‘Back to normal’ boosts pandemic pup costs

Last summer, like millions of Americans, I brought home a 7-pound ball of fluff. Over the past year, my mini-goldendoodle has turned into 23 pounds of pure joy.

A woman wearing a mask for protection from the coronavirus walks her dog in a popular shopping area in Santa Monica, Calif., in May 2020. Close to 1 in 5 households have acquired a dog or cat since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent survey from the ASPCA. (Richard Vogel/Associated Press)

Close to 1 in 5 households have acquired a dog or cat since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent survey from the ASPCA. That’s approximately 23 million American households.

And most of these pet owners don’t plan on rehoming their pet in the near future – contrary to buzz. That means our furry friends will be with us as we return to work and resume daily routines.

Here’s what to know about affording a pandemic puppy – one year later.

Jump into a routine

“Dog ownership is a journey,” says Brandi Hunter, vice president of public relations and communications at the American Kennel Club.

“For the last year, people have kind of gotten a different version of the journey. If you either bought a puppy or rescued one – or an adult dog – during the pandemic, you have a dog who is completely used to you being home for the most part.”

If you know you’re going back to the office in, say, September, begin adjusting your four-legged pal to a new routine in August, Hunter recommends.

Start by leaving the house for a few minutes at a time, so your dog can get used to being away from you, says Nicole Ellis, certified professional dog trainer and pet lifestyle expert for pet care marketplace Rover.

You could also get help to keep your dog occupied while you’re away. Pet sitters can check on your dog, and refill food and water, while doggy day care services provide interaction with other dogs. Dog walkers give your dog exercise.

Go fetch a budget

But adding such expenses to your budget can be tricky. (A walk can cost from $15 to $45, depending on where you live.)

But hiring a dog walker who walks multiple dogs can be more affordable than a solo walk. Taking your dog to doggy day care three days a week will be less expensive than five days.

Hunter also says to shop around for doggy day care. You may find a lower rate if you’re willing to drive outside your immediate area.

Rover and Wag are two platforms that connect dog owners to services. Some even provide pictures and videos of your dog throughout the day.

Harness your spending

You’ve probably already noticed that dogs are an investment.

“Pet owners can spend anywhere from a few hundred dollars to several thousand within the first year of owning a new pet,” said Christa Chadwick, vice president of Shelter Services at the ASPCA.

So, I asked the experts how to save money on dog essentials. Cutting costs in these areas can help offset new expenses you’ll soon face.

Toys: If your tough chewer is going through toys like candy, Hunter says you can give them bones instead. Bones are meant to be chewed and last longer than plush toys. Another option? Put a treat in a puzzle to keep your pup occupied.

Training: Professional dog training can vary in price, so Ellis recommends checking out YouTube videos for techniques you can use at home.

Treats: Turn to the internet for at-home dog treat recipes. Ellis says you can mix kibble with treats to make supplies last longer and get your dog excited about training.

Supplies: “Make friends in your community,” Ellis says. Nextdoor and Facebook Marketplace can facilitate supply swaps, or you could score gear from people giving away things their dogs have outgrown.

Insurance: “If the cost of an emergency veterinary visit or serious illness would be a financial strain, consider investing in pet health insurance while your pet is healthy or saving money in a separate account specifically for these costs,” Chadwick said.

Everything else: Consider pet costs tied to human life events, Chadwick advises. For example, budget early before taking your dog with you when traveling to hotels (for cleaning fees) or moving into some apartments (for pet deposit fees).

This column was provided to the Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Courtney Jespersen is a writer at NerdWallet.

 

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