Their insurance plan is customizable, rather than a variety of set plans. The customizable aspects are as follows:

  • Annual max: $2,000 / $5,000 / $10,000
  • Annual deductible: $100 / $200 / $500
  • Co-pay: 10% / 20% / 35%
  • prescription drug and dental illness options
  • continuing care options

They have a slight difference in terminology when it comes to copay. The other companies list how much they pay; embrace gives you the option of how much you pay. “Co-Pay” and “Coverage” are essentially the same thing, in opposite. I could not find information on whether they are offered in every state, but they do cover you and your “pet” if you are traveling with them in Canada and Mexico. I believe some other companies cover this as well, but I didn’t see anything specifying. You get discounts for having had your cat or dog microchipped and spayed or neutered. You also get discounts for paying annually instead of monthly. Some companies also give pet insurance benefits, which would give you an additional discount. The costs are more difficult to give because rather than set plans, they have a customizable philosophy. However when you select your options and get an instant quote, it shows the range for your particular animal’s species, age, breed, and your zip code. So you instantly know the possibilities. For example, my cat (8 year old, female, american shorthair cat, spayed) has a range of $15.18 – $73.23 in my area.

There are a lot of options, a wide range in cost and coverages, and for most companies a lot of fine print to examine to determine what exactly you would be getting for your money. Hopefully this helped to give an overview of what each company offers. Remember that this is a snapshot view; I have no control over the prices changing, and have no idea when they might! So verify everything for yourself, and examine the fine print for the company or companies you are most interested in. Also, except where I explicitly gave the cost for dogs as well as cats, all of the info is for cats only. Dogs have a higher premium, as a rule, but the cat cost comparison should give a general idea of what the companies are like, what they offer, and what their relative costs are.

I will look for reviews of all the companies for the next post and attempt to get an idea of what is actually paid out for the various claims at the various companies.

nymph sleeping in teepee