It was the knock I was dreading, because I knew it was the vet who’d come to end Gisele’s life. Gisele, our brilliant, loyal, loving, energetic Chesapeake Bay Retriever, the center of our world, had an incurable form of cancer called hemangiosarcoma. She was my best friend in the world. That’s why, when she wouldn’t eat her breakfast or go for a walk that morning, I could tell she was letting me know her race was nearly run.

Her life was coming to an end, and she was weak. Yet as she heard the knock, she did what Gisele always did: she shot up and barked her head off at the door. Not even the final stages of cancer could stop her from protecting my wife Marissa and I.

It was the last thing Gisele ever did.

Minutes later, she died in my arms.

Facing bereavement

Bereavement is the agonising, unavoidable part of being a pet parent. I have no shame in admitting I’ve cried too many times to remember since Gisele left us, but on her last day, as Marissa and I took her to her favorite spot on the beach one final time, gently cuddling her and thanking her for coming into our lives, I promised Gisele her death would not be in vain. It’s why I’m writing this.

If you’re a pet parent who’s ever been on the fence about getting pet insurance, I want you to read this and understand how it helped us and Gisele—and that it can do the same for you and your pet.

When your pet is young it’s easy to fool yourself into thinking they’ll never have health issues, but when Gisele was three it was the first time we needed to use her pet insurance. She had a cruciate ligament injury and the surgery and treatment cost nearly $7,000.

Because we already had Ava (a three-year-old Chesapeake Bay Retriever) and Huntley (a Golden Retriever, aged two) when we picked up Gisele at six weeks old, we were aware about pet insurance. Ava and Huntley were covered, and we knew it was the right thing to do.

When your pet is young it’s easy to fool yourself into thinking they’ll never have health issues, but when Gisele was three it was the first time we needed to use her pet insurance. She had a cruciate ligament injury and the surgery and treatment cost nearly $7,000. Trupanion paid the claim within 48 hours and after that, Gisele had many happy, healthy years.

When she got to eight, everything changed.

In the US, only 2.48% of all cats and dogs had pet insurance cover at the end of 2021
NAPHIA’s 2022 State of the Industry Report

The diagnosis everyone fears

One day, we noticed a pea-sized growth in Gisele’s mouth. We took her to the vet, and a few days later we were introduced to the word every pet parent fears.

Cancer.

She had an oral melanoma and needed specialist treatment, so we took her to the Specialist Cancer Group in Los Angeles. The treatment was $9,500, and 90% was paid back by Trupanion within just two days. Without pet insurance, the choice would’ve been simple: find $9,500, or face saying goodbye to our heart dog.

The treatment was $9,500, and 90% was paid back by Trupanion within just two days.

Without pet insurance, the choice would’ve been simple: find $9,500, or face saying goodbye to our heart dog.

A year later we noticed Gisele’s stomach was a weird shape, and we took her to the vet thinking it would just be something routine. We couldn’t have been more wrong. She’d had a huge rupture on her spleen, and would die within 24 hours if she didn’t have a splenectomy to remove it. Within an hour we’d taken her to Access Specialty Animal Hospital. We were told to say goodbye in case she didn’t make it, which was incredibly tough.

Being the fighter she was, Gisele pulled through the surgery, but as part of the process the surgeons took biopsies to send away for testing. All that came to about $12,500, and was again paid back within two days by Trupanion, no questions asked.

After a couple of days convalescing at home, Gisele was back to her old self. She wanted to run, she was playing, she was barking—she was classic Gisele. But a couple of days after she’d got home, I got a call from Access with the biopsy results. It was the call I’d been dreading.

Gisele had hemangiosarcoma, an incredibly aggressive form of cancer, and it had spread to her liver, intestines and stomach. The surgeon put her life expectancy as somewhere between one and three months.

It was the most crushing phone call I’ve ever received.

In 2021, a $50,602.67 claim was paid out for a five-year-old female Terrier Mix after being hit by a car in Brooklyn, NY
NAPHIA’s 2022 State of the Industry Report

Farewell tour

The eerie thing was you’d never have known Gisele was seriously ill. We had her on a couple of different types of drugs called Yunnan Baiyao and I’m-Yunity to help her, but she carried on running, playing and digging like a puppy.

For 11 days she was just the best version of Gisele ever, and I look back on it now as her farewell tour. Honestly, I think they were the best days of her life, and I would give everything I own in a heartbeat to have them again. What I want you to know is this: The reason we were able to have those 11 precious days was down to pet insurance.

With 59% of Americans having less than $500 in savings, how many uninsured pet parents would be able or willing to find $12,500 to pay a vet bill, or $9,500 for the one we got before that?

With 59% of Americans having less than $500 in savings, how many uninsured pet parents would be able or willing to find $12,500 to pay a vet bill, or $9,500 for the one we got before that?

Throughout Gisele’s life we paid about $10,000 in premiums, but got back over $30,000 in claims. They were paid quickly, and took away the stress of having to battle an insurance company at a time that is incredibly emotional and painful. It makes me sad when I see people on Facebook, ranting that pet insurance is a scam. I got the 11 most precious days I’ve had on this earth thanks to pet insurance. How is that a scam?

Only 0.1% of pet parents have insured their dogs and cats in Wyoming, North Dakota and South Dakota - the lowest in the US
NAPHIA’s 2022 State of the Industry Report

The hardest day of our lives

On the 12th day after she left hospital, Gisele didn’t want to come downstairs in the morning. She hardly touched her breakfast. She wasn’t interested in coming for a walk. She didn’t want to go to the bathroom. She was trying to tell me she was ready to go.

This is the heartbreaking part of being a pet parent. I knew she was in trouble, and I’ve always promised myself in that situation I would make the right decision for her, not me. In that moment, I knew that the right decision for Gisele might be for her to go to sleep.

Those last hours with Gisele were unbelievably emotional. It still feels so raw. We were just cuddling her, crying our eyes out, thanking her for being in our lives, and thanking her for teaching us so much.

I found out about a company called Serenity, who will come to your house and let your pet go peacefully, and I tentatively booked an appointment for 9.30pm that night. But when I took her straight after to see Dr. Kevin McEvilly, the veterinarian who’d treated Gisele all her life, his advice broke me: Gisele would not make it until 9.30pm. She would either pass away in her sleep, or blood would get into her lungs, causing her to choke to death. I couldn’t let that happen.

We were very lucky that Dr. McEvilly agreed to come to our house in his lunch hour, to allow Gisele to pass with dignity and no pain. Those last hours with Gisele were unbelievably emotional. It still feels so raw. We were just cuddling her, crying our eyes out, thanking her for being in our lives, thanking her for teaching us so much, thanking her for being the best dog we could ever have wished for, thanking her for everything. I could’ve stayed hugging her for hours, but it wouldn’t have been fair. Time, the one thing I desperately wanted her to have more of, was the one thing she couldn’t have.

There was a knock at the door.