Since we rescued her, all skin and bones, 11 years ago, she had been my shadow and pretty much constant companion, offering me unconditional love and great comfort during some of the most difficult periods of my life.
She loved everyone in our household, but reserved a special adoration for me. Her death has left a huge hole in my heart, and I miss her terribly. The house just seems empty and far less welcoming without her.
I relate this to convey my heartfelt belief that pets are wonderful additions to our family who make our lives richer in every way.
But they are also a big responsibility. And it’s not one to be taken lightly.
Undoubtedly, some of that responsibility involves money and making sure you’re in a position to cover the costs of pet ownership.
In fact, pets can actually be quite expensive.
Even our little, darling guinea pigs that we rescued from a neighbor's neglect resulted in major out-of-pocket expenses because we ended up having to pay for neutering costs to avoid litter after litter.
And as Celia's health began to fail this past summer, and our trips to the vet became more frequent, the expenses piled up quickly.
Fortunately, I have always included pet costs in our budget, so we were prepared for that contingency. I don't even like to think what it would have been like if we had not been able to cover those costs.
That's a thought that's just too painful to contemplate.
However, that's the sad predicament that all too many pet owners find themselves in.
It’s important to understand the cost issues involved with responsible pet ownership before a decision is made to bring an animal into your home.
The fact is that whether it’s a one-time expenditure (neutering), or something you have to pay every month (medications, etc.), pet ownership impacts the household bottom line, sometimes substantially.
But budget considerations are often ignored or under-estimated when a family decides to get a pet, an oversight that can have serious consequences for the animal and/or the household.
As a result, way too many pets end up abandoned because their owners discover too late that they actually cannot afford them after all.
So here are some thoughts on pets and personal finances that should be considered before you take on the responsibility for another living creature:
Where You Get the Pet Makes a Difference
First of all, I always recommend getting pets from rescue organizations, such as Petfinder, the Humane Society, and the ASPCA, or other local ones, etc., since there are so many unwanted pets in the world who need good homes. It also can save you money.
Be aware, though, that even if you adopt your pet from one of these organizations or similar ones, the costs of acquiring a pet can range from a nominal sum to a very considerable one, sometimes into the hundreds of dollars.
So do the research before you fall in love with an animal that you cannot afford to acquire and keep.
And if you have your heart set on a purebred, then check out the rescue organizations for that breed. A quick Google search will yield plenty of results. There is a rescue group for just about every breed you can imagine.
Just be prepared to lay out some cash, and to undergo a stringent application process.
The volunteers running the rescues want to be absolutely sure that they're placing the pet -- that's already been saved once -- into a household that's a good fit and will absolutely work out.
But regardless of where you get your pet, it will be an expense, and quite possibly a large one. So it’s important to budget for the purchase itself.
All reputable shelters and rescue organizations provide spaying and neutering for their cats and dogs, as well as the necessary immunizations, and will typically include that in the fees and prices they charge for you to take the pet home.
But if you happen to get your pet from another source, then you must include the cost of paying for the animal’s sterilization in your budget. This is simply a non-negotiable item for responsible pet ownership.
So, be sure to include it and other initial costs, such as mandatory or recommended immunizations (rabies, parvovirus, and distemper, for example), in your budget considerations.
Other Routine Expenses Associated with Pet Ownership
Once you own the pet, there will be regular expenses to consider, some of them sizable.
Some of them occur all at once, while some occur repeatedly over time.
Food is the obvious one, the price of which can range widely, depending on the brand you use and the size of the dog.
It's important to take food issues into account when you're deciding on a pet. Larger animals require more food, which is a bigger budget item. Smaller animals typically are less expensive to feed.
But any animal that requires a specialized diet can end up costing you quite a great deal more than one that eats just ordinary food. That's something to bear in mind when making your pet choice.
One guideline that I always follow in this area is avoiding any food products for my pets that come from China. There have been too many cases of deadly or debilitating toxic pet feed produced in that country for me to feel comfortable with it.
But there are many other food options out there, so you have substantial discretion over how much you spend on this.
Other things to take into consideration are things like licensing costs and routine flea and tick treatments and repellents, such as Frontline, and heartworm prevention medicine, such as Heartguard.
Both of these can be shockingly expensive, although there are some savings to be found on-line vs. buying them from your vet or your local pet supply store.
Pet Health Insurance
Pet insurance is an expense that many people opt not to pay when they get a pet.
It can be very expensive, particularly for older dogs, and can cost almost as much as human health insurance. Given that cost, you might be tempted to skip buying it.
But I strongly recommend that you reconsider any decision to go without the insurance. And here's why:
As with human health insurance, you cannot know when sudden illness or an accident will affect your beloved pet. And if it does, the cost of just one night in an emergency pet clinic can run to $1000 or more. Sometimes much more, if surgery is involved.
You don’t ever want to be in a situation where you have to refuse life-saving or palliative treatment for a beloved companion solely because you cannot afford it. Insurance can help save you from such a wrenching choice.
In our case with Celia, we weighed and considered many factors in making our decision. Those included her general prognosis, both with and without treatment, the stress and side effects associated with any proposed treatment, her age, her declining quality of life, and her increasing discomfort.
In the end, we opted to let her go peacefully. Cost was not a major consideration at all -- because we had insurance.
It would have been a terrible decision to have to make if she had still been young, we had no insurance, and we had to make the decision based entirely on finances.
That’s not a position any pet owner ever wants to be in. So I strongly urge anybody considering a pet to do some research and get yourself pet insurance.
Here’s a link to some reviews about insurance products.
If you get a dog as a pet, and you work all day, you will likely need to hire a dog walker on a daily basis to come to your house and take the pup out to relieve herself and to go for a walk.
After all, it would be very cruel to leave a dog alone and cooped up for 9-10+ hours a day.
Dog walking services have sprung up all over the country to help you with this. It's no small expense, and also requires that you find someone you feel you can trust with your beloved companion --- and with your keys, since they will need access to your home.
Check your local veterinarian's office to see if they know anyone, ask among friends and fellow workers for referrals, or look on-line for someone in your area. Be sure to hire only someone who is bonded and insured.
Or check out doggy daycare facilities in your area. Some of these are downright lavish and almost like a dog resort. And they have a price point to match.
Such expenses add up quickly and should therefore definitely be included in any household budget.
Boarding and Pet Sitting Costs
If you travel at all, pet sitting services or boarding fees are other costs to consider.
These range from someone who comes to your house to stay with your pet, to someone who takes your pet into their own home, to your local vet office kennels, to much fancier spa type places where your pet will be pampered and coddled in a way that will almost make them forget that you're gone.
None of this comes cheap. Some of them can run into the hundreds of dollars for a stay of a week or two. These expenses ought to be included in your pet budget if they are something you are likely to need.
Finally, another budget item to consider when thinking about getting a pet is whether the animal will require regular grooming and care to maintain a healthy, mat-free coat.
A professional service can become quite expensive, so that should be taken into account when writing up your budget for a pet.
One way to save save on these costs is by going the DIY route. It's not hard, and I actually recommend learning to take care of any bathing, clipping and brushing of your pet’s coat yourself.
Use YouTube videos and other resources to learn how. With a little practice, you can become quite passable at even the more difficult tasks of coat clipping. That can save you quite a lot of money.
But even simpler tasks, such as trimming a dog’s nails, can save you $10-$15 every time it’s needed, usually about once every month or two.
Making the Decision For or Against Pet Ownership
Only once you’ve researched the costs for these various line items to be included in your pet budget can you realistically determine whether owning a pet is a feasible option for you from a monetary point of view.
Sometimes you discover that the timing is just not right, and the responsible thing to do is wait until you are on sounder financial footing before you take a new member into your household.
But if you've done your due diligence and decided that you can afford to move forward and bring an animal into your home, you will be well prepared for any worst case scenarios and able to enjoy their love and companionship with peace of mind for all the years of their life.