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Owning a dog comes with extra costs

  • CHICAGO TRIBUNE

    Kathy Denney, left, with German shepherd Shelby, and Tessa Rawitzer, with Australian labradoodle Arnold, take a break from dog walking in Bellingham, Wash.

You’ll have to buy kibble, a collar and a leash. That, plus the price of a new pup, pretty much covers it, right?

Not quite. Most new pet owners grossly underestimate what it actually costs to own a dog, say Wisconsin veterinarians Race Foster and Marty Smith, founders of pet supply company Drs. Foster and Smith, on PetEducation.com.

Besides food and regular veterinary care, consider licensing, electric fences or regular fencing, home crates and travel crates, training and obedience classes, boarding, dog walking, dog-sitting, grooming, teeth cleaning, treats, toys, poop bags, flea/tick meds, heartworm meds, microchips and spay/neuter surgery, if your breeder didn’t provide it. Then there are collateral costs such as carpet cleaning or replacement, ruined furniture, doors scratched, gardens unearthed, screens ripped or the extra deposit landlords require.

That’s if you have a healthy dog. Allergies, eye trouble and joint problems show up later.

The American Pet Products Association pegs the annual cost of a dog at $1,641. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, ASPCA, says the annual cost is $695. Both say first-year costs are higher.

Americans spend $23 billion every year on pet food, $15 billion on vet care and $2 billion on the initial purchase of all pets, according to the American Pet Products Association. The initial price of a dog ranges from $25 to $300, for an adoption fee for a rescue, to $3,000 and up for a specific breed.

A higher price can deliver a dog that costs less long-term. Tessa Rawitzer of Bellingham, Wash., spent $2,500 on an Australian labradoodle pup, named Arnold, three years ago. That included documentation that both parents were free of inherited defects, plus neutering, shots, deworming, a crate and a manual. The breeder was recognized by a labradoodle breed association and rated by the Better Business Bureau.

Rawitzer is hoping all that will mean fewer medical bills over the dog’s life. Her previous dog, an equally beloved rescue mutt named Jake, wound up costing much more.

A 115-pound mix of German shepherd, Akita and Great Dane, Jake was running when he tore one knee ligament, then a few months later, the other. Surgery and follow-up care cost $8,000. Arthritis and other problems, with accompanying pain and need for medications, came later.

Rawitzer has had dogs all her life, usually rescues. This time, as well, she went to the local humane society first. They had Chihuahuas and pit bulls, 6 months old, heredity and temperaments unknown.

“I was not going to chance it,” Rawitzer says. “You don’t know what you’re getting.”

Lynn Barklage of Lake St. Louis, Mo., got her 2-month-old Shih Tzu and cairn terrier mix, Sandy, from a pet store. At a regular six-month checkup, the vet noticed something odd about Sandy’s leg. A trip to a specialist confirmed a genetic bone problem. Choices presented to Barklage included surgery, at $1,500, or do nothing, which could necessitate amputation later.

“She was young; she had her whole life ahead. And we loved her. She was a great dog.”

Surgery was the right decision, Barklage says, but recovery was stressful and time-consuming.

“Sandy had to keep weight off her foot. She was either in the cage or sitting on my lap. But she was worth every penny. Dogs are. She lived six years after that. Her (eventual) death was devastating to us.”

NEW OWNERS overlook the potential cost of accidents, Rawitzer says. Arnold, her labradoodle, at one point lapped up a tiny, tasty bristle that had fallen out of the barbecue-cleaning brush. An X-ray, treatment and follow-up X-ray came to $400. That accident happened during regular vet hours. The next time he ate something he shouldn’t have, it was during the weekend. That trip to the emergency vet resulted in a $1,200 bill.

New owners also might forget to consider ongoing needs, such as boarding if they travel. Grooming averages $65 plus tip per monthly visit, more if the owner doesn’t keep up with regular brushing.

More important than expense, most new owners don’t realize the time a dog requires, says vet Michelle Schraeder, owner of Mountain Veterinary Hospital in Bellingham. That includes training, socialization with other dogs and people, and whatever it takes to ensure a decent home life. It’s not OK to let a dog roam the neighborhood or be tied to a chain.

Rawitzer, a lifelong dog owner now retired from a corporate job, agrees.

“You need to walk your dog. It’s excellent exercise and socialization for humans, too. It’s a good way to make new friends.

“Spend the time,” Rawitzer says. “You get back a whole lot of love.”

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