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Pets Are Expensive!


Pets can be a barrel of fun for families, but they can also be a major financial investment.

Havanese puppy

Like many folks, we had dogs when the kids were growing up, shelties in our case (“Mom, we’ll take care of it! Please…!). A smart breed, never required much care or fuss, in spite of our kids’ almost immediate disregard of the newest member of our household.

Busy years go by, the kids and the dog are gone, and then lately my wife starts lobbying for a new mutt, a lap dog this time. A new “child” at a time of full schedules and travel, but “You won’t have to do a thing!” she says. “I’ll do everything.” Ring a bell?

So I say, “You are going to love that dog to death and here I am holding on by my fingernails.” But, as we all know by now, “If momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” So, after my being worn down over time, we start our search.

To be fair, my wife starts her quest for the perfect dog at some well-tended shelters. But it’s a daily changing smorgasbord and serendipity rules. Even if you are lucky and you make a connection, there are still fees of up to $200 to get you out of the door. Donations are always welcome also, especially when you are at your oxytocin-drenched, “Aw, aren’t they cute,” best.

But no luck. So we turn to breeders, a more predictable affair, if you can parse out the good from the marginal, that is. Factoring in the few hypoallergenic breeds (they have hair, not fur), a reasonable distance to a breeder, finding which one has available puppies etc., we finally arrive at a sweet spot: A local breeder of good reputation has a developing litter, with one available pup left.

I do enjoy dipping my toe into some of the many fascinating subcultures in this country. And people who show dogs are one of the devoted below-the-radar classics. You cannot just buy one of their dogs, you must be interviewed, and I am talking in-depth here. I don’t recall my medical school interview being as thorough.

After pledging our lives, signing a surprisingly long contract full of dos and don’ts, and paying what seemed to me an exorbitant amount ($2,000!) for our American Kennel Club-registered ball of fluff, we then get to go shopping. With a specific list, for specific stores, supplied by the breeder, of course. Hundreds of dollars, to start. And that’s for the basics, not the expensive, “cute,” indulgent, sequined etc. stuff. Could my eyebrows go higher?

Our previous dogs slept on the floor, ate and drank out of old, unmatched bowls, lived on kibble and table scraps, and did just fine, thank you very much. Our new “child” has to go a vet immediately for shots, a microchip, neutering, and “observation.” Hundreds of discretionary dollars more, to start. It was made politely clear to us too, that in the breeder’s world, we have gotten off lightly.

I guess I should be grateful that I haven’t been required to put the mutt in my will, a la Leona Hemsley. By the way, he is a Havanese (from Havana), we call him “Desi,” and he is irresistibly adorable. After all of the current and promised future expenses, I guess my family will just have to plan on smaller bequests from the will.

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Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice
Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice