Two years ago, we had 2 goofy dogs and 1 cantankerous cat. When we weren’t working, we enjoyed many years of outdoor adventures with our dogs, from neighborhood walks to hiking, backpacking, and car camping. The cat, at age 15, continues to be the ruler of our roost.
When both of our 13-year-old dogs died just days apart in spring of 2015, many friends and family asked us if we’d be getting another dog to help mend our broken hearts. Our usual reply was, “Not until we’re retired.We wouldn’t trade the time we shared with our non-human kids for all of the tea in China, but future decisions about pet ownership will take into consideration the experiences that taught us along the way. Such as:
Pets are fellow living beings with unique social needs. Though our dogs had pretty awesome lives, they spent most of their time on earth as an incomplete pack, because we, their pack leaders, were often at work, out with other humans, or travelling without them. They expressed their anxiety and boredom with creative variety: shoe-chewing, neighbor-waking, and ingestion of unhealthy amounts of raw hamburger, hot cocoa mix, and fish oil pills. We compensated for our lack of attention, where possible, with boutique dog hotels, doggie daycare, and weekday dog visits. But the bottom line was that their social needs were not always met.
Independent cats also need attention. Our cat seems to enjoy her ‘alone time’ more than her canine sisters did, but she would never tolerate living conditions in even the most fanciest boarding facility. Also, her life-long digestive issues require twice-daily feeding of special food and administration of oral steroids.
Pet-related expense is variable and can be … um, breath-taking.
- It’s not always the case that friends and family are available to care for your animals free of charge. During a 2-week trip to Alaska we spent more on pet care than we spent on lodging for ourselves.
- Dogs – $70/night @ boutique hotel for 14 nights = $980.
- Cat – 2x daily visits @ $20/ea = $560.
- TOTAL = $1540.
- Trips to the Veterinary ER when one of our dogs ate inappropriate substances as a result of our absence or lack of attention resulted in a minimum of $300 per visit.
- There is no Pet Medicare and we found that veterinary expense associated with serious illness and loss of mobility is usually in the $500+ range.
- As I mentioned, our cat has digestive issues which have required a variety of special foods. At one point said food was running us ~$85/month. (Side note: if we spent the same amount to feed ourselves per pound of body weight we’d be spending over $2,000/month on groceries – Oof!)
- Semi-regular vet visits for kitty’s digestive issues = ~$100+.
- For us, 2014 was the year of greatest pet-related expense @ $9,760.
Making the decision to end the life of another living being is excruciating.
Pets do not have the ability to tell you, “I’m in too much pain and I’m ready to go now”. Unless your pet dies suddenly, it is likely that you’ll have to decide when they’ve endured enough suffering and then how, when, and where you will help them to experience a peaceful and dignified death. Of course the rewards of living with non-human beings are tremendous and far outweigh the pain of this moment. But this is a challenge worthy of consideration.
To answer the question “How Many Pets?” Right now we’re enjoying every day we have with our elderly feline. She sits on our laps and purrs while we type, jumps in and out of paper bags, and keeps us well-informed of her wishes for snacks and meals.
(May 2017 update: GrumbyCat passed away in February, 2017. We miss her very much and are grateful for every day that we shared with her.)
We’ll probably get another dog at some point during retirement, but will ask ourselves these questions before inviting a member of another species to share our lives:
How will we meet the needs of our new dog?
- Basics: food, water, and shelter
- Companionship: dogs are social animals and need to spend the majority of their time in the company of others. (Majority of their time = not just when we’re home from work or in between extended retirement vacations.)
- Health: from routine maintenance to managing serious illness and mobility challenges
- Physical Exercise: dogs need exercise every day!
When we’re not available to meet our dog’s needs, for whatever reason, how will we ensure that she is taken care of when we’re gone (food, water, shelter, companionship, exercise, etc.) and how much will that cost?
- Do we have at least $3k/year to cover pet-related expenses?
If this dog has mobility challenges, is each of us strong enough to carry her? (Note: one of our dogs developed issues with balance later in life. She could walk OK but could not climb stairs or walk on slippery surfaces or ramps. We carried all 50 pounds of her up and down stairs for over a year. I, being of small stature, was grateful that we ended up with her and not one of her 80-pound siblings!)
We would love to hear your perspective. Please leave your comments in the section below.