During the pandemic, there have been so many firsts. We engaged in social distancing, remote learning, telemedicine, and work from home. Our lives changed dramatically. For many, getting a pet became a viable option when lockdowns began. The ability to spend time with a new puppy or kitten at home, teaching our children how to raise a young pet was an added benefit. Although we began our own search for a puppy late last year, our family also realized the timing couldn’t be better for bringing that dog home. Although I love all kinds of pets, our experience has been primarily with dogs.

What Kind Of Dog Are You Looking For

Just before the lockdown orders began, we visited several rescue shelters, encountering throngs of families on lines looking for a dog. Speaking to the volunteers at the shelters,  they told us that traffic to their facilities had been ramping up. Although a rescue dog was appealing, my daughter, Alex and I need a hypoallergenic dog. Hence, Kelly, our soft-coated wheaten terrier, is such a good fit for a family. As a result, we remain steadfast loyalists to the wheaten breed by choice. For the first time, we have two dogs, including our 10 week old Teddy in our home.

Surge In Dog Adoptions During COVID

Between March 15 and April 15, as the COVID virus spread, Petfinder reported that traffic on their site increased 43% while adoption inquiries rose 122%. ASPCA saw a nearly 70% rise in animals going to foster care. I learned first hand as I contacted breeders and rescue shelters, they were largely overwhelmed by the number of people who were inquiring about adopting a dog for the first time. Many posted messages warning people to put the time into understanding the considerable needs of puppies rather than acting hastily.

According to a 2019-2020 survey by the American Pet Products Association (APPA), 67% of US households own a pet or 84.9 million homes. Overwhelmingly, dogs at 63.4 million are the dominant choice, followed by cats at 42.7 million. Americans love their pets.

Growing up, we had a typical set of pets for an apartment: turtles (one committed suicide off our terrace), a hamster, and a gerbil but no dog. My husband, Craig had dogs growing up so he had some experience. For some reason, I couldn’t even keep a ficus tree alive in our apartment but I wanted a dog very badly. Leaving my job on Wall Street, I decided to go to law school and get a dog. Craig thought those dual goals would pass. They didn’t. In fact, it became more urgent after September 11th. Losing a dear friend that day made it easier for me to make changes in my life.

What To Consider When Buying A Dog

 

1. Does A Dog Fit Into Your Lifestyle

Getting a dog cannot be an impulsive purchase. When bringing home a puppy, you are taking care of another life for potentially 15 years. It can be a tremendous sacrifice in terms of time, money, patience, and sacrifice. A lot of research and soul searching needs to be done before bringing a puppy into your household. Rescue shelters are sadly filled with mistakes made by other dog owners who thought they could handle the costs and sacrifices  Yet, for many families who have had experiences growing up and do their homework, getting a dog makes great sense.

2. Time, Patience, And Sacrifice

Time and devotion are essential for your dog. When we got our first wheaten, Riley, I happened to be home taking LSATs and filling out law school applications. By then, Craig had begun his own law firm. However, we were both home a lot at that time. Later on, as we both worked long hours, we needed to get a dog walker for at least one walk a day at $15 per half hour.

Keep in mind that if two people are working long hours every day you will be spending a lot of money annually to exercise your dog. They need a minimum of 4 walks per day at $15 per thirty-minute walk for about $260 working days a year. That will cost about $15,600 annually.  Besides needing exercise, they relish your companionship. We saw a big difference in our dog, Kelly during the pandemic. Our kids were home from school doing distance learning while I was teaching remotely, adding to her usual friend, my husband, Craig who often works from home. Pardon my French but our dog, Kelly was like a pig in s**t!

3. Emergency Funds For Your Pet

Before you even bring home your dog, be aware of the cost requirements. It is one thing to plan for the upfront and ongoing costs, However, it is the unforeseen costs that can most surprise you. As such, create an emergency fund separate for your dog from the rest of your family. We had a number of unforeseen events that were quite costly.

A True Story

One particular time, Riley stopped eating and seemed lethargic. After ordering Xrays for Riley, the vet determined that he needed emergency surgery to remove plastic flowers he had ingested. (I know this sounds weird but unfortunately it is true. The leaves were from a fake tree my mother loved. She had passed away and I didn’t have the heart to discard it.) After paying about $2,000 for the surgery, the surgeon came out to show us a large-sized bag filled with plastic leaves. Then, he asked if he could please use this bag as an artifact to teach students what they can find in a dog’s stomach cavity.

Dogs will eat or destroy almost anything. Our list is more extensive for our first dog than for Kelly because we probably got a little wiser. However, we have had damage to walls, library books, school supplies, lamps, my favorite pairs of glasses, shoes, and lots of clothing. Lost items aside, monitoring of your dogs to keep them safe is critical. If you live in a house, you probably will need to build an enclosed wooden fence or area for the dog to run and play outdoors. An invisible fence works for some dogs. We had one and Riley ran right through it looking like he had a fun adventure!

4. The Finances: Upfront/One-Time Costs

Dog ownership has a lot of responsibilities. Financial costs–one time and ongoing–can be considerable. Deciding whether to adopt a dog from a rescue shelter or directly from a breeder is an important decision. If you have a certain breed in mind, you may need to go directly to a reputable breeder. Generally, the cost will be higher depending on the breed. Don’t be surprised if the cost of your puppy is in the range of $2,500 and up.  On the other hand, you may be able to find a pure breed or mixed breed at a rescue shelter where the adoption cost is far less ranging up to $500.

The ASPCA has waived all fees during the COVID period. In lieu of fees, many shelters really need donations to keep the facilities running as they remain closed to the public. When searching for your pet, remain patient and do diligent research which is required.

Basic Supplies

Preparing your home for your puppy, especially if this is your first experience may be mindboggling. Before you pick up your pet, you may need to puppy-proof your home with gates and locks for the lower cabinets. Look around your home from a dog’s perspective which is closer to the floor.  There will likely be some danger spots such as easy to reach cleaning fluids. Unless you have young children at home, these risks are usually overlooked. When we brought our first puppy, I was amazed at how clever Riley was in opening all the drawers and cabinets. No, it was that we were totally unprepared and had to buy all the child locks so that Mr. Clean didn’t become his toy.

Initial Costs

Get a hard plastic travel crate ($50-$100) to take your puppy home in a car. You will need a leash, collar, ID tag, dog treats, chewy toys, and a larger wire crate (50-$75+) for sleeping in at night. On the latter, a crate becomes their little kingdom and a means to housetraining your pet. Later on, you will likely want a dog bed which can range from $50-$100 or higher depending on how plush you want the bed to be. Riley and later on Kelly both slept in our bed. However, I am not sure we can or should have two dogs in our bed so we have been searching for a dog bed now.

Make sure to have hard (kibble) and canned soft food at home. Our breeder was extremely helpful in providing us with a list ahead of time. Wheatens have sensitive stomachs. I am sure each dog has their own specific needs. There are some good pet food delivery services with monthly subscriptions so you never run out of food or treats.

The Vet Visit

Make an appointment with a reputable veterinarian in your neighborhood. Your initial appointment should be made within a day or two after taking your pet home. This visit has a dual purpose. First, it is a wellness checkup, and second, to get vaccines and medicine needed. This will be followed by two other visits soon to build your dog’s record. The vet will ask you to plan for spaying or neutering of your pet. This is usually required by most breeders at your cost and done after 6 months up to a year. Additionally, consider a microchip as pets may wander.

Housebreaking your puppy is an important and often difficult task. Our whole family is involved in this process. We look like the Keystone Cops trying to negotiate our puppy’s tendencies to pee and poop before we are ready to take him out. I highly recommend How to Housebreak Your Dog In 7 Days which has been working well.

Obedience Training: A Story

As your dog gets older, they need socialization and obedience training. Ask your vet for some recommendations. During the pandemic, attending these type of classes have not been available as social distancing has been required. While you may be able to find a lot of obedience training videos on Youtube, opportunities for socialization have been difficult. We have been fortunate to have Kelly, as a four-year playmate for puppy Teddy.

The average cost of dog training is $50 or more per hour. You can do a lot of this yourself if you have the time and patience. As we were clueless parents when we had our first dog, we registered for an obedience training program with several other families over 6 weeks with an experienced teacher. She walked us through ten commands. I thought Riley did pretty well though he well behind the pack.

Riley “Failed” His Test

On the last day, the dogs were tested by command. Then each family with their happy dog proudly lined up to get their test scores. We were last on the line. I recall feeling giddy as I saw each family get a certificate of completion. As I put out my hand for our certificate, the trainer handed me a dog bone instead  She told us Riley had “failed” the course, having only mastered three of the ten commands for a 30% score. Craig and I were both mortified at being told a member of our family had flopped. We didn’t yet have kids at the time but I hoped I never said that another being had failed at anything. By the way, we did sign Riley up for individual lessons with this trainer and he succeeded!

5. Ongoing Annual Costs

According to the American Pet Product Association (APPA), $99 billion is estimated to be spent on pet products in 2020 as follows:

  • $38.4B Pet Food and Treats
  • $9.8B Supplies, Live Animals & OTC Medicine
  • $30.2B Vet Care & Product Sales
  • $10.7B Other Services

Basic annual expenses in APPA’s 2019-2020 for dogs average $1,305 in the following breakdown:

Surgical Vet Visits                          $426

Routine Vet                                     212

Food                                               259

Kennel Boarding                             229

Vitamins                                           58

Groomer/Aids                                   73

Toys                                                  48

Our Costs Are A Bit Different

These amounts differ a bit from our expenditures for our dog annually. We have a different allocation so we will provide our amounts. It is hard to estimate surgical vet visits, having had major surgery for Riley and not yet for Kelly. On the other hand, we spend about $800-$900 per year for regular vet visits, which is above average. Our food costs, including treats, are about $400. Our wheaten is roughly 30 pounds and often a picky eater. We supplement regular dog food with plain yogurt Kelly enjoys.

We have rarely boarded our dog at a kennel. Instead, we have used a live-in pet sitter who charges $65 per day. That amount of about $450-$900 for one or two weeks away adds to our vacation cost. This is probably an indulgence that provides us with peace of mind when we are away on rare occasions. We spend about $100 annually for vitamins and toys. Grooming is far more significant for our hairy (not furry) dog friend which requires a lot more care at about $350 annually. In recent years, we have bathed our dog but professional grooming is essential. `Our dog is non-shedding, a wonderful benefit that is easier to clean.

Our costs, excluding surgeries, amount to $2,000-$2,500 per year. That higher amount has a lot to do to where we live (northeast) rather than spending more lavishly on our dog.  Other surveys have pegged the annual amount for dogs’ basic needs in the range of $1,000-$2,000 per year which sounds like a good ballpark estimate.

6. Is Pet Insurance Necessary?

Many dog owners have insurance. According to the North American Pet Health Insurance Association, 85% of pets insured are dogs. We researched a few pet insurance plans. Typically, pet insurance plans cover 1) accident only; 2) accident and illness; or 3) accident, illness, and wellness. We ended up using Trupanion for $75 a month as they had a lower deductible than the ASPCA plan. Our experience was not favorable because the plan would not cover pre-conditions such as the allergies Kelly had. Therefore, we dropped the plan.

Final Thoughts

Dogs require a lot of attention, patience, and sacrifice of time and money. However, our dog has a critical member of our family from the day we bring them home. They are non-judgmental, always happy to see you, and affectionate beings. We have never regretted our decisions in bringing a new member into our family. With bringing a second dog into the fold, we have found new challenges we expect to overcome. That said, it is a lot of work but we knew that as we picked out our dogs.

They are good friends to have and heartbreaking when they pass on to the rainbow bridge. We still remember Riley as the dog who taught us so much about ourselves. He was there when we brought our two children home. I wish you and your families the best as you embark upon getting your dog.

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