Fighting Debt & Getting a Pet? Think Twice!

  • DH = Dear Husband
  • DD2 = Dear 2nd Daughter

We love our Rocky dearly. Let that be understood. But he can be VERY expensive, and when I consider when we bought him and why we bought him, I have my doubts about whether I’d make the same choices if I could go back in time . . .

“I will walk him and take care of him. I PROMISE!”

We bought Rocky, a purebred Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, in 2006. Financially, it was the WORST time for us to buy a pet – especially one that cost us over $1,000. DH was smack dab in the middle of his 6-year career no-man’s-land, and we were constantly stressed about money. It was not a happy time, and perhaps that is why DD2 kept begging to have a dog. “I NEED a dog,” she would say. “I will walk him and take care of him. I PROMISE!” She was 12-years old at the time, and very strong-willed.

For two years in a row, she had looked after a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel whose owners we had met while camping, and when we happened to meet a breeder during the camping trip of that second year – and he happened to have his pregnant spaniel and her family at the camp site – it all seemed too perfect to ignore. We decided to get one of the babies-to-be, and our time with Rocky soon began.

“Kids can learn responsibility from having pets.” True. But do they?

Guess how long our daughter kept her promise to take care of Rocky? A steady three weeks or so – followed by an on-and-off commitment in the years ahead. Before too long, she resented having to take him for walks. As time passed, she went out more often with her friends, and she became serious about running, spending hours and hours at the track. A little more time passed and she moved out. So who has taken the dog out for walks all these years? What is the answer to that question 90% of the time? Mom and Dad.

On occasion, I hear of children who really do take care of the family pet. If  you are the parent of such a child, all I can say is well done!

Vet bills . . . and more vet bills . . .

There is a vet close to our home, but there is a much less expensive one about a 40-minute drive away (or as long as an hour + if the traffic is bad). Some years, I just have to make that drive to the vet once – for Rocky’s shots and yearly check-up. But one year, Rocky had a hernia. And another year, he had bladder stones. Some years, he’s had to have teeth removed. When these medical issues arise, the money pours out for check-ups, tests, medications, and surgery – not to mention car gas.

Over the last few months, Rocky has had chronic infections in his ears and his penis (poor guy). I’ve made that drive out to the vet four times, and the infections persist. Examinations, cultures, medications . . . We’ve spent over $600 at this point, and who knows where it will stop?

Our best friend

There are so many wonderful things about Rocky. He is unfailingly cute. He is always excited to see us when we come through the door. He is happy to go for walks with us, to watch movies with us, to go in the car with us,  to stare at us we go about our business, and to snuggle us when we rest. Rocky is satisfied with the simple things in life, and he LOVES us. Is it possible to put a price tag on that kind of friendship? Is it possible to put a price tag on the comfort and companionship he has offered for 10 years? Particularly to our daughters as they went through the tumultuous years of adolescence?

Think twice

I’m all for having pets . . . when the money is there. But if you’re in financial straits? Think twice. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you simply caving to the demands of a strong-willed child?
  • Do you have an understanding with your children about what their responsibilities with the pet will be?
  • Do you have a plan to enforce that understanding when complaints and resistance happen?
  • Have you considered pet insurance?
  • Do you know what the basic costs of veterinary care will be for your pet?
  • Are you aware of the expenses for unexpected medical issues that might arise?
  • Would it be better to wait until the debt has been paid off / you’ve found a higher-paying job / you’ve saved up more?
  • Is there a way you can fulfill that longing for a pet by walking a friend’s dog or babysitting a family member’s cat?

Reflect upon your answers to these questions, and do your homework if there are some questions you aren’t able to answer. What do you think? Is now the time to get a pet?

Your comments are welcome.


26 comments on “Fighting Debt & Getting a Pet? Think Twice!

  1. Pets are wonderful additions to a family, but there is a lot to consider before getting one. Do you have the money? Do you have the time and energy? Do you have the space? I know my wife would love to get a small dog, and I would too, but we both realize that’s a commitment we’re not fully prepared to take on. It’s not just about what a pet brings to your life, but what you can bring to theirs!

    1. Good point, Gary! Fortunately, Rocky is under the impression that we bring everything wonderful to his life : ) I admire you and your wife for deciding not to get a dog even though the idea appeals to you. It’s a considerate, selfless decision.

  2. I could not imagine our family without a pet. We love our dog Mushu so much. I joke with the family that he gets more attention than I do. I have been around dogs since I was a toddler. You do however need to factor in the cost and responsibility before adopting one. Puppies and kittens are incredibly cute, but can be destructive if not trained properly, need to be cared for, and can have health issues as they age. All things to be considered before you fall victim to their cuteness tractor beam at the pet store or as you said Ruth the strong willed child in relentless pursuit of their pet.

    1. “cuteness tractor beam” – I like that! It’s true that a lot needs to be considered, and it’s true that it’s easy to skip over those considerations in the path of that beam : )

  3. Awesome post, Ruth. Pets are so wonderful, and like Brian, we LOVE ours, but they do cost money, time and energy. Pets fall in love with their families just as their family members fall in love with them, so it’s not to be taken lightly, the decision to get a pet. I’ve seen too many people get them and then decide for whatever reason that it’s not for them. Decide carefully!

    1. True that pets fall in love with their families. There is genuine attachment and emotion there, and for that reason, we will always do what is right for Rocky (even though a part of us is screaming “Why?!” on the inside).

  4. After having pets ever since college, our last cat passed away around a year ago. It’s a different way of life and there are times when the house feels just too empty. But, not having those costs are definitely noticeable as well.

    1. Interesting, Money Beagle. Some people who have had pets for a long time can’t imagine life without them. Clearly, you have found the savings to be worth the occasional feeling of emptiness in the household. I wonder if you’ll want a pet later – when you’re at a place you want to be financially.

  5. It’ s so important to really think through (financially and otherwise) bringing a new pet into the house. It’s certainly not something you want to impulsively jump into when you see those cute baby animal faces at the pet store or shelter.

    We got our dog two years ago…we considered it for months before we actually decided to move forward. I went so far as to have the kids come up with a budget of pet expenses for the first year and we started saving money in an envelope. I don’t regret it – she is a big, happy part of our family and we love her dearly. That said, we were very cognizant of the financial commitment. And, though we try to keep expenses low, those vet bills can add up quickly!

    1. You were very proactive about your decision, Amanda! I love the envelope thing : ) And I hope that your children are actually following through in taking on some responsibility for your dog’s needs. I find it interesting that despite all you did to prepare, you are still surprised by vet bills. I’m glad you have no regrets about getting your dog : )

  6. So, so true Ruth!! We easily spent $5,000 on my sweet cat, Tony, during the last three years of his life. I don’t regret a penny of it, but it’s important to remember that while young animals can be relatively inexpensive, sick and/or geriatric animals can get very pricey.

    My husband and daughter have been strongly advocating for a dog, but I’m more of a cat person. I like dogs, but since I know who will be the one who provides most of the care for it, (see your point #2), I’m holding out. For a while I thought we should get my daughter a (furry) pet that she could take care of, but then we hosted her classroom guinea pig over a weekend, and she lost interest pretty quickly. Lesson learned.

    1. That’s a very good lesson to learn. I have a neighbour who stood firm in her refusal to get a dog, despite the wishes of her husband and children. Her reasons were the same as yours: she knew she would be the one having to look after it. She has no regrets about not getting a pet. Stand strong, Amy!

  7. Growing up, my family picked up shelter pets or free puppies that friends were giving away. They did buy a purebred once when I was little. Pets are great, but, the small “nickel and dime” expenses plus the hassle of travel arrangements when going on vacation can be tedious.

    We don’t have any pets now. Mostly because my wife doesn’t want indoor pets to care for (it’s an open secret) and we have our hands full with small children.

    1. I wish our Rocky-related expenses were of the “nickel and dime” variety! Taking in shelter pets is a great way to adopt of pet. It’s true that making travel arrangements can be tedious – but for us, that isn’t too big a factor since we so rarely travel. I wonder if those small children you mention will some day beg you and your wife for a pet : )

  8. As we say in church~ Preach! Same story as yours Ruth, get kid a pet, kid grows up and Mom/Dad are now the pet caregiver. Fortunately, our daughters dogs moved with her when she got married, but I made sure my Son- In -Law knew he was getting the girl and her two dogs!

    And Laurie is right, if you get a pet, commit to it. I adopt shelter dogs, animals that got too big, too loud or just took too much time according to their previous owners. While there are legit reasons to surrender a pet, most of these dogs were abandoned by owners who needed to hit the pause button before plunking down the cash.

    Think twice before bringing home any animal, it changes your life!

    1. Thanks Anne. Adopting shelter dogs is the way to do it. (You used the plural. Does that mean you have more than one dog at a time? Or that you adopted dogs from the shelter more than once, but not overlapping?) And good for you, asserting your boundaries when it came to your daughter’s dog! I know too many people raising “grand-dogs.”

      1. Ruth, I have two rescues, a black Pom and a Husky mix. My “granddogs” are also rescue, both blonde Poms.

        I am a dog person, would probably add at least three more rescue dogs if I could. But, I prefer staying married! Hubs is not on board for five dogs. And that is okay, ’cause I am working on a plan to get some chickens!

        1. : )
          (Kalie is the expert on chickens. See below for her comments – and she talks about raising chickens in suburbia in her blog too.)

  9. Try Zymox for the dog’s ear infection. It’s an over the counter product that kills the bacteria that causes yeast & other infections in dogs’ ears. I used a vet prescribed ear medicine for several months which did absolutely nothing to cure my dog and had the side effect of making my dog deaf for several weeks. Zymox is one of the few products that has an almost 100% positive rating.

    1. Thank you, BH! I appreciate the advice. We’re on a 3rd (or is this the 4th?) round of antibiotics now. If the infection persists, I’ll look for Zymox.

  10. Pets can definitely be expensive. Our last cat in the last month of his life cost us quite a bit in vet bills. It was hard emotionally and monetarily, when he passed away. But when it comes to pets, everyone feels differently and for some people including myself, they really are part of the family. Having a pet, regardless of what animal it is, is never an easy decision.

    1. Our dog is part of the family too – so I’m torn in realizing it was not the best decision to buy him when we did. But we did – so we’re committed, feeling our past-selves’ lack of wisdom, and loving Rocky all at the same time : )

  11. Great topic, Ruth. Our kids have yet to beg for pets but I’m bracing myself for it! My husband and I aren’t too keen on the idea, even though we could afford it, because of the costs, time commitment, and hassle of boarding or finding a pet sitter for travel. But I also don’t want to make the decision for selfish reasons and no consideration for the kids. I’m hoping they will be satisfied with raising chickens and maybe we’ll get hens some day. Pets that live outside and give you food are okay with me!

    1. If your kids aren’t begging for a pet yet, maybe chickens really will do the trick : ) I think you’re onto something here!

  12. This topic is near and dear to me, and something I’ve been thinking about lately but from the other end (having read an opinion to get rid of pets to get out of debt faster).

    Other than my first cat from a pound, my other pets have been hand-me-downs or dumped on me. I take pet ownership very seriously and know that if I make the choice to allow them into my life it will be for the entirety of their life.

    So far my cats have all lived over 20 years, and my dog is already a couple years past his breed’s typical life expectancy, partly because of luck and partly because of spending more over the years on food and dental cleanings, etc. And geriatric pet issues can also add up. But it’s not an option for me to dishonor my commitment.

    On the other hand, I am unlikely to get another dog for some time — partly from a financial standpoint, but also because with my son away for school there isn’t someone home most of the day anymore. My lifestyle now doesn’t support good pet stewardship the way it did 10 years ago.

    1. When a new chapter begins, it’s exciting, but there is always some pain in the close of the chapter ending. Your pets have clearly been lucky to have you as their owner, but I think that your plan not to get pets after the ones you have pass away is a good one. Maybe at a later point you will, but you’re hitting your stride financially, and it’s a good time in the next decade or so to enjoy trips and other activities that you were wiser not to indulge in before. I think good things are ahead for you : )

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