Economic Lessons From A Puppy
It’s been six years since Charlie, our faithful Labrador, passed away (writes Andy Jervis) and we had decided it was time to take the plunge into the world of dog ownership again. I’m delighted to tell you that Bonnie, 9 weeks old last Friday, is now part of our family, and life has already turned upside down.
It’s been an interesting journey up to this point. Like so many things in life, owning a pet isn’t just about money, yet finance figures largely in both the acquisition and upkeep of an animal. One of the first things we realised was the impact of supply and demand.
The coronavirus lockdowns have resulted in high demand for dogs, with many people wanting to fill their lives with a companion at a time when social contact has been so limited. Our early enquiries were largely ignored, and it was only after a couple of weeks that breeders started to reply, apologising for the delay but letting us know that we were one of over 80 or so in their queue for a dog.
When demand is high the laws of economics determine that prices will rise, and so they have. One of our office colleagues bought a Labrador two years ago, paying £800 for a pedigree puppy – nearly four times the amount we paid in 2000. Now, though we were facing prices of 3 and even 4 times the 2018 amount, and continuing to rise, with some breeders quoting £4,000 for a puppy on websites such as https://www.pets4homes.co.uk/ That’s a lot of money up front.
Fortunately some reputable breeders have refused to jump on the profit maximisation bandwagon, and we were fortunate to find one of them, although we still paid double our colleagues earlier price. In a seller’s market those sellers can afford to be selective about who they sell to, and it was encouraging to find that not only were caring breeders following a long term pricing policy, but they were also ready to ask searching questions of us to ensure that we were ready and able to provide the care and facilities to their carefully raised pups that would guarantee their future welfare. It did seem to us that, the higher the price, the less interested the seller was in their puppy’s new environment. As I said, it isn’t just about the money.
Of course, the cost of the dog itself is only part of the equation. Nowadays it seems a baby dog requires a layette as extensive as any human baby. There are baskets, bowls, leads and harnesses to buy. Puppy needs a crate and probably a playpen, and a range of toys. We’ll need our garden fencing repairing, catches mending on all of the doors, and a stairgate or two to prevent her from visiting our bedroom in the middle of the night (or day!).
Then there is the cost of maintenance. Dog food is cheaper in 15kg bags, but it’s still around £40 a time. The harness will be too small soon, and the bed that she is lost in as a puppy will soon need to be replaced (no, she’s not having our bed!).
Vet’s fees can't be avoided by responsible dog-owners. Inoculations, checkups, and weigh-ins come thick and fast, it seems, and unfortunately they aren’t provided on the NHS. The payment plan offered by our local vet seems good value, but at £21 a month it’s still a significant expense.
And then there is insurance. My early training and qualifications were in the arcane world of insurance and policies, and I needed all of it to be able to interpret the different types of cover on offer. Policy wordings are riddled with exclusions and caveats, there are limits on the amount you can claim each year, and you’ll need to pay the first amount of any claim. With premiums of £20-£50 a month making it only worthwhile claiming if bills exceed around £500, I wondered whether it was really worth bothering?
Now don’t get me wrong, I am a passionate believer in the value of insurance. There are some costs that you really wouldn’t want to bear if the worst happened. If your house burned down, for example, finding the several hundred thousand pounds needed to rebuild and replace everything would be a crippling expense, and the relatively modest cost of cover makes this a no-brainer. But vet’s fees?
In search of an answer I did what I often do. I asked an expert. My daughter is a qualified vet, so I sought her opinion. What, I wanted to know, would be a reasonable expectation of fees in the event of an unforeseen illness or accident?
Sadly, Sarah had first hand experience of this. Her lovely cat, Logan, was struck by a car and needed several bouts of surgery to save him. The total cost? Over £10,000 over a period of 2-3 years. Hmm, maybe that expensive policy might not be such a bad idea.
Most pet insurance policies limit the cover on offer for veterinary fees, but some renew the amount of cover provided in each policy year. There’s a significant increase in premiums, but now I could see why. So we took the plunge and arranged cover that should be enough to cover any reasonable costs that might arise, on a lifetime policy that wouldn’t be cancelled after one sizeable claim.
So taking on Bonnie has been a financial learning experience as well as a canine one. Now, I don’t want you to think that I’m only interested in the financial aspects of dog ownership. After only a couple of weeks she is bringing us great joy with her antics, and she’s settled in really well so far. If you would be interested in learning more about our experiences in bringing Bonnie into our home, drop me a line and I’ll make it the subject of a future blog (warning; it might contain details of pees, poops and problems as well as cuddles, comedy and love. But it won’t be boring).
Write to me at email@example.com if you’d like more doggy tales. It might take a while to find the time to write it, though, as we seem to be quite busy at the moment. Whoooaaa, quick, where are those poo bags??!!
Andy Jervis, CFP