If you are like me, you love dogs. I love the dogs have at home, that I meet at the dog park, and that I meet on the street. In fact, I have been told I may have a problem. Because when I say, “I love this dog!” I get only one response from my wife and my friends. Pretty much whoever is with me.
“You love all dogs!”
It’s pretty much true. There are limits though, even though my current pup is the dog I have spoiled the most. But he is a German Shepherd with a delicate stomach and the kindest, most loyal disposition of any dog I’ve ever had.
People love dogs too and will go to extraordinary lengths to save or extend their lives. Pet insurance has become a standard offering, much like human health insurance. As more dogs are insured, medical science in veterinary practice also gets more sophisticated. Chipping your dogs, having DNA testing, cancer screening, prevention, treatment, and surgery all come into play.
But while doing my research for Harvested, I came across something even more astounding and sophisticated. Pet organ transplants.
SPOILER ALERT: If you have not read Harvested yet, go grab it and read it now before you finish this post. Otherwise, it will spoil one part of the plot for you. Here’s the link in case you need it. Buy on Amazon.
The Pet Medical Industry
Not only do we love our pets, but there is a lot of money involved in their care. It’s become a huge industry, from nutrition to massage to grooming and other essentials. Allergy testing, new vaccinations, and new medications are emerging all the time. That, and the pet medical insurance industry is booming. What this means to pet owners is that big pharma and other research companies are working harder than ever to provide sophisticated and expensive pet medications and surgeries.
Studies are being conducted similar to human medication trials, All that research is expensive, labels need to be crafted and meet regulations, and vets and pet owners need to be educated about what is available.
Pet Organ Transplants
One of the more sophisticated things being developed is organ transplants. We already know that sometimes, pig organs are compatible with humans, and can even organs from other animals may be substituted if human organs are unavailable. But there is also a huge human organ donor base. When many people pass on, they elect to donate what of their organs are viable for another person.
The organ transplant list for animals started with cats. There are a few simple reasons for that. Kidney disease in cats is quite common, an if left untreated, fatal. An organ transplant can save them at a cost of $12,000 to $15,000 if there are no complications. If complications do arise, the cost can go higher.
Donor cats are not hard to find. Most shelters have a large selection, and like humans, cats can live with one kidney. So usually the deal is that the owner, if the surgery is successful, actually goes home with two cats rather than the one they came with: the donor and the recipient. The donor cat essentially trades one of its organs for a permanent, loving home.
The cost of transplants is prohibitive for most owners, but with the right pet insurance, you could have to pay a deductible and then part of the surgery out of pocket.
Around 84% of donor cats had no follow-up problems in a study by the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine. Only 7% had serious or fatal complications. Those odds are good, but not ideal.
Dog Organ Transplants
Canine organ transplants are much rarer. While certain breeds have a propensity toward kidney disease, there are fewer matching donors. Part of the reason is that donor dogs are harder to match unless the donor is related to the recipient pretty closely. This is where fiction takes over, but it is something that is not too far fetched. Ready for your spoiler?
There is a theory, although an obscure one, that mutts might be the best source of organs for transplant: the mix of several breeds could make them more universal donors. Of course, mixed breeds are the most plentiful of dogs, so if true, this could open up a new avenue of organ sources. But at least initially this process would be experimental, and finding dogs to put into the study, especially if there was a high demand, might be more of a challenge. Success rates and survival rates for donor dogs would be lower as well, at least in theory.
The solution, at least a partial one, might be a dognapping scheme like the one outlined in Harvested. The big money involved might be motive enough for researchers to take matters into their own hands. Add in a little organized crime and some crooked vets, and voila!
The Truth Behind the Fiction
There is no canine transplant clinic in Maine or in Seattle. There have been odd disappearances of dogs in various areas for various reasons in the past, but often unless they are a certain breed that is valuable, there is little that police can and will do. The exception is if they suspect a dog fighting ring, in which case there is a sterner investigation.
There are P.I.’s who specialize in pets, the truth that is behind the Ace Ventura story: people will go through a lot to get their dogs back if they are lost and missing as well. So while there is some truth in the plot to Harvested, there is some fictoin there as well.
What do you think about pet organ transplants, pet insurance, and other such issues? Let me know in the comments below.
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