Nina Smith

Are Pets Worth the Money?

Filed By Nina Smith | November 26, 2007 7:20 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: animals, LGBT families, personal finances, pets worth the price

“If dogs could talk, it would take a lot of the fun out of owning one.” – Andy Rooney

When I first met my partner, we both had our “deal breaker” issues about getting involved in a long term relationship. She wanted children and needed to know upfront if her prospective mate would be up for this down the road. My deal breaker was that I didn’t want a dog. Ever. Never. Nada. Tell people this and automatically you’re damaged and categorized as some horrific human being. So allow me to be more precise: I like dogs… I just never want to live with one.

Fast-forward five years after sealing the deal and we’re busy trying to make a baby. We also have a cat. Everyone is happy.

So a while back, I smiled at the spirited debate that transpired in the comment section when Trent at The Simple Dollar introduced the topic of Pets and Money. He writes:

Earlier today, I opened a can of worms by suggesting that, if your budget is overly tight, you may wish to consider looking for a new home for your pet. My mention of this issue was extremely brief (not nearly enough to actually explore the issue in detail), but a number of readers grabbed a hold of this point and ran with it. Thus, I decided to move this discussion to a separate post so these issues could be explored in more detail.

Pets require constant upkeep and attention - if you are unsure if you want a pet or do not know the effort involved in maintenance, look for a situation where you can perhaps watch someone else’s pet for a period while that person is traveling. Pets also have a constant cost - vet visits, food, litter, and other costs are regular and consistent.

In the book, Work Less & Play More, Steven Catlin challenges readers to think about purchases and determine how many are based on necessity verses such things as ego, tradition, and guilt.

For example, owning a dog could be classified as a “traditional” purchase and he suggests that you might consider what the dog will cost long after you paid the $200 for it. Is it worth it? Or are you just buying a dog because it is un-American not to own a pet? Pets cost money and most people don’t consider this before they commit to owning an animal. I thought Trent was making a responsible and practical point.

But one commenter named Anne wrote:

Of course you got a lot of nasty feedback about the original article. In a bullet-point list including such items as “cut your clothes spending in half” and “reduce or eliminate your cable bill” you had the suggestion to rehome your pets. The whole thing was entitled “Trimming The Fat.” I think what was really offensive was the idea that pets were just another monthly bill, like Netflix or the gym membership. Yes, there may be situations where it is necessary to rehome a pet, but not after all other options have been exhausted.

Trent concludes:

So what can we learn from this? The big thing I learned is that there’s a huge spectrum of feelings on the importance and responsibility of pet ownership and I actually turn out to be somewhere in the middle on it. There are a lot of people out there who really love their pets and put them on equal bearing with their children, while others feel as though pets are secondary considerations. What’s right? It’s not for me to judge - but it does make for interesting and revealing discussion.

Paula explored the topic of The High Cost of Pet Care at Queercents. She writes:

A recent unexpected late night trip to the animal hospital reminded me once again just how expensive it can get to care for our loved ones. Even if you acquire your furry friend for free from a rescue or friend, the cost of their regular, ongoing care is something you need to factor into your budget. According to the ASPCA, pet care costs for the first year of ownership can range from $800-$1600 for a dog (depending on size) and just over $700 for a cat. These figures include basic necessities for care and not any additional medical care your new baby might need.

Where the big bucks really show up is in the unexpected medical care or diagnostic services that tend to creep up as your pet ages. Since most people do not purchase any sort of pet insurance for their animals, an unexpected trip to the vet can be as shocking as if you headed out for medical care yourself without any medical insurance. It is best to be sitting down when you get the bill.

So, next time you ask the question “How much is that doggy/kitty in the window/shelter/breeder/rescue?” remember to factor in the total cost of caring for your companion. With a lot of love and regular care, pets will enrich your life far in excess of any money outlays you may need to make.

She also gives the skinny on pet insurance and suggests that you shop and compare plans by pointing readers to Pet Insurance Review. Another helpful tool is the Pet Cost Calculator.

I’ll leave you with one final comment from The Simple Dollar post:

Most Americans have an entitlement mentality with regards to EVERYTHING. And most believe they’re entitled to pets even if they can’t afford them. They don’t think about it more than “Oh I want a dog (or a cat, bunny, snake, fish, etc)!!! Nobody can tell me otherwise. I live in the United States of America and can do what I want.” It’s sad really. That’s why so many pets end up mistreated or homeless. And it’s the main reason why so many Americans are in debt: they don’t think, they just do.

So whatever your opinion is on pet ownership, it behooves you to consider the cost just like any other purchase or commitment. Your comments on this topic are welcomed below… minus any long prose from lesbians about the love of wet dog smell. Deal breaker, remember!

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Nina blogs about money over at Queercents.


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Nina, I totally agree that people need to consider the cost of a pet before they decide to bring one home. I'm also going to go out on a potentially unpopular limb and say that people need to make the same decision about kids. And while I'm not disagreeing with you, I have to wonder . . . would someone who couldn't afford their kids be advised to rehome their children?

We have more pets than children. Better behaved too. *grins*

I'd never think of "rehoming" one of the critters. All of them were strays - they've already "rehomed" once before.

This a good post being a cat owner for 31 years You need to be not ready to pay for those unexpected medical bills but you best be ready to make those really hard decisions, the money ones are easy.

Thank you that was very good

Take care
Susan Robins

I don't think I've ever not had a dog. Some are high maintenance, some aren't. I had an Ovcharka when I was living in the middle of nowhere and she was quite able to find her own dinner by killing raccoons, ducks and other wildlife. Of course, living in the city now, the most I have to worry about is shedding and grooming. I've apparently grossed people out at work by picking a long strand of dog hair or two out of my sandwich and then proceeding to eat it. It's something that really doesn't bother me.

One thing worth mentioning is that if you take the cheap way in and pay 200 bucks for a dog, you'll end up paying for it later. You pay good money for a dog up front so you're assured of a pet that won't have genetic disease and other issues because you have access to a pedigree.

On the plus side, having a dog instead of a kid means shorter potty training periods, no need to pay for college and you don't have to worry that they'll turn out heterosexual :)

Gotta love my dog hes an outside one so only gets in a few times a day.So yes most folks love there pets and are willing to spend the money on them.

I have two Welch Corgi’s. One was a purchase from a very good breeder the other a rescue (free) from a bad breeder. I would spend any amount of money for the health and well being of either of my boys. I don't have and never want kids, so these are my kids. I have spent in excess of over $5,000.00 for cancer surgery on one of my boys and would do it again if I had too.

I look at it this way. Kids need new clothing like every month to every week because they out grow them. They have Dr. Appointments, Dentist, Orthodontist, sports, dance, toys, school, college etc, etc, etc...

I am still getting of cheep by having just dogs.

My feeling are that if anyone gave up a pet for financial reasons, they should never own a pet again.

Great post Nina. Pets (like children, as Serena pointed out) are a huge responsibility, and can be quite expensive. Along with calculating the costs and sacrifices necessary to have a child or pet, you've also got to figure in the benefits as well.

I wouldn't adopt a child or a pet without knowing I could afford to support it, but in either case, far too many people seem to view both pets and children as accessories to their lifestyles rather than a long-term commitment.

Just for background - I'm the daughter and granddaughter and great-niece and cousin of groomers and breeders and show people; I grew up with two dogs at any given time; and I'm now raising a standard poodle puppy with my partner. I also grew up hovering between lower middle class and - what ? - upper working class, I guess you'd call it. So all of these things play into what I'm about to say.

I really, truly abhor the practice of serial pet acquisition and abandonment. I've seen it too many times among my mother's and grandmother's clients - people would have a pet for a couple of months, then either stop coming because they'd given the pet away, or simply start coming in with a different pet. It seemed like they were "trading up" sometimes.

Heck, a few clients even had the gall to drop their dogs off and never pick them up; they'd call a couple days later and ask us to find homes for the poor critters. (Incidentally, we also once had to find a home for a goat someone else had purchased and tired of. A goat. In Los Angeles.)

But as much as I think dog-trader-inners (that's a technical term) are pretty despicable, I have to disagree with Phil that "if anyone gave up a pet for financial reasons, they should never own a pet again."

People's financial situations change - someone who could afford a dog, or thought they could afford a dog, a year ago might no longer be able to. And someone who couldn't afford a dog a year ago might have shored up their financial situation since then. And yes, of course, you should think through the decision to get a pet in advance - which is why, even though I pined dreadfully for a pet for six years after leaving home, I confined myself to cacti and potted gardenias. And yes, of course, it's irresponsible to subject an animal to the consequences of your carelessness. But sometimes, bottom line, there isn't enough money to care for a pet properly. And it's the better part of valor (or responsible pet ownership) to recognize that, rather than keep pretending like you're doing your dog a favor by keeping it.

What it comes down to is, I'd rather see someone take the responsibility for getting their dog the care and upkeep that it needs - even if that care has to come from another family - than keep it out of sentimental selfishness and neglect it because they simply can't afford to keep it fed, groomed, vaccinated, etc. There are worse things that can happen to a dog than finding a second loving home in its lifetime.

you don't have to worry that they'll turn out heterosexual :)

Maybe Serena will tell us about her gay dog? I love that story!

Yes, yes, people should think about the cost of dogs before they get them. But it's not like the costs are all that high if you take the medical visits out of the equation....

I'm saying this a guy who grew up with dogs (one of whom is still alive and I love!) and a vegetarian: dogs don't deserve better health care than most of Earth's people can afford while we are in a massive process of creating animals for the specific purpose of being destroyed. I think it's ludicrous some people are doling out the cash for dogs to have complicated surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, medications, rehabilitation, etc., for their dogs when so many people can't get that for themselves. It's even more ridiculous that people will spend all that money on their dogs and then stop by KFC on the way home for a bucket of extra-crispy. I guess those animals weren't the lucky ones....

My parents both had dogs when they were growing up. My dad's from rural northern Appalachia (seriously, think Snuffy Smith) and my mom's from a city in Argentina. That's obviously affected me, and both cultures realize that dogs, while lovely and great and all, aren't humans and aren't deserving of all the same amenities as we are. My mom loves her current dog but definitely knows that he's not going to live forever. It's just life, and he's not getting surgery.

People should plan out the cost of a dog before their get it and be realistic about that. People shouldn't "rehome" their dogs - they should have thought about that before getting a dog in the first place.

OK, let me have it; I've said dogs don't deserve complicated medical care and criticized the way people spend their money. :)

I knew I would find some pet fans at TBP and yes, it seems that most of you agree there's a certain responsibility with being a pet owner. "Rehoming" is a different story... just ask Ellen!

Alex -

Right ... clearly, an ounce of forethought is worth a pound of scrambling-to-find-your-pet-a-new-home. But:

a) again, not every financial situation is foreseeable (or, um, forethinkable); and

b) whether a person is or isn't to blame for the realization that they can't afford their pet (and this whole "they-should-have-thought-of-that-earlier" thing is about blame), once it becomes clear that that's the case, what's in the pet's best interests?

I don't think anyone here actually believes that getting rid of a pet is the moral or emotional equivalent of cancelling Netflix or your Cosmo subscription, even if both do appear on the same list of "ways to cut expenses that aren't about keeping yourself and your (human) family fed/clothed/sheltered." And I think everyone would agree that, if it's just a choice of one or the other, Cosmo should go instead of Fluffy. (Cosmo-preferrers, feel free to jump in and correct me here.)

But neither is keeping a pet you can't afford the equivalent of not canceling your Netflix subscription. If you keep collecting DVDs even after you run out of money to pay for them, at the very worst the company loses a little bit of profit until they figure out what's happening and stop sending you things. If you keep a pet in your house when you can't afford to feed it, take care of basic health needs (vaccinations, check-ups, ear infections, flea/tick/worm prevention), and, (for most dog breeds) get it professionally groomed - at the very best, you're making that dog go hungry and increasing the likelihood that it will get ill. Basically, you're intentionally subjecting a creature you're responsible for to pain and misery ... so you can feel like you did the right thing by not getting rid of it? so you you can avoid admitting you made a mistake in planning? so it can serve your emotional needs even when you're not taking care of its most basic physical needs? That's not responsible, it's selfish.

I guess my major point here (after lo! these many blatherings) is that bad things happen. Saying they shouldn't have been allowed to happen in the first place doesn't do anything to fix them. Re-homing a pet you can't afford should never have to happen, I agree - but if the money just isn't there, it should absolutely be considered.

ME~

Well, I guess I just have different experiences here. When we'd go to adopt a dog when I was younger, the animal shelter we went to was very clear about the expenses that are involved in keeping a dog. If I got the spiel about how much money they cost and then decided that I couldn't afford a dog after I adopted it, then, yes, I'd be to blame. Sure, there are circumstances that people can't foresee, like a change in one's financial situation, but most costs are pretty predictable - food, vaccinations and basic health needs, toys and such - and the animal shelter we went to did explain all of those.

If there are pet shops and breeders that don't explain these expenses, then I think that they share in the blame as well.

Alex, you KNOW I love talking about my gay dog and just dogs in general. It's kids that are a pain in the ass. Maybe I should start a website about my gay dog and how fabulous he was . . . just kidding! That's a bit far, even for me. :^)

Maybe not a website, but I'm sure others would love to hear about your gay dog on here. :)

Nina,

This is a brave post, indeed.

As a fellow-no-no-never-never-uh-uhn-uh to dogs (all pets for that matter), lesbian, I now share my house with three. For me, the decision about adding pets (a dog, a cat, and a fish named Gus) to our family was less about flexing my pocketbook and more about flexing my boundaries to consider the needs of both my partner, and now our sons.

Teresa's (my partner's) "want" for a dog outweighs (though not by much, I might add) my want for a pet-free home. Like you, I too like pets, I just don't want to live with them either. That statement falls on deaf-dog-loving-ears though. Just wanted to share that I "get" that - how it's possible to love animals and not want to live with them. In the end, I suspect we save money by having animals because I'm guessing that she would spend an enormous sum of money on clothes, shoes, and other stuff to fill the void.

Keep writing - I enjoy your posts.

I suspect we save money by having animals because I'm guessing that she would spend an enormous sum of money on clothes, shoes, and other stuff to fill the void.

Spoken like a true therapist!