Today I’m going to talk about pets – both about how I always rescue my pets, and specifically about just how much my “free” dog cost. I can’t remember if I’ve mentioned him before here on the blog, but I do indeed have a dog in addition to the three kids and a cat. Yes, there are a lot of people and creatures living here. And this doesn’t even count the mice that like to camp out in my garage in the winter, the deer that live in my woods, or the woodchuck that lives under my shed!
My dog’s name is Thor – just like the Norse God of Thunder or the comic/movie character. We call him “Thor, Dog of Thunder”, which we find funny because “Dog” is “God” spelled backwards. Clever, I know! Although I’m 100% sure everyone else with a dog named Thor makes the same joke.
The dog and cat we currently have are just the latest in a succession of formerly homeless pets who’ve been our companions over the years. Today I’m going to briefly talk about why all my animals are formerly homeless, introduce you to all my adopted cats, and focus specifically on how a “free” dog can cost thousands – so as a pet parent you need to be prepared financially.
Why All My Pets Were Homeless
All the pets I’ve owned as an adult were rescues of some kind. When I first moved into my own place at age 20, I wanted to get a pet because I loved animals. I loved animals so much as a child, but our pets never worked out. There was a beautiful dachshund named Molly that we had for a few months, but had to give her away because my mother did in-home daycare and her insurance decided to disallow dogs. Then there was a cat we had for about a year, but he ate a bunch of rubber bands and died. I had hamsters once, but the “two boy” hamsters turned out to be a “boy and a girl” hamster, and they had babies-so we had to give them up too. When I was a kid, I always wished that we could just have a dog or cat long term, like everyone else.
So when I grew up and moved out, I wanted to get my own animals. I’m passionate about rescuing animals. Believe it or not, about 7.6 million animals end up in shelters every year. 2.7 million are put to sleep. You can check out more sad statistics about animal homelessness here. I know I can’t save all the animals in the world, but I want to do my small part. Purebred puppies and kittens are absolutely adorable, but whenever I’ve thought of getting one, I think about all those poor animals without a home. And I just can’t do it.
I want to be a part of helping those animals without homes, rather than be part of the breeding business. And to be honest, I prefer to adopt those kinds of animals that have trouble finding homes. For example, people don’t like black colored animals. And they prefer not to adopt adults – instead they want that cute puppy or kitten. I’ve had two black colored animals, and three that were adopted as adults. I actually prefer adult animals because you know their personality upfront.
I’ve actually had this talk with my kids, telling them why I like to rescue animals instead of buying them, and why adults animals need our help. I’ve talked to them about how everyone loves a cute kitten or an adorable puppy, but that cute little guy or girl is going to become an adult just like the other adults we’re looking at. Sometimes people forget that those baby animals are going to grow up – and they may not be as cute, but they still need loving homes. Also, having an animal is a lot of hard work and is expensive. A good pet parent is ready to spend the time needed to care for a kitten/puppy, prepared for destruction of furniture, can afford food/litter/regular vet bills, and has a healthy emergency fund ready to go in case of a medical issue.
First, An Introduction To My Adopted Cats
In my adult life I have had four cats and a dog. Since the second part of article is mostly about my dog, I’ll briefly tell the story of the four cats:
- Mama Cat and Crazy Baby – These were the first two cats I adopted, only a few months after buying my condo. I was originally looking to adopt one cat, but these two stole my heart. Mama cat had been abandoned at a local vet’s office with her kittens six months before. All the kittens had been adopted except for one, which they wanted to adopt out with the mother. Since the mother was an adult, they sadly waited at the vet for six months trying to find a home. I loved them both immediately. Mama Cat was a lap cat, a big fat orange calico who loved to snuggle. Crazy Baby was also a calico, but mostly black, and was just what her name suggests – crazy . She spent our entire time at the vet chasing a fly around the room, jumping up walls, and basically acting like a kitten. They were with us until they passed away at age 14-15.
- Ryo Ohki, aka Little One – This was the daughter of a barn cat who was rescued by a friend of mine after a fire. That friends mother insisted all the kittens be kicked out of her house early, so I had to take her home several weeks before she should have left her mother. But she adapted very well to my house and the other two cats, and lived with me until she passed away just a few weeks ago of kidney failure. She was more than 16 years old at the time. Note, she was originally named for an anime character, but we always called her Little One because she was so small. At 16 she still looked like a kitten.
- Bilbo – We got Bilbo a little over a year ago. We had lost Crazy Baby to a stroke at age 15, so Ryo was the only cat in the house for a while. But we knew that she was getting up there in years, and I was worried about the impact on the kids of her passing. Plus, I was used to having multiple cats in the house. So we went to a local shelter and picked up Bilbo, a kitten rescued from an animal hoarder house. He didn’t act like a kitten at first – he didn’t want to play, was shy, and scared of everything. The shelter said this was because he spent his first months in the hoarder environment. After he was with us for about week, he came out of his shell and started to play and act like a regular kitten. Now he’s a young adults cat who likes to play with the dog on a regular basis (a dog, I might mention, who’s around ten times the size of the cat).
The older cats each incurred great expense in their last year or two of life. Mama Cat became ill around 13 (we think – we were never sure of her exact age). There were many, many visits to the vet as she declined, and one day my husband found her at 1 AM collapsed at the bottom of the stairs, unable to walk. Crazy Baby suffered from a small stroke at 14, went to the emergency vet, and then recovered. She visited the regular vet frequently her last year, losing weight but still doing well overall, until eleven months later she had a larger stroke and could no longer walk. Little Ones decline was more sudden – I noticed she was sleeping all the time and looked to be losing weight. My husband took her to the vet, where she was found to be in kidney failure at 16.
We loved all our cats, and made sure to take good care of them through their declines. They all lived long and happy lives with us.
My Expensive “Free” Dog
After my husbands recovery from his near-death from septic shock, we started talking about getting a dog. This was several years before our youngest son was born, and well before the adoption of Bilbo, so he was somewhat lonely at home. The older boys were in school all day, and he was home alone, working on his recovery. As a child, my husband had always had dogs – specifically chocolate Labradors, although they also had other dogs as well. We thought a dog would be perfect to keep him company during the day, and also encourage him to take walks and regain his strength.
So we started to be on the lookout for a dog. We met Thor on Facebook, through the posting of a friend of mine. Their friend, who lived in FL, had found a young black lab wandering the streets. That friend from FL had come up to CT for job reasons, and was still searching for a home for this dog, months after he had been found. If they couldn’t find him a home, they were going to put him in a shelter.
I immediately messaged my friend and let her know we were interested. Later that night, while I was in my MBA class, the dog came over to visit. Everyone loved him, even my oldest son who until that time had been afraid of dogs. And so he came to live with us.
He may have been “free”, but he quickly became expensive. Not only did we have to pay for his vet visit, numerous shots, and neutering (we spay/neuter all our pets to not contribute to pet overpopulation), but he was also sick. He had picked up worms, and a fungal infection, from being on the streets. He was horribly skinny and was practically starving. There were many trips to the vet and expensive medications to treat his worms, the fungal infection, the “hot spots” on his skin causing him to scratch himself until he bled. There’s also the time he ate a pork bone and got sick. All these treatments and vet visits cost thousands of dollars. Luckily by that point we had paid off all debt and had rebuilt our emergency fund, so we could handle the cost.
There was also the bad manners and the destruction. When the person who had him gave him to us, they told us he was a good dog and didn’t chew. Well, that was wrong. He chewed up literally all the cushions on my porch furniture, which cost about $100 to replace. And lets not forget the first day he was with us, when he decided it would be a good idea to eat a pancake right out of my oldest sons hand. He was so hungry (from those worms, I know now) and used to scrounging for his food. It took him a long time to understand that he would have plenty of food and fresh water here.
In my Facebook feed today, I saw that it had been four years since we adopted him. Today he doesn’t chew the furniture, although occasionally we’ll find that he’s used a toy as a chew bone. He’s helped my oldest son completely overcome his fear of dogs – now my son loves all dogs, and politely asks to pet every dog he meets. And Thor gets to hang out on the couch instead of living on the streets or being put to sleep in a shelter.
Was he worth the thousands of dollars he’s cost me? Yes, without a doubt. Our lives are richer and better for having him here, and his life is immeasurably better than it would have been. As a black, adult (although young adult) dog who was sick and had bad manners, I’m pretty sure he would have had a hard time finding a good home. Likely he would have been put to sleep. Instead, he gets to lounge around on the couch, get tummy rubs, and get fed good quality dog food. He’s very healthy now, with a shiny coat, and you’d never know he had been a sick, skinny little thing just four years ago.
What’s the financial lesson here? Here are my top three financial lessons when it comes to companion animals.
- “Free” doesn’t mean free when it comes to animals. When you adopt an animal, they may be free upfront, but you need to be committed to their care. If you happen to get an animal that falls ill, needs special training, and so on, you’ll want to be prepared for their cost
- Be prepared for regular expenses. Animals require vet care. They age, and they have medical needs. Puppies will chew your furniture and steal your pancakes. They need food and water. When you go on vacation, someone needs to take care of them. All of these things cost money. You need to have enough in your monthly budget to handle these expected expenses.
- An emergency fund is not optional. Animals have all kinds of medical emergencies. When you agree to have a pet companion, you need to be prepared for their emergencies. You wouldn’t put your children to sleep because they broke their leg or got sick – you’re not going to want to have to put your healthy animal to sleep because they need an expensive treatment. When my 16 year old cat was diagnosed with kidney failure, there was a treatment available that was expensive but might have helped. Thanks to my emergency fund, I was able to say “yes” to it without thinking. Unfortunately, it didn’t help, but I know I did what I could
Have you every gotten a costly “free” animal? What’s your feeling on adoption vs. buying? Let me know in the comments.
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