Dear Penny: I’m Stuck at Home With Dog Fever. Can I Afford to Adopt?
I've been thinking about getting a dog for a little over a year now. The recent stay-at-home order has increased my dog fever!
With the exception of three fish, I've never had a pet, and I am wary of the maintenance and expenses associated with pet ownership.
I'd love to have a poodle. I've read a lot about them and feel it may make a great first pet. In addition, since I’m now working from home, I have a lot of time to be with my new pet. There's a beautiful 3-year-old poodle up for adoption. His former owner is elderly and moving to assisted living, so he's looking for a new furever home.
How expensive is it to have a dog? Since we're in quarantine, I know there are a number of people adopting pets right now, but I want to be intentional about this and make sure this is something I've thought through.
I'm worried about uncovering expenses I didn't plan for or not being able to take care of the dog's needs. Is there ever really a “right” time to make this kind of commitment? What other financial considerations should I be thinking of?
– Feeling Dog Fever
Dear Feeling Dog Fever,
We all need a dose of happy news right now, and the stories of people who are stuck at home and adopting shelter animals in unprecedented numbers certainly fit the bill.
I hope these turn out to be happy stories once the pandemic is over.
Don’t get me wrong: Animal rescue stories give me the warm fuzzies. I’m typing this as my rescue mutt, Kermit, snores in the background.
But the dog mom in me worries about how some of those adoption stories will turn out once humans are no longer stuck at home. What happens when owners resume going to the office, traveling and socializing face to face?
So I’m glad that you’re not rushing into this decision, even though that poodle may have stolen your heart.
That 3-year-old poodle has a life expectancy of 12 to 15 years.
Coronavirus has a lot of us thinking about how different our lives may look for the weeks, months or maybe even the year ahead. So you need to ask yourself if you’re willing to commit to parenting this poodle for a decade or more.
A lot of the costs of dog ownership are pretty predictable, like food, preventative veterinary care and toys to keep your pup entertained.
I’d estimate that my Kermit budget averages $125 a month, though of course these expenses will vary by the dog’s size, age and breed. While big vet bills are a common worry for dog parents, pet insurance can make the costs more manageable.
If you want your dog to sport one of those fancy poodle cuts, you’d need to account for grooming costs as well. You could connect with a poodle rescue group via Facebook to get a better sense of specific costs associated with the breed.
But I think a lot of the unexpected expenses of dog parenting have less to do with the dog and more to do with our own lives.
Jobs and schedules change, as do living situations. That doesn’t mean you need to have the next decade of your life planned out before you adopt — if that were the case, animals would never get adopted.
But what is important is that you have enough wiggle room built into your budget and your lifestyle to accommodate a dog. For example, would you be able to afford a dog walker or day care if your work schedule changed? A pet sitter if you travel? An extra deposit if you moved into a new apartment?
Again, costs will vary, but here in St. Petersburg, Florida, my Kermit budget increases by $22 for each day of day care and $30 for each overnight stay. My landlord charged me an extra $300 pet deposit when I moved into my house.
Before making this decision, think back to what 2019 looked like for you. Adopt this dog only if you could have made him fit into your pre-pandemic life.
If you’re not ready to commit, you could apply to foster a pet through a local shelter. Owning a dog is a lot different from owning fish, so you could help out a pup and do a test run for yourself by temporarily offering up your home.
Because you’re being proactive by not rushing into pet parenting, you may miss out on the chance to adopt this particular poodle. But that’s OK.
Once you’re ready to adopt, you’ll find plenty of very good boys and girls waiting for their “furever” homes.
Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and the voice behind Dear Penny. She is a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected]