People who adopted dogs in lockdown face unexpected expenses

by Susan Ryant

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As has been reported, many people adopted a pet during lockdown to help get through this terrible time. In some cases, shelters asked for help by way of adoptions or fostering because they anticipated an influx of animals with people losing jobs and housing because of Covid related closures. And folks really stepped up. We endearingly called those lucky animals Pandemic Pets. Hopefully we didn’t doom them with that moniker because now that people are returning to work, they don’t know what to do about their pets. The biggest factor is money. People who never owned a pet, specifically a dog, prior to lockdown are scrambling to figure out what to do with them now that they need to leave them to go back to the office. With the cost of daycare, general vet bills and food bills that grow exponentially with a growing dog, people are in over their heads financially.

Americans face a moment of reckoning with their pandemic pups — and the money they spend on them.

With the country thrust into uncertainty by the omicron variant of the coronavirus, the millions of Americans who welcomed pets into their homes since the first shutdowns in March 2020 are facing shocks to their household budgets and logistical challenges as they try to predict the course of the pandemic and make preparations to return to work and social activities in person.

More than 23 million American households — nearly 1 in 5 nationwide — adopted a pet during the pandemic, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Even President Biden adopted a new dog, Commander.

And many dog owners have spent the pandemic pampering those pooches. Americans spent $21.4 billion on nonmedical pet products through November, plus another $28.4 billion on dog food, according to market research firm Euromonitor International. Rover, a gig-economy platform that focuses on overnight boarding and dog-sitting, reported a record $157.1 million in revenue for the quarter ending Sept. 30.

Now some puppy parents are facing as much as thousands of dollars in additional costs as they prepare to return to life in person.

With many doggy day cares and boarding centers nationwide reporting months-long waiting lists — and newly adopted pets often lacking the socialization for boarding — pandemic pet owners are appealing to families, friends and businesses to ensure their dogs are living their best lives, or at least not spending the day alone. Veterinary practices report being slammed with appointment requests. Vet emergency rooms are warning of longer wait times.

Gig-economy dog-walking and boarding platforms Wag and Rover say they have received waves of new customers as different parts of the country emerge from social distancing. So far, Wag CEO Garrett Smallwood said, spending and memberships have followed red state/blue state lines, with Republican-leaning states more likely to open up faster. The newest customers are about 20 percent more active on Wag than customers pre-pandemic, Smallwood told The Washington Post. “If you had your pet before the pandemic, you had a routine, you knew what you were doing,” Smallwood said. “Whereas, if you adopted your pup during the pandemic, you’re building this routine together now, and you’re learning about leaving your dog alone.”

[From The Washington Post]

For the record, a lot of headlines still scream that pandemic pets are being returned in droves. This is still not true. A percentage of shelter pets in general are surrendered each year, but the numbers for 2020 and 2021 are still far below those surrendered in 2019. Back to this crisis though, pet adoption is costly and a long-term commitment. And pet owners lives can be affected by the needs of a pet.

I know that rescue organizations can be overbearing in their interviews, to the point of bullying. But in some cases, they really are trying to make sure the applicant is prepared for what pet ownership entails. The DoVE Project adopts trauma dogs who have survived the Korean dog meat trade. When we interview a person, we have to warn them that this dog could have PTSD and all that comes with that. It may seem like we’re trying to talk the applicant out of the dog but the reason is exactly because of what this article is talking about. I just spent over $300 in vet bills after my dogs fought over a piece of food on the ground I didn’t even see. I paid $250 to have a trainer come to my house to introduce our dogs to our new kitten because of their strong prey instinct. The DoVE application and interview process has a whole section on vet bills that the applicant must acknowledge and sign off on so they can at least see the potential numbers because they are shocking. Any time a vet has to take your pet “in the back,” add a zero to your bill. I know shelters don’t always have the luxury of staff interviews. I wish they could do monthly workshops that people had to attend before they could adopt.

The article goes into detail about daycares and vet bills. There is much more emphasis on not leaving dogs alone these days. This wasn’t the way Gen X was raised, our dogs usually hung out alone as mom and dad went to work. Of course, we are also the generation of latchkey kids, but that’s another post. Daycare costs, and especially boarding costs if you travel, need to be considered. The one thing this article did not touch on that I wish it did is training. Pad your pet budget with training upfront and I promise you will save yourself cash in the end. The inexpensive packages at places like Petco and PetSmart are great for beginners and for socializing your dog. No matter how many dogs you have raised, you will learn something. Then find yourself a local reliable trainer. A good trainer that you engage at the first sign of trouble will assist with corrective behavior, which saves in the long run. In addition, not only can they help identify the dog’s needs (maybe they don’t need daycare, maybe they need the TV on or a dog monitor), but the peace of mind you get from not having to guess what’s going on is worth their fee.

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Photo credit: Drew Hays, Ayla Verschueren, Bruno Emmanuelle Azsk and Clay Banks on Unsplash. Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels