Sunday, April 17, 2011

Living Richly in Retirement-Frugal Fido (or there's no such thing as a free pet)

Widow that I am, I rarely sleep alone. On the other side of the bed is a thirteen year old, fifty pound beagle and lab mix. Up until a year ago, said bed was shared with a sixteen year old beagle as well.  Not only that, but when my husband was living, our king sized bed housed two dogs and a married couple (the eternal  family joke being that if another dog entered the family, we were gonna have to get dad a new bed).

This dog is a member of our family.  There, I said it.  While this does not mean that I put the pup on a level with my children, is does mean that our family would not be whole without the dog.

Having pets is always a challenge in retirement, especially if travel is a goal.  My husband and I used to joke at the end of an evening out that our kids may be grown and self sufficient, but we still had to find a sitter for the dog and be home every night to make dinner.  Having a pet (especially a dog, I believe) is even more of a challenge for fixed income and low income folks.  There are those who believe that in cases like mine, struggling to make ends meet some months, the dog should go.  Donna over at Surviving and Thriving (one of my favorite blogs) wrote an article entitled, "Why You Can't Afford a Dog".  I've decided that for now, even with some of what they call "income insecurity", that Fido is staying.

Aside from the fact that he has my heart and my children's heart, my dog is a companion. I'm a widow, living alone much of the time (and in the near future all of the time). Fido (whose name has been changed for the purpose of safety and privacy) is my constant companion at home. I've been known to carry on conversations (often unwittingly) with my pup. In the evening, when reading, we cuddle together.  Fido is my safety net. A large black dog that barks the minute someone he hears or sees something (even on the street) is a security blanket of immeasurable worth, especially to someone living alone. I have a security system as well, but frankly, the dog is a better early warning system.  Just as with my children, I've seen my dog grow and change.  both dogs were rescued at under a year, traveled to Germany, and back from Germany.  The saying may be trite, but we understand each other.

Admittedly there are down sides to having a pet at this point in my life. The most obvious consideration is financial. A year ago, my beagle became ill. He was not ill a long time, just a few months, and because he was in pain, it was an easy decision on what to do.  That experience cost me almost two thousand dollars including cremation.  When the time comes who knows what will happen with this furry friend.  As far as monthly expenses, dogs are like young humans. They need good food (not gourmet food), basic care, exercise and lots of life. This means that my regular expenses are his food, a heart worm pill and flea meds monthly, and annual injections.  It's been suggested that this cost may run a thousand dollars annually. I doubt it, but I have been blessed that my dogs thrive on Beneful and Nutrish, and homemade treats.

The second down side to having a pet in retirement has to do with logistics.  What happens if I want to take a quick overnight trip to a nearby town, or a weekly road trip.  Right now, I have family available and am able to just pack up and go. Soon that will change, and I will have to make arrangements and appointments for my baby (as well as pay for boarding, an additional cost).  While I do know folks who travel with their dogs, it does seem to me that most of them have campers or RVs.  If I took Fido on a road trip of the gulf cost, would he appreciate being left while I wandered around town and into a restaurant?

Neither of these down sides would ever persuade me to leave my dog, or allow him to leave me.  However, my darling lab is fifteen and eventually the time will come when he'll no longer be with me. I've had to ask myself questions about future pet ownership.  Can I live without a pet?  Do I WANT to live without that companionship?  How will I afford that pet?  If I downsize into an apartment or condo, is it even fair to have a pet?

These are all questions I struggle with, and why I have not yet gotten a new companion/playmate for my beloved dog.  Since he seems content to be the king of the castle and have my undivided attention, it's not a problem that needs to b solved immediately.  What about you?  Do you have pets?  Do you travel with them? If you no longer have a pet, do you miss him or her?  How much do you spend on your dog annually?


  1. We have two. They are both young (2 &5). Now that we are settling into retirement I think it was a mistake to get the younger dog. We love them both- really like children. We delight in their affection---still---the travel is severely limited because of kenneling.And the heart worm pills--- now up to $345 dollars!

  2. Janette, it's a conundrum..and my vet doesnt give prescriptions as he sells the stuff, although he says he will match an ad for 1800petmeds.......

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  4. When my youngest daughter left home, I got a 3 month old puppy and for the first time I had time for the puppy classes and proper training. She's 6 now and we also have a twelve year old lab. It is an expense to have pets, we do the heart worm, plus different supplements for the lab who suffers from arthritis now. Still, we couldn't do without them in our lives.

    When my husband retires next year, we even plan to get an RV for travel so the dogs can go with us.

  5. Joan, Ive never traveled with my pops-except for dragging them in a kennel in the hold across the ocean, twice. My only worry is because hes a barker, what he will do when I am out ad about and wandering-it will be an experiment the first time............

  6. just found your blog! I have 2 big dogs - german shepherd and lab. Both just turned 10. I wish I had more time to spend with them and hate that they're cooped up inside but they've adjusted and actually prefer the central heat and air! I also struggle when I want to go out of town (usually a quilt retreat!) and have nowhere for them to be - I don't want to board them in a cage - the shepherd would probably claw and chew her way out then help the lab escape). recently I took them 4 hrs up to my dad's and he let them hang out in the backyard and his shop for shelter and they had a blast - but the weather was also very nice and cool.

    I pay a monthly pet plan fee for banfield and it's around $70 for the 2 and includes office visits and shots and heartworm test..their heartguard chewables adds up but they take it monthly. the flea stuff I slack on during the cold months unless I go to my dad's and they're outside...I feed them wellness sr and wellness 'diet' depending on what I find(they prefer sr!)it runs about $50 per bag and they go through 1 every 3 weeks or so plus the treats. I wouldn't be surprised if my dogs cost me $2000 per year - last Jan I paid $3000 for the lab to have knee surgery - she's my baby and I happened ot have the money in savings - if it had happened just 3 yrs before I'd been in tears and begging my parents for a loan. It was still hard to do financially but I made a commitment to them - I had the money so I spent it on my dog.

    I'm tryig to learn to enjoy what I have - the free library you mentioned - have plenty of books to read, my dogs, my quilting and cook more at home. I also get bored sitting at home alone and think that's why I eat out so much.

    I also struggle with what to do pet-wise after the girls are gone - they're 10 now - I'd like to save that money and be able to travel ye thte day to day companionship is more important to me than a few trips per year I'd do otherwise plus the trips would cost money. I think I'd get another dog though maybe not 2!


  7. I'm sharing the bed this week with a wonderful black lab named Molly. Her parents are out of town so she's vacationing with me. I LOVE having her around, it's the perfect solution for me. I'm not ready to commit to another dog (shared the bed with a beagle for 14 years), and know what you mean about when you go out of town.

    Like you, we spent about $2k at the end of her life to try and save it. I wouldn't do it again, not because of the money, I would spend whatever it took--within reason. But because ultimately she spent the last week of her life in misery and I wouldn't have done it if I knew that was going to be the case.

    For me the reluctance to get another dog has less to do with money and travel though, as it does with the pain of losing them at the end of their lives. I know there are many good years before that, but that part is so hard--I'm not sure I'm up for that again.

  8. Syd-our dog had something that was "minor", it impacted his life but he was still joyful and happy. Then he went into kidney failure. We deliberately gave him some injections to keep him going so that we would have time to adjust and decide on the when it happened it happened within a few weeks.

  9. We have 1 cat (now), so traveling hasn't meant a huge expense .. usually someone to come in once a day or every other day to check food and water.
    We just lost our eldest cat to kidney disease (and she'd had thyroid issues two years previous.) So we're no stranger to medical costs.
    We're struggling right now about getting another cat ... partly because of any age difference (kitty is now 12) and partly because of the costs.


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