My husband, Chris, and I both love dogs. When we were dating, we discussed eventually getting one together, and once we were engaged and were living together, the timing seemed right. We told our friend who worked at an animal shelter nearby to be on the lookout for a friendly, young dog that we could adopt over the next few months.
Even though we’re pretty open about discussing our finances regularly, we didn’t have any conversations about what the dog would cost us.
Dogs are adopted very quickly from this particular shelter, so when my friend called on a Saturday in November about a sweet seven-month-old Lab/Shepherd mix that had been there for nearly a week, she urged us to come in the very next day. As soon as I met him, I fell in love, and moved forward with the paperwork, reference checks, and $100 in adoption fees. The adoption center gave me a leash and some dog food and I went to an on-site store at the shelter to buy a large crate, treats, bowls, and a few toys.
Since Jackson was neutered and up-to-date on vaccinations, the $100 adoption fee seemed like a steal. I was happy to know the money was going back to the shelter to care for other dogs. We had never considered buying a dog, but while I knew the adoption route would save us money, the costs of owning a dog were much higher than I expected. In retrospect, it sounds naïve, but my overall expectations of the costs were food, a crate, a dog bed, and toys.
The true costs of dog ownership
According to the ASPCA, the cost of owning a large dog is over $2,000 the first year. If you told me that number before becoming a pet owner, I probably would have scoffed at it.
I tend to think of myself as someone who researches things and plans in advance, but, for some reason, I was totally blindsided by the cost of owning a dog—and, if I’m being honest, the responsibilities as well. (Picture me telling you that this afternoon you’re bringing a dog home. That’s about as prepared as I was for this life-changing purchase.)
I thought I was being financially savvy by buying pet insurance. But I didn’t realize that our dog would need additional vaccines every few months, which the insurance didn’t cover, or that his allergy medicine would cost us about $180 each year. Between those costs and vet visits, our mostly-healthy dog still cost us $1,850 in medical expenses that first year. We also spent money on the occasional grooming costs, good, treats, toys, travel accessories, a dog sitter one weekend, and other small expenses that added up.
I chatted with Carol Osborne, D.V.M., Director of Chagrin Falls Pet Clinic in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, who told me that, in addition to unforeseen medical expenses, other costs dog owners might not expect in the first year could include replacing items a dog destroys (like shoes!), “pet rent,” and possibly higher home insurance premiums.
The total costs our first year of dog ownership for that $100 dog? About $3,400. When I told my husband how much we spent, he was as shocked as I was. It made me realize how easy it is to spend money when you aren’t paying attention and budgeting for it.
Why it’s 100 percent worth it
Even though our dog emptied our wallets more than we expected, pet ownership has made me a better person and helped Chris and I be happier and laugh more every day. It’s not just us; about 93 percent of dog parents in the U.S. say their dog has made them a better person, according to a recent study by BarkBox. Jackson has improved our lives in countless ways:
He made me more patient and responsible
When a dog wants to walk 15 minutes in the rain or snow to find the perfect place to do his business, there’s no talking him out of it. Practicing patience with Jackson has helped me be more chill while waiting for humans now, too. And as a freelancer, I didn’t previously need to keep set hours and could start my day whenever I wished. Now, I need to wake up at a certain time to make sure that Jackson is fed, return home from being out with friends to take him out and make sure he’s gotten enough attention, and make time for walks and play throughout the day.
He makes us happier and healthier
No matter what my day brings, my dog is always in a good mood. And whether or not an editor rejects my ideas or delivers harsh criticism, he always wants to be my friend. My husband, who is a police officer, appreciates that no matter what happens during his shift or what time he gets home at night, he’ll be greeted by a friend who makes him smile and laugh. There are physical health benefits of being a dog owner as well, reports the CDC, including better blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.
He gives us companionship
As a freelancer who works from home by herself all day, I used to sometimes get lonely. Jackson is good company to talk to on days when I don’t socialize much—and he’s always ready for a belly rub, ball toss, or a walk when I need a work break.
Being a dog owner is one of the best decisions we made, but in hindsight, I wish I thought about the costs more so that I could have planned for them. Even though Jackson cost us more money than I expected that first year, he also brought us much more joy, laughter, cuddly moments, and amusement than I ever could have anticipated.