May 9, 2014

Be financially informed before you purchase a puppy

The cost of owning a dog can easily reach at least $3,000 annually, according to pet industry surveys.

Don’t let that cute, new puppy chew up your household budget.

I’ve been learning that lesson almost daily since February when a tiny mix of white and brown fur became the newest member of our family.

While the dog probably feels he won the lottery when he was plucked from the pound, I feel I’ll also need to punch a lucky lottery ticket just so Fido can maintain the lifestyle he’s quickly become accustomed to.

Here’s what I mean. In addition to several hundred dollars in veterinary expenses that go with caring for a puppy early on, my household budget is now being stretched to cover chew toys (hearty chompers go through those fast), group training classes with a pro, furnishings such as kennels, beds, and safety gates for the stairs, and of course dog food and a steady supply of snacks.

Those are some of the basics. We also have made a number of extraneous purchases that may not be on the list of the average dog owner, such as a harness for the car, and a different harness for walking. And a collar that comes equipped with citronella spray that can be activated by remote control to correct misbehavior. We ordered one online.

Why, my wife and I have even talked about reconfiguring the back patio and landscaping to make it more dog friendly. Half seriously, of least I think so.

No wonder the cost of owning a dog can easily reach at least $3,000 annually, according to pet industry surveys. The biggest chunk of that goes for food, especially the healthier, expensive grub.

Keep those dollar signs in mind the next time your kids are hounding you to buy that doggy in the window. And as you weigh the many benefits and responsibilities of owning a dog, inform yourself of the costs before making the purchase decision.

Now that I’m a full-fledged puppy parent, I can admit, I didn’t grasp all the economics of ownership. After all, I had resisted my kids’ overtures for years to buy a dog. But when I finally succumbed in the middle of winter, it was partly with the understanding that we’d purchase a pound puppy in need of a home rather than a more expensive pure bred.

That was our only budgeting decision. Our puppy cost $200, including shots and neutering.

The good news, according to what I’ve read, is the first year with a puppy can cost twice the amount of ownership as subsequent years, assuming there are no health issues.

What are some ways to keep expenses from becoming budget problems?

•  Factor in unexpected costs. A friend cited the example of his puppy whose foot was accidentally stepped on and broken two days after being home. The vet bill cost more than $2,000.

•  Consider pet insurance. A policy can cost $10 to $40 a month.

•  Scour the Internet for helpful and free training tips.

•  Shop for food in bulk sizes at discount retailers or wholesale clubs like Sam’s Club and Costco.

•  Avoid the designer apparel and blankets. Thrift stores can be a cheaper alternative.

Owning a puppy has definitely opened my eyes to a whole range of products and shopping experiences. It’s even spawned some entrepreneurial thinking — for example, inventing a rear-view mirror that attaches to the dog’s collar so the puppy can keep an eye on his back side while out for a walk.

It might be just what frustrated puppy owners are looking for — and be my lottery ticket.

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