Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Hidden Price of Dog Ownership

Here's something I tried to get paid for, but no takers. Sadly, it has been cleansed of arbitrary links and weird pictures because it's for public consumption. Happily, you get to read it for free if you're not busy watching Chris Christie deal with bridge-gate. Also, it's about dogs and everyone seemed to like my last dog piece. 

Before deciding to adopt a dog, it is important to weigh the positives and negatives of pet ownership. On the plus side, children will learn responsibility, dogs can be effective theft deterrent, and a dog will still love you even when your children transform into surly teenagers. On the minus side, a puppy will have housebreaking accidents that can wreck the floors and rugs, dogs need to be walked even in sub-freezing weather, and, of course, there is the not-inconsiderable cost of pet ownership. Dogs need to eat, visit the veterinarian, attend obedience training, and need to be boarded when you leave town. Even if you take all these standard costs into account, you should know that there are hidden costs of dog ownership that you won’t find listed in any puppy care book. I learned this the hard way when we adopted our new puppy.

My first glimpse of a hidden cost came when our new puppy started chewing leaves off the hosta plants in our backyard. At first it was cute to see a seven-pound ball of fluff trot inside with a hosta frond hanging out of her mouth like she was off to fan the emperor. But, a quick Internet search revealed the unpleasant truth that chewing on hosta might be dangerous to dogs. According to some sources, it can cause stomach upset and, of all things, depression. Because our backyard is basically a hosta showroom, we had to transplant all the hosta to the side of the house that the puppy couldn’t access. Of course, we couldn’t leave gaping holes in the backyard, so we had to get new (dog-friendly) plants to replace the hosta. When everything was finished, we had completely overhauled our backyard landscaping with plants that would not harm our puppy’s digestive tract or psyche…for a price.

Luckily for us, the puppy was none the worse for her hosta-ingestion. Far from depressed, she was nearly inexhaustible and always wanted to play. I mentioned this to my sister, who is my go-to expert on all dog matters. She said that all puppies need socialization with other dogs and since our puppy had so much energy, she might benefit from a doggie playgroup. She was sure I’d be able to find a dog school that offered these orchestrated encounters for the puppy and it wouldn’t be too expensive. Here I was, naively thinking that I could just take the dog for a walk and let her sniff out other dogs for free, but I learned that strategy could expose her to diseases or adult dogs that might mistake her for a chew toy. The choice was obvious, pricey puppy playgroup!

When the puppy playgroup failed to provide the exercise and entertainment that the puppy needed, I went back to my dog expert. Luckily, my sister had another suggestion. When she told her vet that she worried that her dog missed her while she was at work, her vet suggested her dog a kitten as a playmate. Basically, we needed to get our dog her own pet for companionship. To me, this seems to open up a reverse Old Lady Who Swallowed the Fly situation, the logical end result of which will be a gnat playing with its own pet paramecium. Each one of those creatures will, of course, be racking up their own expenses. We did not get our puppy her own kitten.

There are other costs that you know go along with pet ownership, but you don’t consider the add-ons that you will be persuaded to purchase. Of course you will have to buy dog food, but you don’t count on buying special, medical-grade food because your dog’s stomach is upset from eating hosta. Naturally, you expect to get your dog groomed, but you don’t realize that you will have to shell out extra for a special hypoallergenic formula for your puppy’s dry skin. You know that your dog will get spayed, but you don’t count on paying extra for the laparoscopic spay because you love your puppy and want to spare her the pain of the more invasive (but cheaper) alternative.

This was our first Christmas with our puppy and, of course, Santa had to bring the puppy gifts to keep up appearances for the children. The puppy ignored the squeaky squirrel and the faux stick she received and rooted around in the wrapping paper. As she ripped through the paper, I sighed. At least it was free.

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