Coping with the costs of a pet in declining health
Photo: Jill Greenberg
Lila was a shedding, drooling, romping bundle of fur, and the light of her human companion's life. Then she went blind, and the first vet bill was a ferocious $3,338. So...what was it going to be: summer camp for her daughter or meds for the dog? Lauren Slater faces a bitch of a question.
My dog Lila is 40 pounds packed with muscle and grit. Her hide is as rough as the rind of a cantaloupe, covered with coarse hair that is nevertheless somehow soft to the touch. She is a dumb dog in the sense that all dogs are dumb; driven by genes and status, she will willingly fight any mammal that threatens her alpha position, and she delights in bones, big greasy bones she can crunch in her curved canines and then swallow, splinters and all.

My husband disparages Lila, and, to his credit, there is much there to disparage. She lacks the capacity for critical thought; she has deposited in our yard an estimated 4,000 pounds of feces during her ten-year tenure with us; her urine has bleached our green grass so the lawn is now a bright yellow-lime, the same shade as the world seen through a pair of poorly tinted sunglasses. Lila farts and howls. Lila sheds and drools. Lila, in the past year or so, has cost us more to maintain than does the oil to heat our home. There is her food, her vaccinations, her grooming, the four times yearly palpating of her anal glands, her heartworm medications, her eye medications, her chew toys, her city leash, her second, country retractable leash, the dog bed, the emergency veterinary visits, the maintenance veterinary visits for eye pressure checks, the sheer time it takes to walk her (my husband estimates the value of my time at 50 bucks an hour, which I personally think is a little low for someone of my age and experience, but there you have it). Picture him, my husband, at night, the children tucked in bed, punching the keys on the calculator. Picture Lila, unsuspecting (and this is why she charms us, is it not?), draped across his feet, dreaming of deer and rivers as he figures the cost of her existence meshed with ours. He presses "=" and announces the price he claims is right: $60,000. I look out the window. The sky above the lawn she's bleached is as dark as a blackboard, scrawled with stars the weight of which I cannot calculate. I love my husband. I love Lila, too.

There are by some estimates two million tons of dog feces deposited annually on American sidewalks and lawns and in American parks. The volume of the canine liquid in this country has been estimated at four billion gallons, which, writes author Stephen Budiansky in his book The Truth About Dogs, "could fill all the wine bottles from a full year's output of the vineyards in France, Italy, Spain, and the United States combined." Dogs are the carriers of more than 65 diseases they can pass to their human counterparts: Some of the more well-known ones are rabies, tuberculosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Each year about a dozen people in the United States die from dog bites, and about 386,000 are injured enough to require a visit to the emergency room. Seems a no-brainer, right? Knowing these facts, you would have to be as dumb as a dog to have a dog in your home.

Continue reading The $60,000 Dog

Sources: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association; Veterinary Pet Insurance Company; The Wall Street Journal Enough to Give One Paws
  • Average cost of a dog: $331
  • Number of U.S. households with at least one dog: 44.8 million
  • Number of pet dogs in U.S.: 74.8 million
  • What Americans spent on pets in 2006: $38.5 billion (nearly double the $21 billion they shelled out a decade ago)
  • What they'll pony up on veterinary care in 2007: an estimated $9.8 billion, up 6.7 percent since 2006 ($9.2 billion)
  • How much the pet industry could ring up by 2010 at the current growth rate: $50 billion
  • Percentage of 379 human resource departments surveyed that offer pet health insurance as an employee benefit: 5
  • Cost of MRI pet scan: $2,200 to $2,700
  • Cost of radiation: $6,000 for 19 treatments
  • Percentage of 580 dog owners who would buy an urn for their deceased dog's ashes: 15
  • Percentage who would buy a memorial stone for their yard or garden: 23
  • Minimum cost for a taxidermist to freeze-dry a dog: $1,000
  • Number of states where judges have administered financial trusts set up in a pet's name: 25
  • Sampling of pampering services and products available: pet spas, doggy day care, pet steps and denture products (for elderly dogs), personalized bones, organic pet food, massage, acupuncture
  • Percentage of 8,000 pet owners who said their pets sleep in bed with them: 56
  • Annual estimated cost of dog-walking service in Brooklyn: $5,200 (at the rate of $20 per solo walk, five days a week)
  • Minimum lifetime cost of a medium-size dog, including food, supplies, boarding, and basic veterinary care: $4,500 to $5,500
  • Number of states in which cruelty to animals is a felony: 42

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