Life of a Dog Owner: Work, Bills, and Lots of Love, Until Death Do Us Part
This post originally appeared in HumbleDollar.
Six years ago this month, I made one of the worst investments of my life.
I got a dog.
Ignoring the age-old advice to never invest in anything that eats, I signed up for a purebred German Shorthair Pointer puppy, thereby locking myself into an indefinite stream of future cash outflows in the form of dog food, treats, supplies, annual checkups, vaccinations, flea and tick treatments, heartworm pills, procedures, and other expenses required for keeping Man’s Best Friend healthy and happy.
What can I say? We all have our moments of irrational exuberance. For the record, I’m also a holder of AT&T, a stock that I bought for its attractive dividend yield but which, alas, has proven to be a classic value trap.
As for the dog, well, I spend a fair bit of time on my own, and as I got older, I wanted a companion that would match my active lifestyle. A neighbor was planning to breed her beautiful, sable-coated GSP. I never had a pointer before and thought I’d try one.
My life, and my pocketbook, have never been the same.
Now, let me just say that I love my Cassie dearly and I wouldn’t give her up for the world. She’s sweet, smart, funny, and loyal. She and I are stuck together like white on rice, and our bond only grows with each passing day.
But that doesn’t hide the fact that this dog is expensive, not to mention exhausting. Just feeding her costs me about twenty bucks a week—all that energy of hers burns calories, after all. I knew going into the transaction that GSPs were high-strung, but, like that AT&T stock, you don’t really know what you’re getting until you have it in your hand.
I don’t think I’ve sat down for more than an hour at a time since I brought Cassie home. When I’m not taking her for walks—more precisely, when Cassie isn’t taking me for a walk—I’m cleaning up the trail of destruction left behind by my sixty-five-pound canine tornado.
Zoomies are the worst. Watch out as the Cassie Express bounces from room to room, knocking over lamps and potted plants and anything else that’s in the way. Owning a purebred sporting dog is like having a thoroughbred horse in the house. If you hear galloping, you stand back and hope you don’t get run over. Cats, squirrels, and doorbells put her into a frenzy. Recently I replaced a front screen door that she busted through when the Amazon Prime truck came by to make a delivery. (The poor guy was terrified, but once outside, Cassie just wanted to give him kisses.)
Even worse than the mishaps are all the medical emergencies that come with owning a high-energy dog. Like the time Cassie caught her ear on brambles while chasing bunnies through a briar patch and came back to the house bloodier than a pirate on the losing end of a mutiny. A dog’s ear, I discovered out that day, is filled with tiny blood vessels which, if severed, bleed like a sieve. The vet had to knock poor Cassie out to stitch her up, all of which resulted in a three-hundred-fifty dollar hit to my pocketbook.
These surprise bills weren’t so bad when I was working, but for an early retiree living on a fixed income, they can break the best-planned budget. And it never ends, that’s the thing. Every day when you wake up, the bills and responsibilities lay in front of you: the feedings, the walks, cleaning her paws when she comes inside so she doesn’t dirty up the house, wiping up her drool after she drinks from the water bowl.
Some days you just want a break, but the only break comes when you go on vacation, but then you have to kennel her and that’s not cheap. Figure on paying at least four hundred bucks including tips for that week of freedom.
I found myself mulling on all this one evening last week while taking Cassie out for her eighteenth walk that day. I was in a bad mood because it was hot out and the last thing I wanted to be doing was sweating up another shirt while Cassie pulled me around the neighborhood (despite spending hundreds of dollars on training, I still haven’t broken her of the habit of pulling on leash).
Why do people do things like this to themselves? I wondered. Why do otherwise rational people commit themselves to taking care of living creatures that suck up their precious time and money?
We do it for the companionship, yes—for the love and richness that a pet adds to our lives. But man, does it cost us in both money and time. I suppose the same could be said about having kids. According to recent research, it costs upwards of three hundred grand these days to raise a kid, not including college. But at least the kid eventually goes off on his own and sends birthday cards (well, maybe). A dog is constant work and expense until death do us part.
Back at the house after the walk, Cassie took a long drink from her water dish and collapsed onto the floor in a panting pile of dog. I felt bad for grouching at her during the walk and got down on the floor next to her.
She squirmed and pawed at me for a few minutes before finally settling. Music was playing in the background. I stroked Cassie’s silky ears and rubbed her belly while telling her what a good girl she was.
She just looked back at me with those piercing amber eyes that said—you’re my person, Dad, and always will be.
Yeah, it’s worth it, I thought. Every penny.
Now, as for that AT&T stock …