When I pencil out the fixed costs it takes to own my three dogs—food, vet bills, boarding—it actually works out pretty cheap. But that’s only part of the story. Because, as you’d expect, three intelligent, athletic animals are capable of getting into a lot of expensive trouble.
Take the rugs in our living room and den. Rugs are vulnerable to chewing, absorb liquids and odors, hang on to hair, and wear away with traffic; and dogs are creatures with sharp teeth and claws, who need to pee and poop at often unpredictable intervals, and who think running, jumping, and knocking things over is a fun thing to do (especially, while dad is trying to work). Right now, there are two new rugs sitting in my house, still rolled up in their plastic sleeves, waiting for me to find the time to vacuum, mop, move furniture, and make a dump run.
There’s other things you naturally expect to replace more often when you have dogs. When they sleep in your bed that’s going to be your sheets. We usually get about a year’s lifespan out of two rotated sets before the mystery midnight sharts and muddy paw prints start to defy the washing machine’s whitest whites setting, and all the extra drying cycles set to sanitize begin to wear through the threads.
And then there are the things you don’t expect. My wife has had to buy two new pairs of prescription glasses in the last couple months after Teddy, our three-year-old Anatolian Shepherd, developed a taste for eyewear. It’s easy to put a fixed financial cost on that. But how can you do the same for the photo her mom just mailed us from when Virginia was four or five, dressed up as a ballerina pig for Halloween? Good thing I thought to scan it into Google Photos before Teddy got her teeth into that one. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for Beary, Virginia’s favorite stuffed polar bear from childhood, who the dogs scaled a ten-foot-high shelf to devour.
But accidents, boredom, overactive bladders, and curious jaws are only one part of the picture. Because trouble can also cause danger, and that’s often more challenging—and more expensive—to resolve.
There was that time Wiley, our oldest mutt, and Bowie, his young apprentice, decided they didn’t like their new dog sitter shortly after we’d moved to Montana, and staged a breakout. The emergency flights home from a vacation to Wisconsin weren’t cheap. Nor was the need to start boarding them in a kennel’s high-security wing until we found a different sitter.
A fellow hiker was once so scared by the sight of our dogs as he walked past, that he threatened to sue us, and “take our house.” We laughed that off, but it was harder to do the same when everyone coming down the trail toward us cowered in fear at the sight of the dogs the hiker lied had just bit him. So, add the gas and the time it takes to find and travel to less crowded trails, further away, to the balance sheet we’re making here.
Speaking of driving, planning vacations by truck usually works out a little cheaper than flying if you can afford the extra time off. But carrying three big dogs isn’t as easy as throwing them in the back and hitting the road. There’s always the question of where you’re going to spend the night along the way—not necessarily more expensive, but finding and booking dog-friendly hotels does take careful planning—where you’re going to find places to exercise them, and of course, safety. Cars and trucks aren’t designed with dogs in mind, so ensuring not only their wellbeing, but that of us humans, is challenging. To prevent our pets from turning into lethal projectiles in a crash, I spent thousands of dollars installing a purpose-built dog storage and retention setup into the back of my wife’s SUV, and am in the process of creating something even more complicated in place of the backseats in my pickup truck.
We obviously prefer to plan trips that our dogs can join. Our wedding? We had it at a dog friendly hotel in Mexico, and drove there and back so they could come. Our weekend getaways? Camping trips or visits to a family cabin. Both perfect environments to spend time with the dogs outdoors. But we can’t take the dogs everywhere. And while the kennel we use is really good, it’s still hard to think of it as anything other than doggie prison. So, for longer trips, we try to find a way to keep them at home. A house sitter is the obvious solution, but recently de-socialized by pandemic isolation, Teddy started growling at her. With a ten-day trip to Europe on our schedules this summer, what’s the plan? We offered to fly a friend up from California to enjoy a “free” vacation in Montana. Luckily, he likes dogs enough that staying at our house for over a week actually sounds fun. But it did add the price of a third flight to an already expensive tab with Expedia.
And then there’s the simple opportunity cost that comes with having to figure dogs into your every plan. There are things we can’t say yes to, places we can’t go, and priorities we can’t make, simply because they aren’t compatible with our dog-based lifestyle.
A big discussion my wife and I are having now is a potential relocation abroad, or maybe just a transition to a more nomadic lifestyle for a few years. That’s one of those discussions that’s still hypothetical and far into the future, but nonetheless, any potential destination or route has to first be considered in context of our dogs. Australia? The flight would be hard, but the ten-day dog quarantine seems reasonable. Would we prefer New Zealand? It doesn’t matter, given that it requires dogs must be isolated for up to 180 days. And Mexico’s always going to look easiest, just so we can skip the risk of putting our dogs on an airplane altogether.
But it’s not that those conversations around future plans must consider the limitation the dogs impose on us; it’s that they can and do include our furry companions. Is our life going to continue to be full of ruined rugs, destroyed childhood mementos, and complicated travel plans? I can say with absolute certainty that it will. But our life will also be filled with the unconditional love, ceaseless companionship, and constant activity that our dogs—current and future—bring. I could do with fewer sharts, though.