New pets need love – and financial commitment

During the peak of the recent economic crisis, when people were tightening their belts several notches at a time, across the nation one of the few aspects of the economy that didn’t experience a sharp downturn was the pet marketplace.

In fact, it actually grew. We were reluctant to spend our limited resources on big ticket items. We weren’t traveling or socializing as much. We chose to invest in the property we lived in rather than trading up. As a result, we were more focused on hearth and home and Fido.

For those of us who own pets, it’s often difficult to explain why we care so deeply about our animals.

There’s just something about the way they look at us, or how they make us laugh when they play, or how they lean against us at the end of the day. We love them because they don’t judge us, because they instinctively know when we’re down, because they’re so easy to please. A cookie, a pat on the head, a ride to the landfill on Saturday morning. This is the stuff true friendship is made of.

It’s possible, too, that the presence of a beloved pet eased the over-arching fear and uncertainty so many of us lived with for so long. Our pets give us a focus outside of ourselves, a reason to get up in the morning. Their simple demands for a treat, a few minutes of play, some gentle stroking bring us into the present moment and afford us a brief respite from the regrets of the past and the worries for the future.

Is this why we choose to spend so freely on our dogs and cats, ferrets and rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs? Maybe so.

And spend we do. There’s much written about the cost of raising a child from birth to adulthood, at which time one hopes one’s now-grown-up child will be well launched on its way to self-reliance. The cat, however, is here for keeps. No studio apartment for the poodle. And don’t say that no one told you that parrots live for 35 years at least!

It costs about $190,000 to raise a child to the age of 18. So what about these adored and adoring critters we often think of as our children?

There are 78 million companion dogs in America, on whom we spend billions. Following is a partial list of the first year’s expenses. Please note that the cost of a purebred puppy can be as much as $2,500.

These figures are conservative: One source estimated up to $10,000 for the first year and over $9,000 for each subsequent year.

Compared to the purchase price of a pure-bred dog, adopting a dog from the Fauquier Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, for instance, costs $135. Included is the spay/neuter surgery, standard vaccinations, rabies shot, heartworm test, worming and vet check—plus the dog! Keep in mind, as well, that “blends,” as mutts are starting to be called, tend to be healthier than pure-bred dogs and often make more settled, easy-going companions.

After the first year, some costs will be lowered or eliminated, and other costs will increase or be added to the list. Remember, too, that there will be at least a handful of unexpected expenses over the span of your pet’s life.

In the early years, these may include chewed shoes and couches or ruined carpets. Later on, many pets need nutritional supplements or medications to support them in their golden years. And then, if a crisis occurs at any point, surgery after an accident or treatment for a chronic disease may run to the thousands of dollars.

Cat owners, you’re not off the financial hook. Annual expenses for you run about $1,000 a year.

While these figures are a bit intimidating, they are meant to help you prepare for your new family member, not to discourage you from owning a pet. At the Fauquier SPCA, animals are frequently surrendered for adoption because their owners are unable to afford their upkeep.

Sometimes a significant economic change is at play and the decision to surrender the pet is unavoidable. At other times, a family has taken on too many animals to properly care for them. A soft heart is often responsible, but non-neutered pets having unplanned litters or backyard breeders looking to make a quick profit account for a large number of unwanted animals.

Knowing in advance the expense involved in owning a pet helps us prepare for the future and avoid when possible making hasty decisions that strain the family budget or result in an animal’s losing its home.

Using the figures below and assuming a life span of 12 years, we might expect to spend anywhere from $15,000 to, well, infinity on these, our most faithful companions. And though the numbers may be sobering, remember the bottom line…

A lifetime of loving devotion: Priceless!

How much?

Here’s a partial list of expenses for the first year:*

Initial price of pet: $0- $2,500
Initial vet check-up: $70
Initial shots (rabies, distemper, etc.): $125
Worming: $20
Microchip: $30
Spay/Neuter: $175
Heartworm test: $25
Heartworm preventative: $50
Flea & Tick preventative: $200
Food (depending on brand): $300
Collars/leashes/pet bed: $120
Toys: $100
Treats: $100

Further costs:

Teeth cleaning: $200
Professional grooming: $60 per visit
Training: $120 per class
Boarding: $25 per day
Dog walking: $20 per day
Pet insurance: $20 per month
Fencing: $2,000

*Average costs, based on estimates from a variety of sources. Costs will vary depending on locale and the type and size of your pet.