Money: Where do the Animals Fit In?

Poodle and Hannah, hiding out together in the closet.
Poodle and Hannah, hiding out together in the closet.

Today I said good-bye to a very dear friend. Poodle* has been my dog for the past 4 years. He was already an old man when he came to live with me. I don’t know a lot about his past, other than he was sent to the Humane Society after a raid on a puppy mill, and was then adopted by a woman in her 80’s. Poodle was convinced he was a vicious attack poodle though, and therefore spent most of those couple of months she had him at the boarding clinic. I had a friend who managed the pet practice that owned the clinic, and recommended that a new home should be found for Poodle. She contacted me, and I agreed to try him in my home for a few days. He’s been mine ever since.

For the past 5 years of my life I have been a dog owner. I adopted Hannah, a Pekingese, through a rescue in 2008. Poodle became a part of our family a year later, to provide companionship to Hannah. My dogs have added tremendously to my life over the years. They’ve provided companionship, entertainment, and even a feeling of safety. I know, it’s crazy to think of two little dogs providing safety. But then, you’ve probably never seen a vicious attack poodle protecting his Hannah!

Growing up, our family always had a pet of some sort. It seemed like a given that once I was more settled, I would have an animal. Both of my dogs were older when I adopted them, and came from troubled pasts that lead to many psychological and physical issues throughout their lives. I’ve tried to give them good lives, overly spoiling them in an attempt to “make up” for their rough beginnings.

Poodle sleeping in after a long night of barking at friends and family.
Poodle sleeping in after a long night of barking at friends and family.

One thing that I’ve noticed on many financial blogs is the question of whether or not one should have a pet. The theory being that if you are in debt, or otherwise financially unstable, you should not own a pet. Honestly, I’ve never looked at pets from that perspective. I hadn’t really ever sat down and figured out how much my pets are costing me.

I do believe that you should not have a pet if you aren’t going to properly take care of it. Every living creature deserves to be properly treated, loved and cared for. But I wouldn’t say only the financially responsible should own pets. Pets bring so much to their owners’ lives. It feels a little elitist to say that only the “rich” should be entitled to own them.

Many people make the argument that dogs and cats don’t really cost that much to own. Maybe… maybe not. Like many things in life, it’s hard to know what your animal will end up costing you until you own it. Sure, you might have a dog or cat that only requires food and water for all it’s days, and dies peacefully one day in its sleep.  Two little dogs don’t eat that much. Figuring I spend about $25 a month of food, that’s $300 a year, or $1,500 since I brought Hannah home. That’s not really so bad, given what I’ve gotten in return!

But food isn’t the only cost of pet ownership. There are the extras, like toys and treats and such. I bought a variety of toys in the beginning, but found neither of the dogs have any interest in toys. Sure, the little froggie and piggy that I kept will occasionally move from one side of the room to the other when no one is looking, but otherwise they won’t touch anything. So, maybe I spent $50 trying out different things in the beginning?

Poodle trying to enjoy all of the beds at once.
Poodle trying to enjoy all of the beds at once.

I spent a small fortune on dog beds when I first got Hannah. I wanted to spoil her with a great bed. The problem? She preferred the floor. I kept the beds, which Poodle actually loved. All of them. And once Hannah realized that Poodle loved the beds, and that he loved her enough to let her kick him out of whatever bed he happened to be in at the time, Hannah loved the beds too. I probably spent $300 in total on dog beds. I know, ridiculous!

The vet bills over the years have been fairly extensive. I estimate over the past 5 years I’ve spent over $5,000, between the two of them. And no, I’m not the type of person to take their animal to the vet every six months. But Hannah had breast cancer, and had to have 3 tumors removed a year after I adopted her. There were shots, and blood work, and flea/heart worm preventative. Occasional illnesses. Dentals. Physicals and forms to complete so they could fly when we moved across the country. Speaking of which, it costs around $100 to take a dog on a plane.

Hannah attempting to go unnoticed by all the people at the airport.
Hannah attempting to go unnoticed by all the people at the airport.

There was the cost of the crate. The cost of the dog carriers that met the airline’s requirements for flight. Leashes, collars, tags and harnesses. Food and water bowls. Grooming fees. The cost of grooming supplies so I could groom them at home**. All the things that aren’t considered “pet supplies” that you end up buying more of, like paper towels, and cleaning supplies. Hannah’s adoption fees, which were around $400. Poodle was free.

Over the last 5 years, I would estimate that my dogs have cost me around $10,000. Honestly, they’ve been worth every penny. I don’t regret a dime of it. To me, owning an animal is more than a financial decision. You should, however, try to plan for the financial aspect of it. Having a pet can cost a lot of money. Even the *free* ones.

Poodle’s passing was something that we had time to prepare for. Given Hannah’s current physical state, I don’t foresee her being around for more than a few years. My BF has brought up the idea of getting another dog. I understand the reasoning, but I don’t think it’s a good idea for us right now. We’re at the stage of our relationship where we’re still imagining what our future together might look like. Do we stay in our current city, or move to the city where he’s lived most of his life? There’s a 20 year age gap between us, and he’s considering when he wants to retire. Maybe we’ll end up retiring together to Florida in 5-10 years? Maybe we’ll be snow birds? I feel like it would be irresponsible to make a long-term commitment to an animal right now, when we don’t have any idea what our long-term outlook is.

Maybe someday we’ll decide to get another dog. For now, I’ll concentrate on making sure that Hannah spends the rest of her life in comfort, feeling well-loved and safe.

– Ms. W

* Yes, I named my poodle Poodle. I don’t know what his name was before he came to me. My friend had nicknamed him Buddy. I originally intended to call him Henry, but it never stuck. He was a Poodle.

** We tried multiple different groomers over the years. But Hannah gets so freaked out that they’re all worried she’ll stress herself into a stroke, or pop out one of her buggy eyeballs (which can happen; my sister adopted a Pekingese that had lost both of his eyes). So, rather than seeing every groomer in the city until I find one that is willing to actually complete a grooming session, I resorted to grooming them on my own. And she’s no calmer when I’m welding the scissors than when someone else is.

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