Winnipeg woman drives to Saskatoon, pays $3K for her dog's eye surgery

WATCH: Pam Shelby's dog Gus, is an 11-month-old Bernese Mountain Dog. After he was diagnosed with a birth defect on his eye, A Winnipeg veterinarian told Shelby she would have to drive Gus to Saskatoon so he could receive surgery, or else he could lose his eye.

WINNIPEG — After spending more than $3,000 and driving nearly 1,600 kilometres, a Winnipeg woman is thankful her dog can now see, but frustrated that it came at such a high cost.

Pam Shelby’s dog Gus, is an 11-month-old Bernese Mountain Dog. The 107-pound dog was born with a serious eye condition.

In January, Shelby took Gus to a local vet and was told the dog would need surgery to save his eye. She was also told there was a 75 per cent chance the surgery would be successful.

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However, there was one catch: the surgery had to be done in Saskatoon. That’s because there aren’t any veterinarians who specialize in surgical optometry in Winnipeg. The closest one is an eight-hour drive west.

Cataract surgery

Gus was born with a birth defect on his eye, which developed into a cataract that caused him extreme discomfort and pain.

“We knew this was the only option if we wanted to treat the eye. We don’t have any surgical optometrists in town,” Shelby said.

“Saskatoon was the closest option we have… so decided to go for it.”

Shelby and Gus driving to Saskatoon.

Shelby and Gus driving to Saskatoon.

Staying at the Saskatoon hotel before surgery.

Staying at the Saskatoon hotel before surgery.

Gus and Shelby getting ready on surgery day.

Gus and Shelby getting ready on surgery day.

Veterinarians in Saskatoon checking in on Gus.

Veterinarians in Saskatoon checking in on Gus.

Shelby said the surgery was a success.

Shelby said the surgery was a success.

The medicine Gus needed to take post-surgery.

The medicine Gus needed to take post-surgery.

Eight hour ride home to Winnipeg after the surgery.

Eight hour ride home to Winnipeg after the surgery.

Gus is now back in the city recovering.

Gus is now back in the city recovering.

‘He is part of our family’

On Feb. 23, Shelby and her father Gus packed up her car and headed to Saskatoon with Gus, to the The Western College of Veterinary Medicine.

They met with a veterinarian the following day, and Gus headed into surgery on Feb. 25.

RADIO DIARY: Pam and Gus head off to Saskatoon

The $3,000-price tag for the surgery did not include the cost of gas and a hotel.

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But Shelby said the cost was worth it.

“He’s part of our family. We don’t have kids,” she said.

“Being so young we knew it would make such a difference in his life, so wanted to give him the best medical care we could. And that meant an eight-hour drive to Saskatoon.”

Shelby said while she was able to afford the bill, it would have been tough for families who have children and limited funds and limited ability to take time off work to make the trip.

RADIO DIARY: Pam talks about the steps before the surgery

Andrea Lear,the executive director of Manitoba Veterinary Medical Association, says there’s not enough demand in the Winnipeg area to offer the service locally.

“There are three ophthalmologists at the University of Saskatchewan, they rotate and come to Manitoba about once a month,” she said.

Ophthalmologists are specialists who have more years of schooling, need a specialized practice with equipment and staff, Lear said. It’s very expensive to open a practice, so ophthalmologist has to make sure there is enough people needing the service.

Recovering at a cost

Gus is recovering at his Winnipeg home (and has gone through four head cones already). He’s wearing a cone around his neck for protection for three more weeks, but now has 90 per cent vision in the affected eye.

RELATED: Alternatives to pets’ post-surgery ‘cone of shame’

Although he’s gained most of his sight, Shelby said she’s frustrated Winnipeg does not offer the eye surgery. She disagrees with Lear and believes enough people in the province would want the surgery.

“We definitely have the demand here, the problem is the supply,” she said.

Shelby isn’t the only one making the drive west.

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At the Saskatoon clinic, she said there was another Winnipegger there who made the trip for his dog’s surgery.

RADIO DIARY: Pam says Gus is recovering well at home

Insuring your pet

Dr. Erika Anseeuw, director of animal health at the Winnipeg Humane Society, said there are many unexpected costs with pets. She recommends looking into pet insurance.

“People should look at that when they’re thinking about budgeting. Most of us don’t think about it,” Anseeuw said.

“They say, ‘Ahh, I can afford the food,’ but not the, ‘what if?’ Some of those insurance plans are quite detailed and even cover some preventative things like yearly dental cleanings,” she said.

WATCH: Gus the dog after eye surgery 

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