I Called her Daisy: A Love & Money Story.

Featured

IMG_0248

I was only with her for six hours but I had a name for her; I called her Daisy. I wanted her around longer. Naming her was a reach for hope. Hope she would make it.

To some thoughtless prick, Daisy was a living thing to be thrown away-destined to die on a busy Texas street. She hugged a dirty curb as best she could, her head too heavy to hold up from oncoming traffic. It was only a matter of time before Daisy’s frail dark frame would melt into a dark roadway and she would be killed by unsuspecting or uncaring drivers.

It was around 8:40pm. I drove a path from the gym I rarely take. I’m also seldom at the gym at deep night hours. I’m not overly religious but truly believe I was to come across Daisy for a reason. As I passed her up, she was literally sitting in a puddle of dirty water, barely able to move.

For a very brief second I too thought of driving on; I wanted to see my daughter and it was late. I played out in my head what was to happen next: It was inevitable this thin, weak puppy was going to be road kill. I was praying just one of the cars passing quickly would stop. Nobody did. As I looked in my rearview mirror I could see this poor thin animal attempt to stand. As she attempted to walk I could see the limp.

It was too much for me, I pulled over to get her.

I approached slowly; I didn’t want to scare her into traffic. As I methodically moved closer she got up and I stopped-talking to her gently with each step. Thankfully, she veered the opposite way toward a wooded area and not into the road. As she dragged herself and cowered behind a makeshift billboard in high brush, I was taken aback by her thin appearance.

She was tall, but looked half the size of a normal border-collie/lab mix (the vet educated me). She was not much more than skin, bones and big expressive eyes which followed me (and remained with me for hours after). I knew it was a she from the frayed pink and rhinestone collar around a thin neck.  Once I felt she was safe, I retrieved a bottled water from my car.

Thirst was the only thing ferocious about this pathetic soul.

I carry a few huge bath towels in my trunk. I got them, scooped the puppy up in my arms and rushed her to a local emergency clinic. There was a two-hour wait to see a vet-I was willing to stay as long as necessary. Once we were in to see the doctor, I felt optimistic; in the waiting room Daisy got up a bit, wagged her tail, appeared curious about her new surroundings and me especially.

A little movement tired her quickly, though yet she never took her dark eyes off me. The receptionist called her eyes “soulful,” and there was something especially sad about them. In a very short period of time I was hooked. In love.

In my head I was thinking about how much this was going to cost (the talkative front desk person at the emergency clinic reminded me consistently they were not “good Samaritans,” and treatment was not free). Exactly what I was willing to pay to get this girl healed up and the strategy to find this abandoned sweetie a good home was somewhat calculated.  My heart was a different story. Already, I added the cost of a new dog house and development of a cordoned-off place in my backyard.

The ongoing lessons about puppy diseases, especially canine parvovirus, began to dampen my hopes a bit. When it was suggested I could spend $300 I didn’t flinch and approved a test for the virus and an X-ray on a swollen left paw. By then I knew Daisy was approximately seven months old and had a whole life still ahead of her. Obviously, her future was taking a turn for the better. At least in my heart it did.

A couple of more hours passed. By that time, Daisy was asleep soundly on a cold exam table. I covered her so her shivering would cease and stroked her head incessantly. I spoke gently in her closest ear and she’d awaken to stare at me a bit and then put her head back down. By this time I knew there was no way I could part with her and would do what I could to make her well again. She deserved that.

After the parvovirus test came back positive, I was told it would cost $1,200 to take care of her for the night. My financial bandwidth expanded. Ok. Sold. Another hour passed. My firm belief was the investment in this girl was worth it; after all we would be together a long time.

Based on the increasing flow of serious patients, I was getting piecemeal information from three different sources and it felt like forever. It was now four hours later and with each bit of data I was riding an emotional high, then a low. I was on a high on the last round of discussion, until the vet came in again. Low blow time.

“Have you decided what you would like to do?” the vet asked me.

“I’m willing to pay to get her well, you said $1,200 right?” I blurted out. In my mind, the money was spent. I already mentally accounted for it and documented it in my I Phone budget app to make it official. I visualized a sliding scale and figured I was in the mid-range of what I would be willing to spend. It shamed me a bit since I was monetizing a life.

“Well, that’s only for overnight.” She continued as I began to feel a pit growing in my stomach. “In the morning she would need to go to another vet office for daily treatment. At night she would need to be transported back here to complete 24-hour care.”

I wasn’t told this crucial additional bit of information originally. As I mentioned, data received was scattered and piecemeal. After that bombshell I was left alone again as the sole, overworked doc on duty needed to exit for another emergency walk in.

By this time I’m stroking Daisy’s head and ear so hard, I’m afraid I’m going to pull the skin away from her skull. I’m thinking odds, probabilities and fiscal bandwidth. Then I suddenly felt like I was cheating on my current pup Princess. The figure $5 thousand popped into my mind too-no idea why. Would I spend this sum on Daisy who I barely knew but felt responsible for?

What if it was Princess in her place? What was Princess’ life worth?

What if Princess got sick soon and I already spent a fortune on Daisy?

I was stress-testing my fiscal parameters. And would Princess bite Daisy after all this? What were the odds Daisy would get well even after days, possibly weeks of intense treatment of 24-hour intravenous and monitoring? The vet was very cryptic to say the least. I needed more information to make a decision. And I was frustrated. I’m usually the one who is responsible and is consulted to resolve situations. Now, I just felt queasy and my brain was reeling. I realized the one who is customarily consulted did not like the unfamiliar role of one who required consulting.

Another hour passed. It was almost as if they timed a visit like clockwork every hour. I was beginning to think I could set a clock by the emergency crew.

This time a stocky vet technician entered. She was refreshingly straightforward, in my face and I was appreciative. “Rich, overall, this treatment will run $5 – $8 thousand by the time you’re done and there’s no assurance she will get better. The virus is pretty far advanced and the odds are not good.” She fell silent after that.

My dreams of a dog house and run in my new roomy backyard began to fade. The awkward introduction of Princess to Daisy also seemed to be more of a wish than a future reality.

“What would you do?” It just came out deadpan, without thought. I didn’t want it to, but it did; I did not want to hear the answer and I could feel my face tighten to a wince after the question left my lips. I rarely feel truly helpless-I can count the times on one hand. This night I moved on to the other hand.

“I would consider euthanasia. It might be for the best. It’s what I would do.”

Well, this was a horrible turn. But wait-Daisy appeared to be getting better from the time I picked her up out of the dirt; she was more responsive to me, her gums were pink (supposedly a good sign). How can it be the odds were so poor? The technician was sure they were and she had seen many of these cases. During this time, the poor puppy was sleeping deeply but I can tell her breathing was labored.

It was a decision I didn’t want to make. I make decisions all the time about lots of client dollars I treat as my own, but this was truly a dilemma for me and I was now up against the wall.

Next hour the vet returned, this round she had a bit more time for me. It was almost like the tech had prepped her. We reviewed the details again.

After six hours of tests, dialogue and anguish I made the decision to do what I thought was humane for Daisy. The vet and tech shed tears and thanked me for not leaving this poor girl on the side of the road. Supposedly, a parvovirus death is very painful. I didn’t want her to suffer, I wanted Daisy to have peace however, I wanted her to have that peace with me for years to come. I hated the decision and hated the fact that I took that road from the gym-at least at the time. I asked for a few more minutes with this gentle puppy who trusted me to take care of her and here I was soon to be responsible for ending her short life.

I whispered in her ear that I loved her (I truly did), I said goodbye full of tears and as I moved closer to her face full of fleas she licked me lightly on the cheek….

Of course I documented my experience on Facebook along with pictures. I also kept my daughter Haley abreast of all developments and I’m glad she wasn’t there with me. Facebookl friends were surprisingly sympathetic and caring and it was appreciated. The next day my good friend Stephanie (an ardent animal lover) and I exchanged commentary about the experience through instant messaging. I will spare all the colorful expletives about Daisy’s former allegedly irresponsible owners.

Steph: “What are you doing today?”

Rich: “Don’t know yet. Work being done on house. Just writing.”

Steph: “What you did for that poor girl is why we save. So we can help innocent animals in a pinch.”

Rich: “I was hoping she would be ok. I would have built a space for her in the yard. She was only 7 months old.”

Steph: “Of course you would have kept her.”

I rolled right over Stephanie’s comment; perhaps I was too full of grief to consider it or respond to what I thought later was such a prolific statement: What you did for that poor girl is why we save. So we can help innocent animals in a pinch.”

Random Thoughts:

1). Saving is so much more than something you do for future goals like retirement or education. It’s about having choice and occasionally it’s about the right now. Guess I always knew it; I’ve been preaching this money stuff for years. But sometimes you can lose sight of the obvious until a series of words and actions conjoin to re-spark your perspective. Money is part of life and sometimes it allows you to make a decision out of love. Some thoughts:

2). Occasionally saving money is to make a choice for today, not tomorrow. Would I even had the ability to help Daisy if I was overburdened with debt and didn’t have a strong saving discipline? Probably not. I would have possessed little if any financial flexibility to save this precious girl if her odds of recovery were good. Saving today can help you today, perhaps on your way home from the gym or grocery store.

3). Why you save reflects your passions and beliefs about money: Perhaps you save to give to a specific charity, or to help an animal or take your family on a special trip every year. It’s not the money, it’s what it adds to the fabric of your life and the good you do with it based on strong feelings and beliefs. Eventually some of the money is spent on a form of enrichment. Or at least, I HOPE SO.

4). Your household budget should be on the tip of your fingers, or as close to you as your smart phone. I was able to assess my budget and financial situation quickly. I was under enough stress already with the decision to help a dying animal. I don’t want to fly blind financially. Sit down alone or with a professional to understand the daily dynamics of your finances.

5). Saving is a gift to yourself. Even though I abhorred the decision I was required to make about Daisy’s life, I realized after my head cleared a bit, the money empowered me to save her from a prospective horrible death she certainly didn’t deserve. What if I wasn’t financially prepared? I would have needed to call animal control perhaps and I would have never been able to sit well with that decision, at all.  I’m grateful to have crossed this puppy’s path; it was money well spent to give Daisy peace.

Years ago, a country music singer/mentor told me: “You name the things you love.” I realized for me to say I called her Daisy was blatantly incorrect.

I named her Daisy because for six hours, I loved her-because she needed me to. I still do. I will always. Are you saving for what and who you love for tomorrow and most important, today?

Think about it before a decision is thrown in the road on your way home.

I know she rests in peace. Love and money was able to provide a few more hours of comfort.

And I would do it again.

IMG_0250

 

 

 

The Conversation Startlers –5 Ways to Startle The Parents into a Estate Planning Conversation.

My father was horrible with money.

Mine and his.

Grandfather (on my mother’s side), worked six days a week stocking shelves in a downtown New York City grocery store. Thirty years – Twelve hours a day.

When he died in 1969, Joe (Giuseppe) Zappello, a frail man who lived above an ethnic grocery, saved $10,000 – a life’s effort, which he instructed be used for my college education.

Dad spent my inheritance on a new 1969 blue Mercury Cougar with white leather interior. Admittedly, it was a beauty. I still remember that car like it was yesterday.

In pristine condition, the classic commands about $30,000, which looking back, may have been a better “investment” than my college education.

cougar interior

Dad saved once in his life. Just in time for my manager at a penny stock firm to put the entire ef­fort in jeopardy by liquidating all his quality stock positions (without my knowledge) and purchasing worthless securities for a hefty commission. Great.

Dad was part of the working poor and deprived of even the littlest of luxuries as a kid; my grandfather was emotionally freezing cold and my grandmother was the entrepreneur and breadwinner for the most part (very odd in the good old days), so except for his maternal grandmother, dad didn’t receive much attention to compensate for the lack of material goods.

Even when I tried to approach the subject of money with him in 1991 he dismissed my questions as if I was the village idiot even though strangely enough, he allowed me to invest for him.

You never questioned elders about financial matters in my family or dug into the reasoning behind money decisions.

Discussing finances with family, especially parents is difficult and awkward. Conversation starters are tough. It’s important to have them however, as bad decisions or no decisions by parents, will leave you, the kids, the family, in a dilemma later.

Here are five “fire” conversation starters that will help. They’re controversial.  I’ve used them successfully.

1). When you die can I please have that diamond necklace grandma left you?

Replace “diamond necklace” with any heirloom you want. Deliver the line and shut up.
I would soften the impact with a couple of glasses of shared wine beforehand. Coming
across as a selfish ass on purpose is tough. The goal is to jolt your parents to a response which can lead to a discussion about proper will and legacy planning.

2). What do you think I should do if I told you I had a month to live?

Here, you’re asking the parents for guidance. What a way to make the parents go mushy inside.  Lower the defenses.

“Not my baby!”

not my baby

If they start going on about how you should have a bucket list – blah, blah, blah, make sure to steer the conversation back to them. Segue to asking the parents how they’ve prepared. It’s a long way around the subject but ultimately you’ll get where you need to be. I’m sorry.

3). What do you wish you would have said to or asked granddad (grandma) before they died?

Gee, I wish they would have told me where all their important documents were kept so
I didn’t need to ransack the house at the worst time? I deal with clients who
lost parents a decade ago and abandoned investment and banking dollars are still surfacing.

4). Do you realize if you die tomorrow I have no idea whether you want to be cremated or buried?

We’re planning a coin toss but you won’t care because you’re dead. Even parents who laments “Oh don’t fret over me, I don’t care what you do, I’ll be dead,” are full of it.

They do care!

It’s their responsibility to provide instructions for others to follow. This should NOT be your decision.

5). How do you think Snowy would feel if she was whisked off to an animal shelter if you died?

I don’t mean to throw the pet in the line of fire however it’s an effective ice breaker. We
love our pets and can’t imagine the horror of poor Puffy carted away after we die. I’m a passionate animal person.

I’ve experienced, more often than I prefer, owners not communicating intentions for pets. Like those left behind are supposed to assume. Placing Trixie strategically into an estate conversation can break down walls, allow information to flow.

Communicate with your children & loved ones about money. Share your successes and failures. They shouldn’t feel threatened to ask about your financial situation.

If grown kids inquire about your estate planning answer them. Help them understand your intentions.

Don’t make loved ones feel questions about money are “off limits,” or “unacceptable.”

Cater these “startlers” to your situation. Parents will remember your frankness, your sense of humor.

Occasionally, shock and awe works.

Next: How to use a third party to facilitate the conversation.

What a Princess Taught Me About Money. And she Ain’t No Dog, Neither.

I hold a great affinity for animals, especially dogs and specifically my Princess. There’s a primal beauty to them-and us. Our instinct keeps us alive; it’s imbedded in our internal code to protect. We are hard-wired to survive at all costs. Unfortunately, the skill set required to protect ourselves from predators is not exactly proper to employ when making investment or overall financial decisions.

I’m not exactly sure her name fits her either since Princess is far from graceful but I can tell she knows it and she’s certain I’m going to love her anyway – As I watch her behaviors I see many similarities and differences we can learn from  when it comes to managing finances. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned.

1). Occasionally we believe ourselves to be something we’re not – It’s human nature to be overconfident in our personal investing abilities. Numerous academic studies prove that over 80% of investors who deem themselves to be “successful,” or have achieved better results than the overall stock market actually experienced extremely poor overall returns. When examined closely, taking into account several variables including taxes and commissions, the majority of investors turned out to suffer from below-average return rates. It’s best to be yourself and understand how markets are humbling mechanisms. Create rules and disciplines that make sense to you and stick with them.

2). Sometimes we lose control – When Princess gets excited she has a tough time controlling her bladder. When we get excited we have a tough time making a decision and that will usually lead to a mistake. Those who make investment or financial decisions in the heat of fear or euphoria will most likely wind up in worse shape longer term.

For example, those who sold off all their stock positions in March 2009 or purchased tech stocks in the heat of the moment back in 1999, fared worst than most. Unlike Princess who can’t control her excitement, you need to step back, consult with an objective third party and create a strategy first before taking dramatic financial actions. Those individuals who make large purchases impulsively, especially on credit cards are paying dearly for their impetuous nature as the average credit card interest rate currently hovers around 15%.

3). Biting off more than you can chew is a bad, bad thing – Princess loves her toys; she also finds a way to destroy them in record time and her “daddy” keeps purchasing her new ones. Not a good financial decision overall on my part but she appears conditioned to continue since there’s always a new toy on the way.

Over the last 20 years, many bit off more debt than their households can service because of the assumption that asset prices, especially house prices would continue to increase. Households, saddled with historically large debt loads, stagnant asset prices and little increase in wages are now working slowly through household balance sheet repair. This is a long, arduous process which will take many years. It’s best now to watch spending, aggressively pay down debts and not take on any excessive debt going forward.

Princess may certainly get a new toy very soon; we don’t appear to be receiving any relief from the fiscal side (Washington & congress) or rising house prices anytime soon (at least the heated prices you remember), so it’s up to us to take responsibility now and get through an anemic economic cycle on our own.

4). When you’re done, you’re done – There are some dogs and people Princess simply does not care for and I can sense when her triggers have been hit. Recent studies show that as a generous people, we will continue to give money to family members and friends with established track records of spotty financial behavior. To preserve your own situation, it may be best to draw the line and say no.

There’s nothing wrong with encouraging others to seek different avenues for loans and gifts, especially if your current household debt levels are unsustainably high. It doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t make Princess a bad dog either if she feels she doesn’t “like” certain people or dogs.

Some dogs are more fashionable than you are.

Princess knows what her boundaries are.

Do you?