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Pay It Forward

Planning ahead for puppy love

About the author

Kate Ashford is a New York-based freelance journalist who writes about personal finance and health. She has written for Money, Real Simple and Redbook magazines.

Thinkstock

Thinkstock

So you’re thinking of adding a member to your family — and not one that requires school fees (other than possibly some obedience lessons).

Maybe you’re contemplating a cat or a dog, a guinea pig or rabbit? Adopting a pet can be one of the most rewarding things you ever do — but it doesn’t come cheap.

 

You should expect to pay about $1,580 for the first year of care for a medium-sized dog, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. A cat will set you back about $1035. Ongoing fees total $600 to $700 a year, not including pet insurance, unexpected medical costs, pet sitters or dog walkers. In the UK, expect to pay up to £1,000 ($1,681) per year for dog care and up to £650 ($1,093) for a cat, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Australians spend about AUD$1,500 ($1,390) per year on their pets, according to market researcher IBISWorld.

“Prospective pet owners need to consider very carefully both their needs and the needs of any animal that comes into their lives,” said Kate Eliasson with the RSPCA in Australia. Here are some tips on bringing Fido home without a hitch:

Do your homework: Begin by researching the animal and its breed, discussing pet care and costs with your roommates, spouse or family, and preparing your home for a pet. You’ll also need to account for pet costs in your budget.

Different animals have varying needs, dispositions and diseases inherent to their breeds. Make sure the pet you’re taking on matches your family, particularly if you have small children. “I have seen lazy or busy people with energetic hunting dogs, such as Weimaraners, who need at least four hours of rigorous exercises every day,” said Gemma Ashford, founder of the Thai Animal Sanctuary in Bangkok, Thailand. “I have seen people buying animals for aesthetic reasons, who didn’t research their behavioural traits and couldn’t cope with them.” You can do your own research online, but also ask the shelter or adoption agency what they know about the dog, because behaviour doesn’t always match the breed.

How long you need to prepare: From one day to a few months, depending on your living situation and how much you already know about pet ownership. If you’ve done your research ahead of time and stumble upon a rescue organisation at a local event, you might go home with a pet that day. Some organisations and breeders may require an application process and a home visit to assess your living environment.

Do it now: Have a conversation. “There needs to be a discussion about living with a pet, what that might look like, who’s going to provide the care and what kind of animal you want in the home,” said Gail Buchwald, senior vice president of the ASPCA Adoption Center in the US. If no one is really sure who will have time to walk the dog or will be responsible for cleaning the cat’s litter box, you’re not ready for a pet.

Prepare your home. You may need to erect an outdoor fence. Then consider puppy-proofing your home, which is a little like baby-proofing — put rubbish or fragile items up high or behind a lock. You may also want gates to keep a dog in a certain part of the house.

Pick up supplies. Many animal experts suggest having a crate for a dog, which can be used to train Fido in a variety of ways. (The US Humane Society has suggestions.) You will also need bowls for food and water, some toys, a collar and lead, and any bedding materials. To save money, look for gently-used bigger items (such as indoor gates, a crate or even food dishes) at boot or garage sales, or online on classified ad sites Craigslist.com or Gumtree.com.

Have your breeder or rescue centre recommend which food is best suited for your pet based on its age, size and breed. You may want to continue feeding it the same brand while the new pet settles in, before switching to an alternate brand.

A new puppy or kitten can make your heart melt. But are you prepared for the life-commitment? (Thinkstock)

Do it later: Set aside some time. No matter how old an animal is, the transition from shelter or foster home to your home will be anxiety-producing. Bring your animal home only when you’ll be around — not before a huge project that has you working long hours, or before a vacation, when you’ll need to put the animal into a kennel or cattery or have it looked after by a pet sitter. “It’s tough on an animal to bring them home and then leave for a couple of weeks,” Buchwald said.

Consider pet insurance. Opinions are mixed on pet insurance, which covers your pet if it needs serious medical care. Not every country offers pet insurance, but in those that do, you must consider risk — how would you handle a health issue that costs a few thousand dollars? If you can’t afford it, it might be worth the $10 to $90 a month for pet insurance. Another idea: deposit a few hundred dollars in a savings account annually for an unexpected vet bill.

Also ask your vet for in-house pet plans. Some, particularly in the UK, offer pet plans for about £30 ($50) a month that cover the cost of all vaccines, flea and worm treatments, six-month health check-ups, and 10% discounts on any other visits to the vet. These pet plans can run either in conjunction or in lieu of other pet insurance policies, depending on your animal’s needs, and are a good way to average out the costs over the course of the year.

Look for ways to save. Just because you can get your dog groomed professionally doesn’t mean you have to — plenty of people bathe their dogs themselves. Manufacturer coupons can help you save money on food and basic supplies. Online sites such as petsupermarket.com and petco.com in the US and pet-supermarket.co.uk and petsathome.com in the UK and warehouse club chains such as Costco in the US, the UK, Japan and Australia may have lower prices for things you can order in bulk.

Enjoy your new friend. “Those people who do re-home animals from the RSPCA and other animal charities can enjoy the feeling that they’ve given a special home to an animal that really needs it,” said Andy Robbins with the RSPCA in the UK. “Most of the animals in the RSPCA’s care have had a difficult start to life, and they deserve a chance of happiness.”

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Prospective pet owners need to consider very carefully both their needs and the needs of any animal that comes into their lives. — Kate Eliasson

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