How My Emergency Fund Saved My Dog's Life

by Christy Bieber | Updated June 28, 2022 - First published on Oct. 6, 2020

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A beagle holding a stick in its mouth and standing in a sunny forest.

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An emergency fund doesn't just protect your finances -- it can protect your family members.

I've always written about the importance of having an emergency fund, and to make sure I was in a good financial position, I prioritized saving for surprise expenses, as I often advise others to do.

For years, life ticked along smoothly and I had no need to tap into this account, which eventually grew large enough to cover the requisite six months of living expenses. I even questioned whether it was a good idea to leave so much money sitting uninvested.

Then, one day, everything changed -- which is so often what happens with emergencies, and why having money set aside is so essential.

My emergency fund meant the difference between life and death

Two years ago, I left for a short vacation, entrusting the care of my dogs to my capable in-laws. They mentioned Molly had a slight cough, but I wasn't too worried. But the morning after I came home, my athletic, 11-year-old beagle was gasping for breath. We went straight to the emergency vet.

The news, of course, wasn't good, and necessitated a trip to the cardiologist, who discovered that a heart condition called mitral valve disease gave Molly around eight to 12 months to live. Mitral valve replacement is a common treatment for humans with a failed valve, but it doesn't work for dogs, who are simply medicated with harsh kidney-destroying drugs until the pills no longer work.

Thankfully, Molly's cardiologist mentioned that there are repair procedures for dogs -- but only two surgeons in the world do the complicated heart surgery, which requires a large team and time on a cardiopulmonary bypass machine. To get the surgery -- which has a more than 90% success rate -- we'd have to travel to Jasmine Clinic in Japan, or to Royal Veterinary College in London.

Because I had a hefty emergency fund in a high-yield savings account, I didn't have to consider whether I could afford this procedure, the travel, or the time off from work. I wasn't worrying about whether I could get a personal loan (as some dog owners who've had the procedure end up doing), and I did not have to resign myself to being unable to save her. We secured a surgery date four months away (there's a long waiting list) and made the trip.

It's now close to two years after the surgery. Molly is as athletic and happy as ever. My emergency fund has been rebuilt, and my finances sustained no long-term damage in my effort to save a beloved family member.

Emergency funds matter

As I mentioned, when I worked hard to build up my emergency fund, I occasionally faced doubts about whether it was the right move. After all, my husband and I both have pretty good jobs, and we keep our debt and expenses low. But the reality is that no one can predict what kind of emergency will happen, or how large the cost will be.

The point of an emergency fund is that it protects you from ending up in debt or getting trapped in circumstances without any good choices. While you might not have a dog, you may find yourself in a situation where your job suddenly becomes very stressful, surprise home repairs become essential, or something else unexpected happens. If you have an emergency fund, you can feel comfortable leaving your work situation, or fixing your home without incurring debt.

With Molly's illness, the reasons for an emergency fund became real to me. Don't end up without the necessary funds if something happens that drives that point home for you. If you don't already have emergency money set aside, get serious about saving some today. You never know when you or a loved one may need it.

RELATED: Pet insurance can save you thousands. Check out the pet insurance claims process in this guide by The Ascent.

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