Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Price of Putting on the Dog

The article, below, is from The Wall Street Journal, and suggests that dogs are very expensive to own -- maybe $1,000 or more per dog per year. Outrageous? I thought so too, but if I figure out the wear and tear on the car, the the occasional high-cost health care bill (two of those in 7 years), food, etc., it's not quite as cheap as I think either. I figure my three dogs cost me about $1,000 a year for all three, but I might be low-balling that.

Calculating the True Cost of a Pet
by By Ron Lieber, The Wall Street Journal,
Dec. 12, 2005

That doggy in the window costs much more than you think.

How much? Almost $12,000 over a lifetime for a small dog that lives 15 years, and more than $23,000 for a larger breed that lives for 12. Those are just averages; the numbers grow quickly if, say, illnesses require trips to the vet.

These figures come from Jim Wilson, a veterinarian, lawyer and consultant who has created a detailed spreadsheet, down to the last chew toy, using data from the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, the American Veterinary Medical Association and owners. Dr. Wilson crunched the numbers as part of his research into damages in lawsuits over pets and his work for a pet-insurance company.

Numbers like that might give anyone pause. "People think they can get the puppy from the pound for $125," he says. "And they honestly don't have a clue as to what the annual costs are going to be."

Some highlights from the spreadsheet: "Destruction of Household Items" averages $1,000 for a larger dog. Dr. Wilson knows of a Weimaraner that chewed up $3,500 worth of SUV dashboard. "Sometimes a tail takes out a whole table, and then you have broken china, red wine stains," he says. "Nobody takes that into account."

Thinking about pets in these terms may make you feel dangerously like the Grinch. In fact, it's precisely because animals can end up playing such important roles in our lives that it's crucial to consider the economic cost ahead of time. After all, once that pet becomes part of your household -- a playmate for the kids, a friend and companion -- you'll likely find yourself determined to spend whatever it takes to shield it from pain.

It's the veterinary bills that can really add up. These days it's a snap to spend a four-figure amount or more on care that wasn't even available a decade ago. That can lead, inevitably, to difficult choices. Trade journal DVM Newsmagazine asks vets every three years for the dollar amount at which most clients would stop treatment. In 2003, it stood at $961, up 67 percent from the 1997 figure. A 2004 American Kennel Club survey of dog owners found that 14 percent said their current ownership costs would deter them "significantly" or "quite a bit" from getting another one.

There are several things you can do to avoid finding yourself in that group. Before you buy, see a vet for a "pet selection" appointment. Once there, ask about recurring costs and potential genetic and behavior problems.

Also set a realistic budget. Fran Hickman, a financial planner with JSF Financial LLC in Los Angeles, sets aside almost $14,000 annually for her African green parrot, two Jack Russell terriers and a horse named Temptation. Her advice? Be honest with yourself about what you're willing to sacrifice for an animal (or a menagerie). "It impacts your family vacations when you spend $5,000 on an ill pet," she says.

Finally, consider insurance. Some employers offer it, or you can buy it through outfits like Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. Deductibles and payment caps may apply, just as they would for humans.


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