Researchers at the center — in collaboration with a team at Memorial Sloan Kettering — have developed the first-ever vaccine to treat canine melanoma. Trials are under way on one for humans. While dogs and cats are dying of the same diseases humans are, Klausner says the biggest reason animals are given up is because of behavioral problems.
"You don't sit down and talk to them on the couch, obviously," Klausner said.
Most behavioral problems occur not because of the animal but because of the owner, but it was probably only a matter of time before we put our dogs and cats on Prozac.
Michele Losorda made the decision to put little Justice, her 6-year-old Yorkie, on the antidepressant after he panted himself into a collapsed trachea. He also likes to bite his owner.
"If you came into my house, you'd probably think I was very sick," said Losorda. "He has severe anxiety problems, so he's basically housebound."
"Just [on] this I have spent $1,700," said Losorda, "and he's had other surgeries so I would say I have to be close to $12,000."
Losorda says she doesn't have this conversation with non-pet owners, one of whom once suggested she put Justice to sleep.
"Are you going to put your child down for stomachache?" she asked.
Losorda had to take the morning off from work to take Justice to his appointment with his "pet shrink" — she says he's having one of his good days. "Last time he took a cab he completely melted down. It became an emergency situation," she said.
"I'm very popular at cocktail parties," said Elise Christensen, Justice's behaviorist at NYC Veterinary Specialists. "First people laugh at me because I'm a dog shrink and then they say, 'Oh, but you know, my dog, he has problems and sometimes when I leave he destroys things.'"
None of these treatments are cheap. Behavioral problems, like most significant health problems, are not covered by pet insurance (which only 5 percent of Americans have for their pets).
"If your puppy is just jumping on you when you walk in the door, you don't need to come see a vet behavior person," said Christensen. "If your dog has seen three trainers and bitten seven people and you have a lawsuit, you probably need to see a veterinarian in behavior-exclusive practice."
Any pet owner will tell you that you can have the worst day at work or gain five pounds, and you think life is tough, and then you come home and you have this pet who just can't believe you're home and is so excited. And it doesn't matter if you gained five pounds or you had a bad day because they love you anyway.
And that's why Green keeps investing in 15-year-old Suzi, because while she says she doesn't go out to eat or travel as much as she did before, her dog enriches her life in ways she just can't quantify.