Monday Author: Susanne Skinner
“There are no bad dogs, only inexperienced owners” ~ Barbara Woodhouse
Owning a pet is a wonderful experience. They become family, and just like family they require love, time, attention, training, and medical and dental care. The potential long-term cost of pet ownership is often overlooked when you see that cute doggy (or kitty cat) in the window.
The Cost of Owning a Pet
According to the ASPCA, the total first-year cost of owning a dog is $1,270 and for a cat it’s $1,070. Annual costs average $500 for each year your pet is healthy. If a pet becomes ill, costs escalate into the thousands without pet insurance. Most pet owners incur at least one $2,000 – $6,000 bill for emergency care during their pet’s lifetime.
Owning a pet is a decision that can’t be made on a whim.
You don’t get a pet with the intention of giving it up. Sometimes it’s an unexpected reason, like illness or death of the owner. More often it is the realization that a pet is expensive and a lot of work; and life will be easier when the pet is no longer in it.
Behavioral problems are also common, followed by relationship changes, health issues, financial concerns, birth of a child, or a change in living situation. Owners bring their pets to the shelter because they believe it is the only solution.
Not every shelter is no-kill. Each year, approximately 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized (670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats). Those numbers are declining, partially due to the increased number of adoptions and stray animals reunited with owners.
Pet Shelter Volunteers
I love dogs, and last weekend became a volunteer at our local Humane Society. This is a private, non-profit, no kill shelter; partnering with local groups (including jail inmates) and businesses for added support. They currently have over 1000 active volunteers and celebrated 2018 with 2133 successful adoptions.
As a new volunteer I was I required to take a two-hour class, and will need at least two more before I can participate in all the services. There is an optional medical class to assist with post-op care. I wanted to adopt all the dogs. It’s hard to look away from the face staring back at you from behind the bars of a cage.
The Work of a Pet-Shelter Volunteer
The staff and volunteers are amazing. The first thing I see are the dogs—playing in enclosed outdoor areas, walking on leashes, and chasing toys. The first thing I feel is the love surrounding each resident. They call them shelter pets. The animals have clean, spacious accommodations, with beds, blankets, toys and water. Most have indoor/outdoor kennels and the indoor part is air conditioned. Funding is in the works for a generator.
Volunteers do just about everything, including reception and phones, laundry, sewing, and poop patrol. Dog walking and playing is emphasized, along with bathing, belly rubs and reading. Yes, reading! Volunteers sit with a dog and read children’s books to acclimate them to human voices. The dog experiences soft, kind vocal tones in a safe environment.
Our shelter volunteers are surrogate families, and every shelter pet feels their love.
No Judgement Zone
People dropping a pet at a shelter are easy to judge, and even vilify. One of the first things we learn is not to do either one. We are not standing in their shoes, and often the decision to put a dog or cat’s welfare ahead of their own emotional needs is the hardest thing a person will do.
Loss of a job, a change in relationship status due to divorce or death, and owner health issues are major factors in the decision to surrender a pet. Many pet owners do not understand the importance of long-term planning for their animal family. They become too sick to care for them, or die without making arrangements for continued care.
Many of these are elderly pets with health issues themselves. They don’t adapt well in the shelter environment and potential adopters overlook them in favor of younger healthier pets. Some never leave the shelter.
Although not the norm, animals also come to the shelter as a result of hoarding or abuse. My non-judgement skills will be tested here. Shelters work hard to rehabilitate them for adoption but only specially trained volunteers work with this group.
The Texas Society of CPAs has a PDF version of a pet-budget worksheet to estimate ownership costs. It’s geared to help parents teach kids the range of expenses a pet needs, but the worksheet is universal, and a useful tool in determining the actual cost of pet ownership.
Long-term thinking and financial planning are still the best first steps in the decision to own a pet. A smart second step is fostering. Fostering is a way to bring a shelter pet into your home on a short-term basis. It’s an opportunity to learn their personality and gauge how well you will do as a pet parent. It’s a no-strings-attached test drive. The animals enjoy a home visit, while potential adopters experience the reality of pet care—and hopefully fall in love.
Adopt a Pet
This year 29 million people will bring a pet into their families. If only 10 percent choose adoption, it saves all the dogs and cats that enter shelters but don’t find homes.
Consumers are getting smarter about what and how they buy, including pets. By adopting a shelter or rescue animal, you have not supported the puppy mill industry. Every community has pets needing homes; they’re just waiting for someone—maybe even you—to adopt them.