Every Dollar I Spent On My Dog In 12 Years

Illustrated by Aimee Sy.
My need to own a dog came over me like a fever. I imagine it's what some people feel when they really, really want a baby. (Funny enough, I didn't experience this when I actually did decide to have a kid.) I spent hours every day researching breeds, sifting through pet adoption sites, watching dog shows, staring longingly at every canine I passed in the street.

I knew I wanted a rescue pup, and I knew it had to be a good "apartment" size, but beyond that, I wasn't too picky, as long as I got me that unconditional doggy love. My husband and I picked up India from a cargo hangar at JFK in March 2005. She was a nearly-2-year-old, 16-pound Chihuahua-terrier mix who'd just had puppies in the streets of Puerto Rico. Somehow, her rough beginnings made her a cuddly, affectionate lap dog who also loves to run in the park and hike in the mountains. In short, perfect.

Despite the fact that India's no posh show dog, taking care of her is no bargain. I was blissfully unaware of how much the costs of a pet can add up, especially now that she's a "senior" dog. In 11 years, she's cost me about $49,000* — that's twice the national average (this didn't take into account dog-walking or pet-sitting). Of course, when I look into her warm chocolate eyes, I know I'd pay another fortune for her all over again. Perhaps if I break it down, though, future dog owners won't suffer such sticker shock.
*Many of the numbers in this piece are estimates, since prices have changed and my memory is faulty.
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Illustrated by Aimee Sy.
A New York rescue group hooked me up with a woman named Mary who lived in Puerto Rico, took strays by the dozens into her home, and then shipped them off to various airports in the States. The organization paid for India's airfare, and Mary's vet had already taken care of getting her spayed and vaccinated. (Mary also chose India's name, which I wasn't about to mess with.) Compared to the thousands people spend on fancy, AKC-registered purebreds, I got a bargain.
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Illustrated by Aimee Sy.
I'm not one of those devoted dog owners who chops up whole raw steaks for my dog, but I'm also not giving her bargain food. After her early years spent eating whatever she could find on the streets of Puerto Rico, she's got a rather sensitive digestive system.

I and Love and You Poultry Palooza: $2,200 ($13.67 for a five-pound bag)
I and Love and You Cluckin Stew canned food: $620 ($2 a can)
Kefir yogurt (as a probiotic supplement for the past year): $80 ($3 a bottle)
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Illustrated by Aimee Sy.
Sad story: Puppyhood on the streets means strays aren’t always so into toys and material comforts when they’re adopted — not that we haven’t tried hard to pamper India. She fetches when she’s bribed, but her favorite hobby is still “hunt for garbage,” and her preferred sleep spot is a dusty corner under our bed.

Three beds (two cheap ones that have worn out, one fancy L.L. Bean memory-foam one she ignores): $200
Two nylon leashes: $30
Three nylon harnesses: $60
Two retractable leashes: $40
One adorable rain jacket: $30
Two adorable winter coats: $100
Booties to protect against sidewalk salt (yeah, didn't work): $15
Chew toys (which she mostly ignored): $15
Balls: $25
Her favorite laser-light cat toy: $5
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Illustrated by Aimee Sy.
For the first year we had her, we left India alone for the nine-plus hours we worked, but the guilt began to grow, so we bit the bullet and hired a walker. Even when she was young, India was kind of a lazy mutt, so our dog walkers cut us a break, charging us at first just $10 a walk, and later $12, once a day for five days a week ($15 is more like the going rate in Brooklyn). I work from home now, but I'd like to think my own time is also worth money, so I'm counting that as the same as the cost of a dog walker on weekdays.
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Illustrated by Aimee Sy.
Like any dog, India has accidents, gets sick, and gets desperate when we stupid humans mess with her schedule.

Various cleaning products through the years (all praise Nature's Miracle): $200
Poop bags: $200 ($4 for a box of 50 biodegradable bags)
Professional rug cleaning (a splurge when we had a baby): $400
New, cheap Ikea rugs because the rug-cleaning wasn't enough: $300
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Illustrated by Aimee Sy.
In her first life as a stray, India was a professional beggar in a beach town — I guess she worked those sad eyes on many a tourist — and now she's got us well-trained.

Basic Dog Training: $250
Wellness Wellbars, peanut butter and honey treats: $1,200 ($6 a bag)
Dingo rawhide bones: $1,200 ($6 for a package of 7; sadly, she can't eat these anymore)
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Illustrated by Aimee Sy.
I was hoping India would be small enough to tote around on airplanes, but her long, hyena-like neck disqualifies her from jet-setting. We take her to pet-friendly hotels when we can, and leave her with family or the dog walker when we can't. Either way, every vacation has a dog cost.

Crate: $50
Sherpa carrying case: $60
Dog seat belt: $20
Dog sitter (for an average of eight days a year, at $40/night): $3,500
Gifts to friends and family who dog-sat for free: $400
Extra charges at pet-friendly hotels: $1,000
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Illustrated by Aimee Sy.
It's $8.50 a year for a New York City dog license. Then there's the $200 I had to pay that time I was a genius and ignored leash rules in the park.
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Illustrated by Aimee Sy.
We didn't know just what a bargain India was — we got thousands of pets for the price of one! That is, she arrived to us with a few parasites, which were gross but quickly eradicated.

Like all dogs, she has to take meds to prevent heartworm, fleas, and ticks, along with vaccines for rabies, kennel cough, and distemper. Her early days of scrounging for food have also made her what the vets officially call an "indiscriminate eater," which means she tries to eat everything she sees on the ground, on the off chance it might be food. The result has been quite a few cases of severe gastroenteritis.

Also, I'm an airhead and have accidentally poisoned her twice: once by placing mouse poison where she could reach it; the second time by leaving out a box of raisins, which are potentially deadly to dogs. (And they let me raise a child after that?!) There was one time when she appeared to have a seizure and faint, cause still unknown.

Sometimes, I wish I’d bought veterinary insurance when she was younger, but it never seemed like it covered enough to be cost-effective, and coverage for senior dogs is even spottier. Now, at 13, she's suffering the indignities of old age, including a strange bladder problem (also a mystery, after $2,000 of tests before it went away on its own), and a recent ruptured disc. If the latter happens again, it could mean surgery. Still, we're lucky she doesn't have some of the congenital problems, like kidney disease or bad hips, that many breeds suffer.

Eventually, most dog owners reach this point, where we have to evaluate the cost of our beloved family members' medical treatment and how much it will actually improve their quality of life. If you ask me right now, though, I'd say: I'll go bankrupt before giving up on my little girl.
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