How My Emergency Fund Helped Save Our Dog — and Our Finances

In September of 2018, my active, happy, and much-loved 11-year-old dog suddenly became unable to breathe. A quick trip to the emergency vet revealed that the problem was a defect with her mitral valve. Her valve wasn’t working properly, allowing blood to flow the wrong way and causing her heart to become enlarged. Fluid had filled her lungs due to this issue, which was causing the breathing difficulties.

We started on some emergency medication, found a veterinary cardiologist, and discovered there was just one solution — but it came at a big price. Fortunately, I had a hefty emergency fund in my savings account. This meant I was able to save my dog without going into credit card debt or having to take out a personal loan.

Here’s what happened.

An emergency fund enables life-saving surgery

After taking my dog to the veterinary cardiologist, I learned that we had two options. The first was to put Molly (my beagle) on medication to try to help her heart work better, as well as on a diuretic to help keep fluid out of the lungs. The problem is, this solution would only give her around eight to 12 months to live.

The other option was surgery to repair the valve. The catch: It could only happen in either Japan or London because there were only two surgeons in the world (at the time) who could successfully perform the procedure she needed. The cost of the surgery itself would be high since it’s very specialized and requires a team of 10, and we’d also have to travel with her and spend three weeks abroad.

We didn’t have pet insurance, which wouldn’t have paid for an overseas procedure anyway. But fortunately, the decision was very easy for us. We had an emergency fund, and this was a clear-cut emergency.

Thanks to the money we had in savings, we were able to contact the team in London immediately, get her on the list, and four months later, she had a repaired heart. She will soon be celebrating her 17th birthday, and that heart is stronger than ever.

Everyone needs an emergency fund because you have no idea what’s coming your way

I never could have anticipated that I would need to spend money to take my dog abroad for heart surgery. After all, who would ever think that would be an expense to plan for?

But because I had an emergency fund with six months of living expenses in it, the money was there for me. I didn’t have to think about whether to get a loan or whether I could afford to save my pet. I really love her, and I know I would have gone into debt if I had to and spent years repaying it. But that wasn’t the case. I was able to make the decision based on what was best for my family without worrying about any long-term financial damage that would result.

That’s what an emergency fund does; it takes the financial pressures out of the equation so that when something goes wrong in your life, you are better able to cope with it and make the choice that’s right for you. You may have a completely different emergency than I did. But Pew research shows around 60% of households experience a financial shock over the course of a year, so it’s inevitable that you’ll face some kind of disaster at some point in your life.

To make sure you’re ready for it, prioritize emergency savings as a key financial goal. If you don’t already have an emergency fund, open a high-yield savings account today. Start with a deposit of whatever amount you can afford, and rework your budget by cutting what you can to build up that emergency savings ASAP. You don’t want to face a financial crisis unprepared, so get very serious about saving today before you — or a pet or person you love — finds themselves in need.

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