How Much Is That Doggie in the Window? $27,502.95

03/16/2012 11:00 am EST

Focus: ALTERNATIVE INVESTMENTS

John Heinzl

Reporter and Columnist, GlobeInvestor.com

The purchase price—especially if you rescue your pet from a shelter—is the least expensive part of owning a canine companion, writes John Heinzl, reporter and columnist for Globe Investor.

When we adopted our eight-month-old labrador retriever mix, Brenda, the shelter handed us a bill for $267.95 to cover the cost of her spaying and pet license.

That’s not so bad, I thought. We’ll probably spend $500 a year on food and vet bills, maybe splurge on a nice doggie bed and some chew toys. That’s a small price to pay for all the love and face licks this pup will bring into our lives.

The kids were thrilled. Even their dad, who had resisted getting a pet, had to admit it was pretty nice the way Brenda would plop herself down in your lap for a tummy rub and a cuddle.

But it had all been a cruel act.

Not long after we brought Brenda home, my schooling in the true costs of dog ownership began. First, she destroyed a swath of basement carpet—amazing how berber unravels when a dog gets a loose strand in its teeth. Then she attacked a living room chair.

Soon, everything she saw went into her mouth—my boots, my wife’s new down jacket, my daughter’s hair. We bought Brenda a $30 doggie bed; she promptly chewed it to pieces. No amount of exercise—fetch at the park, cavorting with other dogs, long runs on the leash—seemed to help.

The other day I was talking on the phone to my nine-year-old son, who had been playing chess with his sister. "Daddy, something terrible happened," he said. "Brenda ate a pawn." The guy at the games store assured me he could order a new pawn, but it would take a few weeks because it had to be shipped from Poland.

Fixing our backyard won’t be so easy. It took just two or three doggie play dates with one of Brenda’s friends to turn our lawn into 600 square feet of mud.

Because Brenda likes to dig, we knew it would be pointless to try to grow grass again, so we asked a landscaper for an estimate on paving stones. If we went with the cheaper stuff, it would cost $6,800, plus tax.

The more things Brenda destroyed, the more I wondered: How much is this mutt going to cost us over her lifetime?

Well, I ran the numbers. And they’re big—much bigger than I ever would have dreamed when I walked into the shelter and fell for this little black bundle of destruction. I’m going to share them with you now so that, if you are thinking about becoming a dog owner, you’ll know what you’re getting into.

Let’s start with the one-time costs. There was the adoption ($267.95), bed ($30), crate ($90), Chuckit thrower and balls ($25) and at least three different indestructible Kong chew toys ($25). Add the landscaping ($6,800) and that comes to $7,237.95.

I’m not including the cost of replacing the carpet or chair, because she’d just wreck them again. Nor am I including the cost of assorted doggie toys that Brenda destroyed, because I lost count.

Now for the repeating costs. We figure food will run about $35 a month, or $420 a year. We’ll budget another $500 annually for vet bills (which is probably conservative, given our experience with our previous dog).

Being an avid chewer, Brenda will probably grind through 52 rawhide bones a year at about $3 each, so that’s another $156, plus annual dog license renewals at $25. If we want take a vacation for just one week a year without Brenda, boarding will cost about $250.

That’s $1,351 in annual costs, or $20,265 in total if Brenda lives to a ripe, old age of 15. Add this to the one-time costs, and her price tag soars to $27,502.95.

But we aren’t done yet. We still have to factor in the opportunity cost of not being able to invest that money. If we didn’t adopt Brenda, we’d have an extra $7,237.95 to invest right now, and another $1,351 every year thereafter. Assuming a return of 5%, that money would grow to $45,757 over Brenda’s lifetime. At 8%, it would grow to $62,577.

Now, when I look at Brenda, I don’t see a dog. I see a couple of shiny new automobiles, or a home renovation, or a few years of university education for my kids. Granted, these numbers aren’t adjusted for inflation, but it’s still a whack of money.

I consider myself lucky, however. A dog walker (at $15 a day, five days a week, 52 weeks a year) would add $3,900 annually. Grooming would be another, say, $250. We don’t have those expenses—thank goodness—but if we did, Brenda’s total cost would zoom up to $139,686, assuming a return of 5%.

When we adopted Brenda, one of the employees at Toronto Animal Services told us that a lot of owners give up their dogs not because they don’t love them, but because they have fallen on hard times and can no longer afford them. Now I understand why.

But as long as she doesn’t start charging for cuddles, I think we’ll keep her.

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