Wednesday, April 7, 2010

There's No Free Lunch--or Free Dog

One of my Dad’s favorite sayings is there’s “no free lunch.” When working with clients who are considering one of our Shelter’s dogs, I echo my Dad’s assessment, adjusting it to, “There are no free dogs.”

Recently, our Shelter altered its fee structure, reducing the cost to adopt a dog or cat from $100 to $75. We also offer lower fees for senior animals, multiple adoptions and long-term Shelter animals. The current fee includes the animal’s spay/neuter, rabies shot, bordetella preventive, yearly vaccination, microchip and a heartworm test (but not treatment, if needed). This is quite a deal—the spay or neuter alone can run around $300 at a local Vet’s office, once meds and other costs are added.

However, many of our clients feel that even $75 is too much for a Shelter dog. True, many of our dogs will need additional Vet attention to combat Shelter-induced infections such as kennel cough, worms, mange, mites, fleas, coccidia and other ailments, but no matter how you look at it, the point-of-purchase (and let’s face it, legally, this is a sale, not an adoption) cost is the least expensive part of owning a dog.

If you get your dog from Craigslist, you can get a “free dog” but most of the ads I see list a “re-homing” fee (which is really a price) ranging from $25 to $800. Of course, the Craigslist flaggers get busy when the “re-homing fee” for a dog is more than $100, but their vigilance has more to do with the stated rules of Craigslist than anything else. In our local paper, some breeds of puppies are marketed at $1,800 or more.

No matter the take-home cost, dogs are not “maintenance-free.”

Regular basic care for a year (including heartworm prevention, regular shots, one Wellness Vet visit with routine shots & fecal/blood tests, decent food and purchases such as bedding, leashes and a few toys) in our area runs about $300 to $600, depending on the size of the dog.

And that’s assuming your dog doesn’t get sick, hit by a car, attacked by another dog or otherwise suffer a serious illness or contract a chronic condition.

For most folks, the costs of a caring for a healthy dog are not problematic. The joy of having a companion animal is well worth it. But when an animal is ill, all bets are off.

So far, I’ve spent about $5,000 treating my dog, Taco, for a severe liver infection due to his dog-natural tendency to nom on dead squirrels. He is about 9 or 10 years old, and was very healthy before this illness. When I opted to start treatment, I was prepared for $2,000 but not double that and more. At each step, I asked my Vet, “Am I throwing money at a dying dog?” And each time, it was clear I was dealing with a critically sick dog, but not one that was at death’s door—unless I simply decided to stop treatment entirely. Of course, the outcome electing not to do IV fluids and one plasma treatment (which were pricey) would have meant death for the dog.

I’ve halted treatments on my own dogs before (both personal pets and foster animals). I have even selected euthanasia when the Vet recommended it. In short, I don’t think I’ve plunged blindly into trying to heroically save a dog’s life when I should have simply “let him die.”

I have sacrificed my summer vacation and a computer upgrade to treat this dog. I haven’t been able to do off-site work or take on a new foster dog. I have learned how to do all sorts of things I never dreamed I’d need to know how to do—how to muzzle and force meds down a dog, how to administer sub-cu fluids, and how to give a dog an enema. I am out of money and worn out. And it’s not over yet. My dog is still not fully recovered. He’s a lot better, and he’s one lucky dog, but he sure as heck ain’t a “free dog.”

When I’m back doing off-sites and my clients start fretting about the cost, I may have to remind them that the cheapest part of dog ownership may well be the point of purchase.


  1. Absolutely. If you can't afford to purchase the animal, you sure as hell can't afford to keep it!

    I'm glad to hear Taco is on the mend.

  2. I think everyone in shelter or rescue work hears this complaint. I would much rather shell out $125 (standard adoption fee for a purebreed rescue) than adopt a "free" dog on craigslist and incur the subsequent vet work. In fact, my "free" dog from craigslist was already neutered and current on vaccinations, and he STILL cost me over $200 to get his double ear infections and tail tip alopecia resolved. Yep, point-of-purchase is just the start of the expense.

  3. Great post!

    Sadly, many people will take that craigslist dog home and the dog will never see the vet.

    I am glad to hear Taco is feeling better. I am sure it's cost a lot more than money, but we can't put a price on love. Or rather, we shouldn't have to.

  4. Hi, rosie.
    may i call you 'rosie'?
    i promise, i have looked everywhere, including your flickr home page, and i cannot find your name OR your email address anywhere!
    it gets better.
    i've had your blog, we don't rent puppies, on my tool bar on the bottom of my laptop and it's been sitting down there for more than three minutes so i don't have a clue as to how i hooked up with it.
    now, i see you're going to the paper cowgirl retreat so i'm thinking, maybe she's a teacher and i read her bio - go check.
    i can't go check. I'm entirely too tired.
    so, i'm sure you'll remember how we know each other or at least how i found you.

    i would love to chat with you about rescue dogs as it's one of the things on my heart and i've acted on that for the last 10 years or so.

    i'm now following your blog and looking forward to reading more of your posts as i really enjoyed reading what you had to say.
    and, of our rescue dogs, we have a minpin, also. love her.

    my email:


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