When 22-year old Kristina Clark, and boyfriend Donney Carlson, noticed her cat’s health in a steep decline, they attempted to transport the feline, via a hundred mile trek over an avalanche zone, to a clinic in Valdez. Troopers picked up the duo, cat in tow, less than two hours into the perilous attempt and transferred all parties to Valdez. The couple spent the night in jail, while the cat, Ninja, received lifesaving care at the Valdez Veterinarian Clinic.
If you managed to miss the story, I salute your talent for isolation and welcome any tips.
When the Valdez Star reported the strange tale, the rest of the attentive world reacted strongly. Online comments sections were flooded by those lauding the young woman for her true grit and determination, jutting sharply up against others outraged by what they saw as a reckless and costly act.
The hail of online word-bullets was less a civil discussion about where to draw the line between the duties of a responsible legal guardian and the crime of acting irrationally and endangering life, limb, and ledger; and more about people quickly skipping from the opening paragraph to “Add a comment…” and projecting their biases.
The fascinating characteristic evident in the division, to me, was the overwhelming tendency to put Clark on trial for her actions, while ignoring altogether the very real (and addressable) conditions that led to her behavior. In other words, there was little focus on why Clark decided to attempt the hike that, in lieu of costly state intervention, would have most likely killed her, her boyfriend, and cat Ninja.
Hindsight is 20/20, and very much less avalanche-y.
“This is displaced compassion,” one commenter opined on KTUU’s coverage, “to put life and limb in jeopardy to save a pet or livestock is a fools[sic] errand.”
“I would have done it to save my dog or cat,” another pushed back. “[It’s] only money and somethings are worth more then that.”
More to the point: “crap. still stupid. VERY stupid[.]”
If personal bias has one most common side effect, it’s inattention to detail. So what is some firm bedrock we can stand on?
Beyond the personal bias lie the symptoms that caused the malady, which the Valdez Star highlighted, the Dispatch reaffirmed, and KTUU skipped altogether.
When Ninja’s health began deteriorating on January 27, Clark found herself with no options. The Copper Center veterinarian was “out on extended leave,” according to Laurel Andrews’s write up for the Dispatch.
“Clark was cash strapped but determined to save her cat,” the Valdez Star’s Lee Revis reported. “She said she knew that the road to Valdez had been closed, but veterinary clinics in the MatSu Valley and Anchorage wanted hundreds of dollars up front before treating the cat.”
The difference between the Valdez Veterinary Clinic and all readily accessible, non-avalanche-blocked animal hospitals was something called the “Honey Bear Fund.” The fund was initially set up by Ruth McHenry, a Valdez clinic patron, in honor of her Golden Retriever of the same name. It serves as a nest egg to pay for animal emergencies that come with higher price tags than owners can bear. In Clark’s case, there might have been an impassible, irrational trek in between her dying cat and the resources available to save Ninja, but there was also something else: a complete lack of other options.
Rather than condemn the decision, I would offer that we should prescribe a better treatment. The case of Kristina Clark and Ninja is hardly isolated. “Something like this happens at least once a month,” Mary, who answered the phone at the Valdez Veterinary Clinic when I called last week, told me. The costs of Ninja’s treatment would have exceeded the balance of the fund–meaning next time, the clinic would likely be unable to take a patient in similar condition.
Clark’s irrational act, to her, was her only rational option; no other accessible clinics had a similar fund. And unless we extend the Affordable Care Act to include coverage for household pets (which is an absurd idea up until the point you spend a few minutes thinking about its practicality), we should take it upon ourselves to come up with alternatives. It’s only a matter of time before a similarly horrible – and expensive – outcome is necessitated by another rapidly deteriorating health condition of a loved pet and similarly dedicated owner.
Donations to the Valdez Veterinary Clinic’s “Honey Bear Fund” are accepted by way of personal check: PO Box 708, Valdez, Alaska, 99686. And if you’re a pet owner, consider contacting your personal vet clinic and suggesting they implement something similar. Maybe there can be a surcharge put in place on standard treatments to subsidize the fund; allowing access based on income level or mimicking emergency room payment plans through state subsidies. If lawmakers are looking for some needed legislative ideas that come flush with great campaign photos, this could be worth looking into.
For now, there isn’t a lot of infrastructure in place for people who unexpectedly find themselves with a sick pet in need of treatment. I’ve been there. Asking to fund such measures solely through charitable donations is a temporary solution, as charity is generally outpaced by necessity — that’s kind of the root of our nation’s health crisis (homeless crisis, hunger crisis, etc.). But it’s something worth talking about, before we find ourselves embroiled in more useless comments section inaction, doing nothing to alleviate whatever problem we’re yelling over each other about next time.