The year 2002 was a noteworthy one for the Starks household. In June that year, Buddy Starks wandered up our driveway and never left. Buddy was a Redbone Coonhound and Labrador mix (best we could tell), and his arrival brought our dog population to nine. Yes, nine. And two ferrets.
I will freely admit that our pet population was out of control and somewhere in the “crazy” category. This was pre-childbearing and my husband, Greg and I just loved animals. Our pets were our kids! But even I recognized the folly of adding a ninth dog. When Greg came in to say that a puppy had wandered up our driveway, I said (possibly shrilly), “Are you kidding? We have eight dogs! Just ignore it and it will go home!”
Five minutes later, I looked out the window and watched Greg playing with the puppy. Done and done. Dog number nine in the house!
All our nine dogs were rescues or strays that wandered up, found the accommodations to be satisfactory, and stayed. While none of the dogs (except one) cost us anything to procure other than a nominal adoption fee, a couple of them over time cost us quite a bit in medical procedures.
With a sample size of eleven pets in our home it was pretty unlikely we would dodge the health bullet. Over the years, we dealt with cancer a couple times, allergies, knee surgery, a copperhead snakebite, epilepsy, nine spay/neuter procedures, and who knows what else. Veterinary expenses, heartworm preventive medicines, and mountains of dog food cost us a pretty penny.
I’m pretty sure we suffered momentary insanity when we elected to purchase two ferrets (on top of the nine dogs we had.) Bandit was the only dog we purchased. He was a neighborhood stray that came to live with us the day we moved into our second house. He lived with us for many months before disappearing one day. His owner had heard he was living with us and took it upon himself to come on our property and snatch him back.
We were devastated. Bandit was a Golden Retriever, and he was absolutely the Best Dog Ever. The owner decided to chain Bandit in his yard to keep him home. We offered the owner cash to buy Bandit back, since he seemed oblivious to the fact that Bandit was obviously happier to live with our “Starks Pack.” I called him, prepared to offer $300 or more. I wanted the offer to be a large enough amount to get his attention.
After talking with the man briefly and offering to buy the dog from him, I was suddenly inspired. He asked me how much I was willing to pay, and I said, “Well, what do YOU think is fair?” He said he’d take $200 for the dog. Deal!
When we went over to pick him up, Bandit leaped into our car and lived happily ever after to the ripe old age of fifteen. Best Dog Ever.
Until now, that is.
All our dogs – small, medium, and large breeds – lived well into their teens, except one that passed away at age nine. They all had a good life at Chez Starks, and they were all loved.
In April of 2017, the youngest of the nine, Buddy, passed away at 15 years plus. When we recognized he was reaching the end of his life, we discussed what we wanted to do after he was gone. We had adopted a cat the year before, but it just wasn’t the same. We simply could not live without a dog in our lives.
Our daughter Rowan was eight years old when Buddy died, and we decided that what we really wanted was for her to experience growing up with a dog from puppyhood. While we loved all our dogs, Bandit the Golden had always been the Best Dog Ever. We had our heart set on another Golden Retriever.
Other than buying Bandit from our neighbor, we had never considered spending “real money” on a dog with a pedigree. We were convicted pet adoption supporters. But a few weeks of research helped us understand that the odds of finding a Golden puppy through a rescue group was highly unlikely. So, we swallowed our dislike of the idea of getting a pedigreed dog and started researching breeders.
We found a wonderful breeder near our home and made arrangements to buy a Golden puppy when the litter was born. (To say this was an expensive project would be an incredible understatement.)
It has been worth every penny. Piper came to live with us in July of 2017, and she has completely taken over the mantle of Best Dog Ever. I think even Bandit would agree. She is absolutely the best-natured dog we have ever known.
But she is not inexpensive. In addition to the cost to purchase her, she has had a few more veterinarian visits than we counted on. We have no regrets. Piper turns one-year old next week.
Like so many decisions you make about how to spend your money, it always boils down to your values. If having pets is important to you, you find a place in your budget for them. The challenge comes when you don’t plan for the additional costs of pets and they become a strain on your budget. Do your homework and set aside funds to keep these family members in good health and in your family for all their days!
Do you budget funds for pet contingencies? How much do you set aside each month?
Picture caption: Piper before we brought her home from the breeder