Week Two – Day 6: Dusty’s Bill of Health

I am not writing this to whine about how expensive a puppy is or to complain about Dusty’s very necessary medical bills. I’m writing it to show how much more, other than love, is needed to care for a sick puppy, or any puppy for that matter. This post is a little along the lines of “Please think about it before you do it, because freak things happen, and it’s a lot more than just kibble sometimes.” I hope it doesn’t get preachy, but if it does, please tune in next post for your regularly scheduled blog ~ Love always, Aimee, Joe, Smokey and Apollo (the cat)

Joe and I are not rich people. I would put us squarely in the middle class, more toward the lower than the upper. We live paycheck to paycheck with a little left over. We look forward to tax return season, and we dread the holidays.

We do well for ourselves, especially considering our ages (I am 23, he is 26). We own our home, and we both work stable, full-time jobs with benefits (mine better than his). We are able to order pizza once in awhile, go out to nice dinners on special occasions and all our bills are paid early. Besides our house, cars and a little bit of school debt on my part, we don’t owe anybody anything. We both have excellent credit, but vacation to anywhere besides the tri-state area isn’t an option. For the most part, I’d say we’re on track and living beside a majority of America.

So when we decided on another dog, it was a big discussion. We mulled over it for months. I’d been begging for a puppy since Christmas and by the time we seriously started talking about it, it was March. I don’t even think we started talking to our future breeder until late June or early July. Dusty was still a wiggly worm in her mommy’s belly.

Cost was a major factor for us. We aren’t the type of people to leave an animal wanting for anything. We don’t hesitate to take a sick dog to the vet just because we’re afraid we can’t afford it. We have a meticulously planned budget with room for “surprises” (anything from needing new tires to getting hit by a bus). We went over numbers, talked to breeders, got quotes from the vet for anything and everything we could think of, priced dog food and toys, and only when we knew we could make our bills plus have some breathing room, did we think about picking a breeder.

Before we brought Dusty home, we bought the essentials. The receipt from Petsmart looked something like this:

1 Aircraft kennel (puppy-sized) – $50

1 bed to fit in kennel – $20

1 puppy-sized wubba – $12

1 puppy-sized Nylabone – $15

1 chew tire – $8

1 pink, fluffy puppy – $15

1 squeaky newspaper – $3

2 Bowls – $25

1 Collar – $19

1 name tag – $20

1 leash – $20

1 bag of puppy treats – $20

Total: $227

We called the breeder and found out what food Dusty would be eating. To avoid an upset stomach and because it was excellent food, we went to a specialty store and priced that. The receipt from there looked like this:

1 bag large breed puppy food – $52 (we actually got it for $35 from the breeder, but in the rush we forgot to bring it home!)

1 toothbrush – $19

1 shedding blade – $15

Total: $86

Then there were her County dog tags – $8.50

Finally, after spending roughly $325, we were ready to go pick up our Dusty. Because we wanted a good breeder, but we couldn’t afford a $2000 show dog with a sloped back that worried us to begin with, and because we liked the kind of temperaments we were seeing out of our breeder’s dogs, we decided to drive from Philadelphia to Ohio to pick up our girl. The cost of the weekend?

1 night hotel stay – $180

Round-trip gas: $150

Food/misc. purchases – $100

Total: $430

By the time we had our new puppy, we’d spent about $755, excluding her purchase price. That’s roughly the cost of a healthy puppy. But that  pales in comparison with the cost of an unhealthy one.

When Dusty got sick 12 hours after we brought her home, we did what we don’t usually do. We hesitated. We didn’t take her to the vet right away, mainly because we’d just spent so much money, and the space in our budgets was starting to close in on us. Of course, after a few days, we took our emergency money and brought her in (all the while hoping that neither of our cars spontaneously combusted or at least that they would wait to do so until next payday). That first vet bill was more than we had anticipated, but not so bad:

Physical Exam – $100

Radiographs – $130

Prescription wet food (4 day supply) – $10

Total: $240

A few internet searches later, and we were onto building a Bailey Chair and fully immersing ourselves in salvaging what little we could from our puppy’s life:

Wood to build the Bailey Chair – $50

Paint, letters, fabric to make it a little less difficult to look at since it had to sit in our kitchen – $60

Pepcid AC tablets – $15

Prescription wet food (1 month supply because we knew it wasn’t going away) – $75

Total: $200

Five days later, we had Dusty’s second opinion with a University of Pennsylvania vet:

Physical exam – $50

Barium contrast/Digital radiographs – $85

Total: $135

Two more days of typical puppy accidents and atypical puppy regurgitation and our steam clean gave out. That night, Dusty regurgitated on the bed twice and threw up what was left. The cost of a new steam cleaner? $150. The cost of a cheap Queen-sized comforter that isn’t dry-clean only? $30. Total: $180

Two days after that, we had the worst vet visit of our life, and it wasn’t because of the bill. It was because that was the bill that reflected euthanasia and an emergency visit. Dusty began to aspirate badly in the morning, and we knew that we couldn’t keep this up. We would stretch ourselves financially, as far as we could possibly go without losing our house, but we couldn’t keep watching her suffer, it wasn’t right. That final bill looked like this:

1 Emergency visit – $150

1 dose euthanasia – $50

Total: $200

So now, nearing three weeks after Dusty’s death, we have a slight problem. Joe’s job isn’t so stable anymore, and I have a hole in my heart that I desperately need filled. I have dreams about puppies almost every night, sometimes the puppy is Dusty, but sometimes it’s not. The $1700 we spent in two weeks on our sick pup is a lot of money. That would pay our mortgage and our car bills for an entire month. That would pay our electric bill for the entire year. The almost $1200 it would cost for a new pup and a trip to pick her up is not an option for us, at least not right now. The hole in my heart will have to stay, at least for a little while.

The reason it isn’t an option isn’t so much because of the money, as it is a decision of ours to be not only conscientious dog owners, but conscientious members of society. We could probably spring the money from reserves, or get a cash advance on one of our credit cards, but where would that leave us? What if one of our cars broke down, or Joe’s job situation got worse, and we had to try to pay the mortgage on unemployment? Where would be then? We would have two dogs,  one less income and no way to pay for the things that our family really needs.

We didn’t expect Dusty to be sick, nobody expects that, but that is the reason we searched and searched for a breeder. If we hadn’t searched and did our research, we very easily could have gotten a sick dog from a breeder who didn’t care and who said “Hey, well, sorry about your luck” instead of one who refunded our money and gave up her time and tears for us. But sick dogs can happen, even from the best of breeders, and if we hadn’t so meticulously planned and budgeted and scheduled, we could have lost Dusty before even the short time she had, she could have suffered longer, slowly starved to death. She would have been without the care she really needed just because we made a bad financial decision. We never would have been able to live with ourselves.

So my word of advice: when you decide to bring home that little bundle of joy, make sure you can afford it first, not just typical, routine shots, but all the surprises that the canine companion can bring with him or her as well. Money isn’t everything, but a dog simply cannot live on love alone.