Paying it forward: A tragedy turns into a moment of kindness |

Paying it forward: A tragedy turns into a moment of kindness

Courtesy Aspen Animal Hospital
This cat's owners pleaded that everything possible be done to save their cat, who didn't make it in the end. Strangers paid the vet bill when they learned the story.
Courtesy image

For the cynics, consumerism and tacky songs characterize the holiday season. But, for the believers, the holidays mark a season to focus on generosity and kindness.  

At the Aspen Animal Hospital, one family experienced a moment of such benevolence following heartbreak.

A few weeks ago, a client brought their 2-year-old cat to the vet after weeks of her feeling unwell. They reported that the cat struggled to breathe out of her nose and had stopped eating as a result. The family tried forcing food down her — to no avail. 

Anne Cooley, principal doctor at Aspen Animal Hospital, examined the cat. After her full examination, the owners insisted she do everything she could to save their kitty; Cooley decided to perform a rhinoscopy, or scope up the nose. 

She found polyps then removed and biopsied them. The cat was cancer-free and clearly felt better with the polyps out. She then decided to take the cat, who was on a feeding tube, home to monitor overnight.

“She was doing pretty well — wagging her tail and moving around. And, I had really really good hopes because she was breathing so well,” she said. “And then, in the morning at about 6, I could feel that her pulses were a little thready.”

Cooley left for work with the cat as soon as she could, but, unfortunately, she passed away en route. She was devastated and contacted the cat’s owners to come pick up their beloved pet. The cat died of multiple-organ failure, Cooley said. 

While the owners said their goodbyes to their cat, she dealt with another walk-in emergency for another client. A couple brought in their elderly dog that had pneumonia. Cooley performed the examination, and the husband stepped out of the room.

“I thought he took a phone call, but he actually snuck around the front and paid those people’s bill,” said Cooley.

In the waiting room, the couple had overheard what had happened to the cat. They wish to remain anonymous and had never even met the couple whose cat died, but Cooley said this is what they told her regarding why they paid the bill: “We just didn’t want them to have a financial burden and have to deal with the financial aspect after such a big loss. And, we didn’t want them to have to worry … And, hopefully, someday, they’ll pay it forward.”

Cooley said the couple paid approximately $5,000 in veterinary bills for the couple who lost their cat. 

For many service industry workers in the valley, that is more than a month’s pay.

Cooley said that generosity among clients is not uncommon at Aspen Animal Hospital. People overhear things in the waiting room and want to help. When she moved to the valley 11 years ago, someone gave her a large sum of money to help pay veterinary bills for her sick horse.

And, this experience, while tragic, reminded her of the love her clients have for their four-legged family members. And, the compassion folks can have for complete strangers. 

“I think it’s sad that they lost their kitty right before the holidays. I think that’s really sad. But, I also think it’s really amazing during the holiday times to remember how people are willing to help others,” she said.

The Aspen Animal Hospital holds a charity fund with the American Veterinary Medical Foundation. To help mitigate the costs of vet bills without overhearing a case while in the waiting room, donate here.