Why Viewing Pet Ownership as Only a Cost is Short-Sighted


Picture courtesy of Pixabay


I want a dog.

Until recently I’ve had a dog, even a couple dogs at a time.  I’ve had them since I was a little boy.  They’ve been there to catch tennis balls and run through various neighborhoods.  Dogs have listened to my stories of success as well as tales of woe.  Moments of crazy happiness have been had with them as well as calm reflection.

Growing up, I would often say I liked dogs more than people and that probably still holds true today.  I look around the world and see it full of ding-dongs who are making the world a lot less friendly for the next generation.

I miss having a dog around as I haven’t had one with me for almost eight years now. 

Like, I said I want a dog, it’s just that I don’t need one and that’s where I’m struggling.

Stranger in a Strange Land

We have a cat.

Well, more appropriately, the girlfriend and the boy have a cat.

The cat and I simply co-exist together.

I’m not a cat person and he’s not into me.  Fair trade.

As a pet, though, he’s a decent guy.  He doesn’t make a big mess.  He stays mostly out of the way and he makes mama and the boy happy.  He catches the occasional outside mouse which freaks out the girlfriend which makes both the boy and me laugh.

The cat checks off a lot of boxes.

His one annoying habit of yowling (oh my God, that yowl) when he wants out of the house is easily cured by opening the door.

Other than that, he’s a decent pet for the others in the house.

There are times I catch him watching me and I imagine him thinking, “I’m going to eat your eyeballs when you die.”  I think cats are demented that way.  The girlfriend thinks I’m dramatic  when it comes to this cat and she may be right.

However, I think he’s just waiting to make his power play.

A Bird is Not a Dog

Last year, the family wanted a bird.  We didn’t need a bird.  Does anyone really need a bird?  I don’t think there’s anyway in the world you can justify a damn bird.

However, the girlfriend and the boy really wanted it.  There’s that word again – want.

It was the repeated conversation, almost daily, until I finally agreed.  A bird was selected – a caique.  Now, the girlfriend wanted an African grey, but we decided to get the smaller caique as starter bird.

Even for a small bird, the thing was expensive.  It was $1,400 for the bird alone.   This didn’t include the cage, the toys, or the food.  That ran the cost up quickly.  Feel free to judge.  I'm still shaking my head at this decision.

The Cat and the Bird meet for the first time

The Cat and the Bird meet for the first time

The caique is known as the clown of the companion birds.  It’s supposed to be a playful little mischief maker.  The bird we brought home squawked and pooped incessantly.  I guess that’s what birds do.

That bird wanted attention all the time.  The cat only wants attention occasionally.  Most of the time, he’s happy wandering around checking on everyone and curling up near an available person.  The bird was a different story.

When we first brought the bird home, it was the focus of the family.  We all played with the bird and gave it affection.  Even the cat wanted to give it attention, but we didn’t let him play with the bird. 

After a while, though, we realized we weren’t a bird family.  It screeched nonstop until it went to sleep.  Then we tip-toed around the house, afraid to make noise and call attention to us.  It was like we were in a horror movie - we were hostages to a 150-gram bird. 

When the boy finally came around and said it was time for the bird to go, we knew we’d all gotten to the edge of our rope.  We found the bird a new home and recouped most of our initial investment.

The Costs of Owning a Pet

There are plenty of articles out there about the costs of owning a pet.  None of them are pretty.  From the initial costs of spaying/neutering to annual costs of food, leashes, litter, licenses, etc., pets are an expensive proposition.

Most people never think of the costs before buying a pet.  I know I never thought about them until getting my financial situation in order many years ago.  That’s one of the reasons why I have not gotten a dog.  That’s why it took so long to relent on the bird.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASCPA), provides a great spreadsheet detailing the annual and first year costs of various pets (dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets, small birds and fish).  You can click this link and download the spreadsheet.

I’ll give you a quick shot, though, for dogs and cats.

After the first year (which costs are always higher)…

-        the annual cost of owning a dog, depending upon its size is $700/year to over a $1,000/year.
-        a cat roughly costs $800/year.     
-        heck, even a bird costs over $300/year.

The ASPCA did a great job of including ideas for first year costs such as spay/neuter, training classes, cages, etc.  One cost the ASPCA forgot to include was the actual pet itself.

You might get to buy that doggy in the window for only a few bucks at the pound, but you might also spend a couple thousand dollars.  That’s a wild swing in first year costs.

However, there’s also life span to consider.

The average life span of a cat is fifteen years.

The average life of a dog is about ten years (splitting the difference for big and small).

The average life span of a domestic bird is fifteen to thirty years.  Geez, that’s a long time to life with a pooping and squawking machine.

When you start doing the math, it’s a big chunk of money to buy and maintain Rover, Boots or Tweety.

My Real Reason for Not Getting a Dog

I had convinced myself I no longer wanted a dog for a couple of reasons.  The first was the expense.  I argued the costs mentioned above and used them to say I didn’t need a dog.  It’s a cut and dry argument when money is involved.

The second reason I didn’t want a dog was I’d be responsible to pick up the dog mess in the backyard.  Both the girlfriend and the boy said they would help, but I’m not naive enough to believe that would continue beyond the first week.  I was a kid once.  I know how this works.

I’ve got a beautiful backyard now.  I love it.  Once winter is gone, it becomes my oasis.  A dog is going to make a mess in my oasis.  It’s what they do -  I can’t get mad at the dog.  It’s biological and there’s no stopping it.  Someone has to pick it up. 

When I was a kid, my dad made me do this dirty job because it was my dog.  Well, it was the family’s dog, but dad didn’t want to pick up poop any more than I did.  But he was dad and he could enforce the rules.

Brisco - My best friend for a lot of years

Brisco - My best friend for a lot of years

God, I hated doing that job.  I sort of resented the dog and my dad because of it.  I also did a poor job of picking up the dog’s mess which always made the ol’ man angry. 

If we ever get a dog, I said to myself, I won’t do that to the boy.  I’d incentivize him, but if that fails, I know it’s on me and I need to get comfortable with it.  I have a backyard to protect.  So no dog.  I don’t want to pick up poop.

However, when I’m being honest with myself, the backyard and the financial reasons pale in comparison to the fact that I’ve had to put down a couple of my best pals in the past.  It’s hard to consider getting a dog again when I think about those moments.  I realize death is a part of life, but – well, you get it, right?  Knowing you’ll outlive your friend and you must be responsible for them in the end is a sad weight to walk into a relationship with.

Maybe that’s melodramatic, but it’s something I realize as I've gotten older.

Something More Important than Money

But I’m not the only one in the house, right?  And I’m not talking about mama here.

There’s a little guy who I watch sometimes in the backyard.  He tries to play with the cat in the way I played with my dogs.  The cat is actually a gamer and will chase him around the yard a lap or two, but that’s it.  Then he’s off to do cat things and the boy stands alone in the yard.  He shrugs and comes inside or I’ll join him to throw the ball.  However, there’s a moment of discouragement when the cat leaves him that I feel intently.  A dog wouldn’t do that to him.

There are all sorts of reasons not to get a dog, but the biggest reason to get one is the boy in my backyard and the little boy in my past.  I have a head and heart filled with wonderful memories of various dogs.  Those four-legged friends helped me through my childhood and were always there for me when I needed a pal.

As a grown man, I can put a price tag on that.  The little boy in me would have called those relationships priceless.

When I take that into consideration, there's only one thing I can say...

We’re getting a dog.