This week I chose a Smart Woman Online with an agenda: pet insurance. I've mentioned before that women are big pet owners. We love our furry friends and the idea of pet insurance, to help with vet bills, has always seemed like a win-win idea to me. But, it hasn't really caught on in this country. Laura Bennett is going to talk to you today about that - and add some personal flavor to her interview. We both hope you'll pay attention to this and visit her website, Embrace Pet Insurance, as well as her blog. One of the best things about this interview is - the contribution by Laura's husband, John. I guarantee it will solve your cooking worries -- well, for one night, anyway. Make sure you read to the end...
Yvonne: Reading your blog is sometimes a treat - you have such great, warm, family stories about love and pets. And sometimes, it's heartbreaking, such as this post, Eulogy for Grace. I have a 14-year-old German Shepherd who - walks a bit slower every day and worries me that she may not be here much longer. How do you manage this heartbreak...of all the sad stories and do you accept/get these kinds of pet stories from other bloggers a lot?
Laura: I do hear a lot of sad stories about pets, particularly through my blog, with emails from people who are desperate to find any help in paying some unexpected veterinary bill - after the fact. I even had a pet parent in tears on the phone about his dog that needed an MRI scan that he couldn’t afford.
I hate having to tell pet parents that insurance is not for known issues, just future unknown ones but I also try to give other non-insurance suggestions because many times, they just don’t know where to turn. In the end though, if you have a cat or a dog, you are likely to outlast him or her, and that’s something we all face as pet parents.
Yvonne: Back in the day, when I was a Vet's Assistant, pet insurance was just a dream. There was a lot of 'talk' about it...but little action. Where does pet insurance stand today? (take as much time as you like.)
Laura: Believe it or not, pet insurance has been around for about 25 years in the US but it is only just beginning to get some airtime with pet parents. At the moment, less than one half of one percent of cats and dogs are insured in the US; whereas over 18% are insured in the UK and everyone has heard about it there. Why so different? Mainly because of a less restrictive regulatory environment in the UK where vets could sell pet insurance (yes, that’s an odd conflict of interest isn’t it) but not in the US. US vets have also seen what has happened with the involvement of insurance companies in the human health world and are a bit leery about the possibility of the same thing happening on the veterinary side.
Currently, there are 7 pet insurance companies, 3 of which appeared in the last 3 years. Embrace Pet Insurance is launching this summer to make 8 companies and it is likely more are coming. Pet parents are beginning to realize the need for pet insurance as the costs of caring for a pet are much higher than people realize. Many more pet lovers are being faced with the highly emotional life-or-money decision where they have to decide between spending a lot of money on medical care or putting the cat or dog down. This decision is happening more and more for three reasons: the increasing use of expensive medical technologies from the human world such as chemotherapy and MRIs; the humanization of pets where pet parents are demanding higher standards of care for their cats and dogs; and demographics, particularly in the 35-54 year old range, with an increasing amount of disposable income to spend on all aspects of the family pet.
Yvonne: I can hear some not-so-pet-friendly folks heaving big sighs and saying, "Pet insurance? Who needs it? With the price of gas today, I can't even take my pet to the vet." What do you say?
Laura: …that is exactly why you need pet insurance! It’s even more difficult these days to pay for an unexpected large vet bill when other expenses such as gas are cutting into our disposable income. When we graduated from graduate school, neither of us had income coming in the door for 9 months and I was so tempted to drop our pet insurance policies. After all, the extra $50 a month for 2 cats made a big difference to our monthly budget. However, Barnes had a kidney problem that cost nearly $1,500 and I was so glad I had the policies. What a relief!
Having said that, pet insurance is not for everyone. Even in the UK, while over 18% of cats and dogs are insured, just over 80% of cat and dog owners have decided that pet insurance is not for them. For many people in the US, if their cat or dog had a large vet bill, they would just put the animal down. As pet lovers, we hate to hear that, but it is a fact of life. Interestingly enough though, many men tell me they’d put the dog or cat down, but when I probe further, they admit that their wife and kids would vehemently disagree. And we all know who often wins in that scenario.
Yvonne: What do you think of ferrets as pets? Iguanas? Tarantualas? Cows? Worms? Does Pet Insurance cover these pets? ;-)
Laura: I personally have never had any of these animals as pets, except maybe a worm or two when I was younger, but some people do love them. Only one company in the US will cover alternative pets such as the “pocket” pets (hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, etc.), birds, and ferrets. The numbers of alternative pets is declining as parents and kids don’t have time to look after these smaller pets. Even the number of dogs has leveled off and only the number of cats is increasing as people’s lifestyles become busier and busier. Cats take up less of your time so are more convenient to the aspiring pet parent. Don’t worry though, there are still 74 million dogs along with the 91 million cats in the US so dogs aren’t disappearing from our lives any time soon.
Yvonne: Tell us a bit about your childhood - when you were 8, did you have a pet? What was its name? If you didn't have a pet, did you want a pet? What would you have named it, as a child of 8?
Laura: We had pets in the house all the time I was growing up and they were very central to our family life. I have so many memories of our pets, I could bore you for hours but to limit the discussion to age 8, my sister and I each had a kitten to cheer us up when our dad went off on tour on his submarine for 3 months (he was in the Royal Navy). My cat was a ginger tom that I named Jasper and he was a right character. He used to go for walks with us and climb up and down trees along the way. He also fathered quite a few ginger kittens in the neighborhood until my mom finally had him fixed. He visited me at school one day, causing quite a ruckus in the class, and he even stole a neighbor’s pork chops from the kitchen table and then slept off his escapade on their bed! He eventually died of cancer when he was about 7 years old and that was a very sad time for me indeed. He still has a place in my heart as part of my childhood.
Yvonne: So...virtual pets. Any comment?
Laura: Each to their own I suppose. Nothing virtual can replace the warmth from a dog or cat curled up on your lap.
Yvonne: When one clicks into your 'About' page, we learn that you're an Actuary, which has something to do with numbers, a topic I am not fond of, even though I'm a fan of the show Numbers. I guess this pet insurance thing is a good fit for you - as it must deal with numbers a whole lot. But - you really just like the cuddly, furry, feathery pets - don't you? If you could be an animal...what animal would it be, whose pet would you be, and what would they (your pet parents) call their blog?
Laura: I do love numbers and I’m also a big fan of the show too. Actually, I really prefer relationships and patterns, which is what numbers are all about but I never could recite my times tables when I was at school. But yes, I also love pets, cats and dogs in particular. That’s why setting up Embrace is such a dream job for me, it involves all my talents.
If I could be an animal, I’d be an indoor/outdoor cat in a household full of cat-loving children (with pet insurance of course). I’d let them dress me up and take me out on their bikes in the front basket around the neighborhood, and I’d sleep on their beds and purr in their ears after bringing them a small mouse or two for a present. My people’s blog would be called “Cat-astrophes in our house and other true stories”
Yvonne: Tell us about the Bennett Troup - you're a new Mommy, right? While you're at it, take a stab at telling us what an 'old' Mommy is! That's sort-of like 'new baby'...aren't ALL babies new? Maybe all Mommies aren't 'new', though. Your thoughts?
Laura: Well, the Bennett/Burchard troup is me, my husband John, our two daughters, Ellie (age 2 years 4 months) and Erin (age 4 months), and our cat Barnes (age 11 or thereabouts). We used to have Barnes’s brother, Simon, as well but he was killed in 2004 by a couple of marauding dogs in our neighborhood, and so now it’s only Barnes at the moment.
One day we’ll get a dog or two but not until the girls get a little bigger and Embrace becomes established. Adding a new pet to the house takes loving and focus that we wouldn’t be able to do justice to now. As for the new mommy, old mommy question, I’m both, having a young family and having just turned 40 a couple of months ago. I recently realized that if my kids waited as long as I did to have kids, I’d be nearly 80 before I had grandchildren, which is a sobering thought; however, I figure I just need to keep fit and vigorous to keep up with them at that age and read a lot of young blogs (or whatever is around at that time). I do feel that having kids at an older age has made me a better parent and I wouldn’t do it any differently if I could.
Yvonne: Who rules the roost at your house? You know what I mean...which pet or kid?
Laura: At the moment, Ellie rules our house. Anyone that’s lived with a two-year-old would fully understand that one. Poor Barnes has certainly put up with moving down the totem pole. He is very patient with Ellie and soon I’m sure Erin, but he certainly doesn’t get the attention he used to before kids. In our research, we’ve found that pet parenting dips when human kids enter the family and the jumps back up when the youngest kids are about 12. That’s when the children are more independent and do their own thing and the parents go back to parenting the pets.
Yvonne: Shopping - do you have any favorite online shopping sites for pets? For people? For insects? (just kidding about the insects; all the insects I know shop at [xyz], a place I avoid the same way I avoid ant hills or bees nests!
Laura: This is a tough question because, to be frank, I have found it hard to find quality web sites in the pet world. If you can tell me where to find a site that not only looks good but also is functional and navigates well, I’d love to hear about it. Having said that, I love the WagginTails site for super premium pet food and treats, JB Pet for accessories. There are many, many boutique stores and one of my favorites is High Maintenance Bitch. It’s the place to get that boa you’ve always wanted for your dog!
For people, I’m not a big shopper for clothes but for gifts, I use Amazon’s prime account and overstock.com as well. For travel, I’m now using the airlines’ own sites quite often and have had great experiences using Hotwire for hotel rates. Where else can you get a hotel midtown Manhattan for under $100? For insects, well, they might like the National Geographic site :)
Yvonne: Leave us with your thoughts about the reliability of microchips. Are they widely available now, and are a lot of pet owners taking advantage of having them? If we're not, should we?
Laura: Pretty much every vet can microchip your cat or dog these days and it is growing in popularity. The technology is sound and works well IF you remember to register your cat or dog with the company that issued the chip. Many people get the chip placed in the dog or cat only to forget to mail in or go on line to register the pet’s information. They don’t do that at the vet’s for you.
I think all pet parents should consider chipping their pets even if they are indoor pets or kept on a leash. Just like pet insurance, microchips are for unexpected events such as the dog tearing off after a rabbit and escaping the leash, or the cat that got dropped off at the pound because he was digging his toilet in the neighbor’s back yard. You can never tell when a pet will be alone without you and a microchip is a great way to tell whoever finds them where to return them. Collars fall off as do tags and cats and dogs don’t have pockets for their ID so microchips give you piece of mind. I did hear though that MRI’s destroy most chips so get the MRI center to kick in for a new chip once they are done if you ever need to have one.
Yvonne: Let's get your other half in here - you mention that John likes to cook good food. Ask John to invent a recipe, if he would be so kind as to play with us today. Something with cheese, peanuts, chicken, rice, and a variety of spices. Don't forget to suggest a proper beverage on the side.
Laura: I asked John and he played to one of his strengths, which is Mexican food. Sorry for the length but the ingredient combination you chose were unusual – whoever puts cheese and peanuts in the same recipe!
John: OK here’s my recipe for Chicken Enchiladas with a Peanut Mole Sauce:
Part 1 - The Chicken: Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Add salt, two celery stalks, a medium onion cut in half, a large carrot cut in half, 10 pepper corns and one medium size whole roasting chicken. Boil for 30 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a roasting pan and place in a 350 degree preheated oven for 30-45 minutes (until it looks crispy on the outside and well browned). Remove from the oven and let cool until warm. Using your hands and two forks, pull of the chicken meat off of the bones and shred the chicken using the two forks. Do not throw out the water, you can strain the liquid and add it back to a pot to be further reduced and used as chicken stock for the rice.
Part 2 - The Mole Sauce: Place approximately 6 ounces (10 to 12) dried ancho or pasilla (or ideally a mix of both) on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 3 to 4 minutes or until you can start to smell the chilies. Remove and let cool. With a sharp knife, open the chilies and remove the seeds, pith, and stems. Rinse the flesh of the chilies in cold water and then place in a large heat resistant boil or pot and cover with boiling water for approximately one hour. Place the drained rehydrated chilies in a blender and add a half a cup of the soaking water and blend until smooth. Add ¼ cup of tomato paste. 2 cloves of chopped garlic, ¼ cup canola oil, 1/3 cup of organic peanut butter, salt to taste, 1 teaspoon dried oregano (rub dried oregano between your hands before adding to bring out the flavor of the oregano), and 1 teaspoon of cumin. Add 2 ½ cups of soaking liquid and blend until smooth. Place the blended ingredients into a pot and simmer for 10 minutes.
Part 3 - The Rice: Chop one medium size onion and add to a heated frying pan with 1-2 teaspoons of olive oil and sauté until soft. Add ¼ cup chopped peanuts and ¼ raisins and sauté for one minute. Add 1 ½ cups of rice and sauté until rice starts to turn translucent. Add salt and pepper to taste and then add 2 ½ cups of chicken stock. Bring the stock to a boil and then cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for approximately 10-15 minutes until the liquid has been absorbed and rice is fully cooked. Remove and let cool.
Part 4 - Assembly: You will need to make a small assembly line for this process and be prepared for some mess, but the end product is worth it. You will need a large baking dish such as a glass lasagna pan for baking. You will also need a stack of corn tortillas, not flour tortillas. In a large frying pan or pot place all of the shredded chicken and add a couple ladles of the mole sauce, mix and warm up on low heat.
In a separate frying pan over medium heat add 2 tablespoons of canola oil. Place a corn tortilla in the hot oil for 10-20 seconds and then flip the tortilla and cook for an additional 10-20 seconds. The tortilla should start to get a little color on both sides and might puff up. Using tongs, take the tortilla out of the pan, shaking off some of the oil and dip the entire tortilla in the mole sauce. Remove and place flat in the lasagna pan. Add some rice, chicken, some chopped mild California chilies (from a can), and roll the tortilla and place it in the pan. Repeat until you have enough of the rolled enchiladas to fill the whole pan. Start a second if you have enough ingredients. Add some extra mole sauce on top and then cover shredded Monterey Jack cheese (you could use cheddar as well or a mix of both, but Monterey Jack alone is the best).
Part 5 – Final cooking: Place pan in a 350 degree oven for 30-45 minutes or until the cheese is bubbling and has some good color on top. The enchiladas can now be served. Serve with a small bowl of peanuts that have been sautéed for a minute or two and then chopped. Sprinkle the enchiladas with the peanuts and garnish with fresh cilantro.
Final comment - this dish can be served with refried beans and a salad. For the beans, chop a medium size onion and sauté until soft. Add one can of black beans, only partially drained. Cook until mixture is boiling and beans start to soften. Add salt pepper and 1-2 teaspoons of cumin. Turn of heat and mash the beans with a potato masher until reasonably mashed. The beans are now ready to serve.
And for a recommended drink, here’s a heavenly recipe for sangria that’s the best we’ve ever tasted.
Now, that makes my mouth water! Everyone who makes this dish is required to write in and tell us all how good it is! Mmmmmm! Thanks, John and Laura. This was a real treat. Woof, woof!