It’s Mother’s Day and we should never forget all those who are dog mothers! I’m featured in the best selling book; The Seven Pearls of Financial Wisdom: A Woman’s Guide To Enjoying Wealth and Power by Carol Pepper and my funny dear old friend Camilla Webster (St. Martin’s Press). I’m a proud mother to my Russian Blue Cat; Pasha and funny lil’ Coton De Tulear; Baby Hope- Fortunately (for me) I adopted both. Nothing gives me more joy then to know they have lived the best lives two little helpless animals could have possibly imagined! Now hopefully this Mother’s Day I can train them to let me have a little peace … LOL!
An Excerpt from The Seven Pearls of Financial Wisdom
Welcome to Dog Motherhood
We live in a time when being a mother often means nurturing not only children but also treasured pets. In some cases, people are choosing pets as their children, forgoing human offspring altogether. The idea of getting a pet seems easier and less expensive than raising children; however, the reality is that buying and caring for a pet is a major investment. For example, a dog’s basic care will cost anywhere from four thousand to forty thousand dollars over a fourteen year lifespan, and that doesn’t include critical care or other problems that may come up. And U.S. pet expenditures in 2011 reached an estimated $50 million, according to the American Pet Products Association (APPA).
This idea of parenting your pets is gaining popularity with the animal lovers community. “The words ‘dog owner’ are passé; people are dog parents, and it’s a very important distinction. Our relationships with animals must come from the heart and until we can do away with the concept of owning another living being, we will never be able to treat any animals, pets or otherwise, with kindness and respect,” says Wendy Diamond, who coined the term “pet lifestyle.” Wendy is an animal welfare and rescue advocate, the founder of AnimalFair.com, and the proud parent of the omnipresent rescued Maltese, Lucky Diamond. Since dogs are the most popular kind of pet— according to the PPA, there are an estimated 78 million dog owners in the United States— we’ll focus on having a happy financial relationship with your pooch. Bringing a puppy or new dog into a home in a haphazard fashion, without planning, leads to animal abuse, destroyed property, vet bills, and even lawsuits from the neighbors. Adopting a dog in a suburban or metropolitan environment is best approached with the expectation that you are expanding your family. This means adding the dog to your will and investigating pet insurance.
The author Louis Sabin once said, “No matter how little money and how few possessions you own, having a dog makes you rich.” We would like to take this statement one step further and say that although it may appear that being a dog parent is an expensive hobby, you do get a major return on your investment, a return so valuable that it can’t be quantified. Studies show that dogs can increase your productivity at work, encourage personal integrity, release relaxation hormones in the brain, improve your general health, and enhance your children’s health, self- esteem, and capacity for empathy. A dog provides hours of free entertainment for you and your family. The dog’s walking schedule can create structure and organization in the family. Certain dog breeds, such as German Shepherds and Doberman Pinschers, provide increased security in the home at a relatively low cost. Having a dog may be one of the few instances in which a human being experiences unconditional love.
Imagine the financial rewards of caring for an animal who brings down your risk of heart disease, reduces the need for treatment for depression, and even takes the place of your gym membership. Erin Kennedy, a proud mom of two toy poodles, Teddy and Simon, says, “They’ve become my support system and my family; and I’m at an age when I’m not necessarily ready for a support system or a family in a more conventional manner.”
Costs of Parenting a Dog
According to the APPA National Pet Owners Survey, basic annual expenses for dog in dollars include the following:
Surgical vet visits $407
Routine vet visits $248
Kennel boarding $274
Travel expenses $78
Groomer/grooming aids $73
Edible treats $70
Because veterinary bills constitute such a high percentage of the cost of owning a dog, you may want to consider purchasing pet health insurance, especially if you have a low tolerance for risk. Erin Kennedy, besides being a mom to Teddy and Simon, is also a sales and risk consultant in the Private Client Services division of Marsh Inc., a global insurance brokerage. She was able to take advantage of a corporate benefit that offers discounted rates on pet insurance, which is payroll deducted. These types of benefits are becoming more widespread in U.S. corporations and are well worth investigating.
It’s important to note that pet insurance still operates on a reimbursement basis. Until a pet insurance brokerage emerges, the ASPCA can be an excellent resource for coverage comparisons.
Advances in medicine are now helping dogs live longer, healthier lives. Unfortunately, this can sometimes mean that dog parents will have to cope with a pet’s serious illness in its later years. For dogs older than ten, approximately 50 percent of deaths are cancer related. This is where pet insurance can come in (more than) handy. Yes, pet insurance can be expensive. But, as Erin Kennedy says regarding the risk of massive veterinary bills, “If I were looking at thirty thousand dollars in vet bills because my dog had cancer, would I be glad that I purchased this coverage?”
Traveling with your dog also adds an extra expense, although it is becoming increasingly popular as more hotels begin to allow pets in rooms. Investigate any additional fees before taking your dog on the road. Many hotels have restrictions on the sizes and breeds of dogs that are permitted, and charge nonrefundable fees ranging from ten to seventy- five dollars per day.
Kimpton Hotels has one of the best pet- friendly reputations in the United States. The nationwide chain prides itself on not charging additional fees or deposits, and does not restrict the size, weight, breed, or number of pets you can have with you. Loews and Regency hotels also have liberal pet policies and offerings.
Also, it’s important not to be duped financially by the new trends in dog breeding. According to Babette Haggerty, a dog trainer and owner of Haggerty’s School for Dogs, “There was a time when purebreds would cost you more money. Now there are all these cool designer breeds, such as the doodle dogs— Labradoodles, Goldendoodles, Sheepdoodles— and Puggles. People are spending two thousand dollars on a mutt. The Puggle, in its own right, has become a breed, but it’s not a long- term or established breed that has a breeding stock and a genetic history to it.”
Deciding whether to buy a purebred dog or a mixed breed can be like buying a lottery ticket— you never know. Over the course of three decades, Haggerty has seen dogs from top breeders, bred from championship bloodlines, succumb to serious health and behavioral problems. On the other hand, people who spend forty dollars at the local shelter often end up with a healthy, lifelong companion. Of course, the reverse can also be true. One thing seems to be a given, though: If a shelter dog has not been properly socialized early in its life, it can cost more to rehabilitate him or her than it would simply to buy a well- socialized dog from a breeder.
Schooling Your Dog Saves Money in the Long Term
If you decide to parent a puppy, one of the best financial investments you can make is obedience school. A wild, badly behaved dog could cost you $2,500 or more during a single afternoon’s destructive rampage. When you adopt a dog, particularly in its infancy, you have to remember you are becoming its pack. In the wild, a wolf is constantly given direction by its pack, enabling it to survive and to know its place in the hierarchy of the group. If you want your relationship with your dog to be harmonious, particularly if you have never owned a dog before, both of you require training.
A puppy- training class is a worthwhile investment. It’s also an opportunity to get your “gnawing” questions answered if you’re worried about your puppy’s early behavior. At the Haggerty School for Dogs in New York City, the puppy- training class enrolls puppies between ten and twenty weeks old. It runs one hour per week for all three weeks. The price in Manhattan is around $175. The class teaches you how to best handle your puppy’s nipping, destructive chewing, and house training, and the best procedures to follow when leaving your puppy alone. This class also covers name recognition; paying attention to an owner around distractions; commands like “sit,” “down,” and the sit- stay and down- stay; jumping prevention; teaching puppies to greet people politely; walking on a loose leash; and teaching your puppy to come when called. Haggerty says if you hire a private trainer and you don’t see a huge difference in that dog after that first lesson, then you need a different trainer.
Providing for Your Dog After Your Death
Too many dogs and other pets are sent to the pound upon their owner’s death. The family dog should always be mentioned in your estate planning, and the lifetime cost of his or her care should be estimated and taken into account. It’s wise to choose a dog guardian in advance and make sure your dog’s care is properly financed, so there is no question what will happen to your dog after your death.
When Ashley Dobbs turned thirty-five, she ran out of room to take in any more rescue dogs and decided it was time to put her passion for pet protection into law. By the time she was forty, Dobbs was practicing at a large law firm in Washington, D.C., and now uses her pro bono time to advocate for animal issues. Dobbs educates people on the importance for arranging for their pet’s care when they can’t be there and provides tools for setting up pet trusts through her nonprofit organization; Keep the Promise to Pets. She believes that “once we’ve domesticated animals, we have a responsibility to care for them.” She has outlined several important considerations to take into account when planning your pet’s future. After your death, or if you become incapacitated, your pet’s fate should not be left in limbo.
First, a dog parent should calculate the expenses associated with caring for his or her dog over the course of its lifetime. Then, money for that dog’s care should be placed in a trust. The trust can be funded either with savings you have allocated for that purpose or through a life insurance policy that you purchase. Legal fees to structure such a trust usually start at about two thousand dollars.
“We are fortunate that, in the last ten years, most states have passed laws that make it possible to have a legally enforceable pet trust,” notes Dobbs. “That is, you can leave money to a third- party trustee, who in turn gives it in accordance with the trust instructions to a named caretaker who will care for your pet after you die. That arrangement can be enforced in court.” After witnessing many cases where a person was willed both the animal and the funds and abused their responsibilities, even pretending the dog was still alive when it had long been deceased, Dobbs recommends structuring the trust so that one person is named the caretaker of your pet and another individual is named the trustee.
If you choose to purchase a life insurance policy to fund a trust for your pet, you need to designate the trust as the beneficiary of the policy. A life insurance policy is a great option if you don’t have a lump sum of money to fund a trust but are able to pay an annual premium. If you buy a hundred thousand-dollar policy, and if there is money left over after your pet’s death, you can make provisions for the remainder to go to another beneficiary. If you create a revocable trust, you can change the beneficiary of the trust at any time.
In addition, it’s very important to not overfund the trust, especially if other parties are being left out of the inheritance pool. “Leona Helmsley’s trust for her dog was considered to be overfunded,” explains Dobbs. “Whatever that dog’s lavish lifestyle was, it couldn’t possibly have needed twelve million dollars in its lifetime. So the court deemed the trust to be overfunded, reduced it to two million, and disbursed the other money to Helmsley’s charitable foundation.”
In addition, be sure to name your dog’s guardian well in advance of preparing your estate planning. You should explain the dog’s care routine and the source of the funds to the guardian in depth, and inform your family and trusted advisers of your wishes. One of the reasons for setting up a trust, rather than giving your pet to the guardian as a bequest in a will or through other informal means, is the well- being of the pet. “A will has to pass through probate. There is a significant period of time that passes between your death and the distribution of your assets,” says Dobbs. “That’s a really long time for a pet to go without having your wishes known and without being cared for.”