Adopting on a Budget: Cost-Effective Tips for Welcoming Rescue Pets into Your Home

Adopting on a Budget: Cost-Effective Tips for Welcoming Rescue Pets into Your Home

The Pitter-Patter of Furry Feet: Rescuing a Companion on a Shoestring

For about six and a half years, everyone I knew asked me, “Why don’t you have a dog?” Moving to New York in late 2015 marked the first time in my life, aside from college, that I didn’t have at least one canine companion. Apparently, it showed. My answer had three parts: my landlord wasn’t on board, I hadn’t saved up enough for the unexpected expenses, and my work schedule wasn’t exactly dog-friendly.

But last year, the pieces finally fell into place. My landlord gave me the green light, I had stashed away some emergency funds for both myself and a potential pup, and my hybrid work schedule allowed me some dog-walking flexibility. Oh, and my girlfriend offered to help during my in-office days. So, I adopted Tessa, a rescue pup, and she has grown into a 73-pound cuddlebug.

Tessa has been an excellent communicator, easily trainable, and an energetically goofy tug-of-war enthusiast with a great sense of comedic timing. She adores belly rubs, pillows, and playing fetch. Basically, she’s my perfect dog. And she’s expensive. Over our first six months together, I spent $5,491.18 on dog-related costs – most of them pretty standard and largely non-optional. I didn’t know she’d be that pricey, and I’m glad I spent years saving up in advance.

Budgeting for a Furry Friend: The Startup Costs

Getting a dog requires a huge amount in one-time startup costs. Between Tessa’s $450 adoption fee and a $490 robot vacuum I bought in anticipation of dog fur, I spent almost $1,000 right off the bat. The vacuum, which I affectionately named Bruce, was a Shark – a necessary investment to keep my home fur-free.

The other $600-plus in setup costs went toward necessities like a crate, a dog bed, food and water bowls, a food storage bin, a leash, poop bags, doggy toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo), nail clippers, a brush, and a bottle of Nature’s Miracle. Most of those items I had to buy twice to furnish both my apartment and my girlfriend’s apartment. None of them are expensive individually, but together, they add up.

Vet Bills: The Hidden Cost of Rescue Pets

Then came the vet bills. When I first brought Tessa home, I scheduled her for a checkup at a local vet. Their first availability was weeks away, and I took the appointment, hoping nothing major would happen before then. What were the odds? Almost immediately, Tessa started relentlessly vomiting up her food. Two days of tests at the emergency vet, as well as injections and X-rays, led to a diagnosis of a simple stomach bug. I paid $1,141.70, including $255 just for walking in the door.

Weeks later, at Tessa’s regular checkup, she tested positive for hookworms and white worms – both common in rescue dogs and highly treatable. Between the checkup fee, medications, follow-up visits and tests, and a year’s supply of flea, tick, and heartworm preventatives, I spent almost $800.

In total, Tessa’s startup costs ran $3,572.22. And that’s well within the nationwide average of $1,050 to $4,480, according to on-demand pet care company Rover.

Ongoing Expenses: The Cost of Canine Companionship

The recurring purchases aren’t quite as bad as the one-time costs, but they’re still significant. Here’s a breakdown of my expenses:

  • Food and Supplies: $1,200 per year
  • Toys and Treats: $300 per year
  • Grooming: $400 per year
  • Pet Sitting: $480 per year (thanks to friends-and-family discounts)
  • Pet Insurance: $373.32 per year

Those first two categories are mostly expensive because, again, I’m stocking two apartments. My expenses were also frontloaded – the longer I’ve lived with Tessa, the more I’ve learned about what kinds of food and toys she likes and what kinds I don’t have to bother with.

My dogsitting expenses are well below the national average, which ranges from $48 to $69 per night, according to Wag, another on-demand pet care platform. My secret? Friends-and-family discounts. I dogsit for nearby friends at a budget-friendly rate, and they do the same for me.

Then there’s pet insurance, which is absolutely worth the price. I use a base plan – essentially catastrophic insurance – from Lemonade. It came in handy in December 2022 when Tessa broke her toe. Between vet visits, X-rays, splints, bandages, and cones of shame, I spent roughly $1,450. Lemonade quickly reimbursed me $450 – almost double what I paid for a year of coverage.

That coverage is about to get more expensive, though. This year, I’m paying $311.32 for the same plan. The increase is due to the changing costs of vet services, medication, and treatment. Lemonade recently told me, “Thanks, inflation.”

Where Did I Get Price-Gouged?

Looking back, my first question for myself is, “Where did I get price-gouged?” Furnishing multiple living spaces and keeping them stocked added up. Cutting those duplicate expenses in half could have saved me around $600 or so. Call it the cost of not living with my partner yet.

I also paid a New York tax on a few items. Tessa’s adoption group operates in Texas, where adopting a dog cost just $275 last year. And the cost of vet bills and pet insurance is $433.70 higher in New York than the national average, according to data from Pawlicy Advisor, an online tool for comparing pet insurance rates. That means I spent approximately $850 more than I might have in a different location, if my back-of-the-napkin math is correct.

Hindsight is 20/20: What I’d Do Differently

My second question is, “If I could have a do-over, what would I do differently?” I’d probably include the vet visit fee add-on to my pet insurance policy. If memory serves, it was $6 or $7 extra per month, but by making an illness claim for Tessa, I inadvertently locked myself out of eligibility for the add-on. Lemonade told me I asked for the rationale behind that policy and got no response.

I’d also warn myself to prepare for shifting conditions. A few months ago, my company’s return-to-office plan forced me to pony up for that dog walker after all. At $20 per walk, twice per week, that’s an added expense of around $2,000 per year.

Even Tessa herself is a shifting condition. When I adopted her, I thought she was 15 years old and fully grown at 52 pounds. Turns out she may have been just 7 months old. In retrospect, that explains a lot – crazy bursts of puppy energy, tripping over her then-oversized paws, and struggling to maintain focus during training. Some unwelcome gnawing on my apartment’s baseboards, too. She’s come a long way since then, and the job’s not done yet.

A Furry Friend Worth the Investment

I’m not complaining, though. Surprises and all, my huggable goofball of a weighted blanket is one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. And I’m not alone – millions of pets end up in shelters and rescue groups each year, waiting for their forever homes.

The Pet Rescue is a website that can help you find your perfect match, whether you’re looking for a dog, cat, bird, or even a horse or pig. They have a wealth of information on the adoption process, the costs involved, and how to make your new furry friend feel right at home.

Remember, when you adopt from a shelter or rescue, you’re not just getting a pet – you’re saving a life. And with a little planning and budgeting, you can make it work, even on a tight budget. So, what are you waiting for? Let the pitter-patter of furry feet fill your home and your heart.

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