Free Puppies?

The real cost of bringing Fido home

By Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin

He’s just so cute, that little puppy squirming against his brothers and sisters to gain the advantage on your affections. He’s a little fluff ball of joy, falling all over himself, jumping at the opportunity to call your home his own and make you the happiest human on the block. How can you resist? But potential pet adopters beware: that adorable bundle of love comes with a hefty invisible price tag that requires your serious consideration before bringing Fido home.

When you’re working out the financials of buying a car, you’re not just looking at the sticker price. You must also consider the basics of what it means to own and maintain a motor vehicle: tagging, insurance, gas, oil changes, etc. If you don’t have the resources for these things, your joyriding time will be cut short. And so it is with pets; the difference being that now the consequences of a poorly planned budget involve a poor quality of life for man’s best friend.

“During the adoption prescreening process, we spend a great deal of time making sure people understand the economic impact of a pet,” said Nora Vondrell, executive director of SICSA, the Society for the Improvement of Conditions for Stray Animals. “Each year, we have families who come to us to surrender an animal they can no longer afford. The animal is loving, healthy and with a wonderful temperament and yet, is now in our center through no fault of their own.

“We see this most often with families forced to downsize their homes and/or facing foreclosure. Suddenly, they are renting an apartment with size or breed restriction. Or they are living with family who will not allow the pet. The family is then forced to face that either the family’s lovable 80-pound Labrador retriever is homeless, or they are. The choice is a difficult one, but a true reality for far too many.

“Another situation we see often is a pet who now needs extensive medical care. Not unlike humans, hospitalization, surgeries, medical care and medicine can be expensive.  If a family has not factored in medical care for their pet, they are suddenly faced with a dilemma. We get calls on a weekly basis for assistance in treating owned animals for everything from vaccinations to surgeries. There are a very limited amount of options in the community. We help where we can, but unfortunately the need is much greater than what is available.”

A family should consider all areas of pet ownership that will affect them financially, and not just costs that occur in the first year. Pet costs need to be worked into an annual budget with the dollar amount increasing as pets reach their more mature years and have additional medical needs.

“Annually, all pets should receive a check up from their veterinarian and get an update on needed vaccines,” said Vondrell. “Dogs require an annual license through their county of residence. Monthly preventative care such as medications to prevent fleas and ticks – as well as heartworm for dogs – is also recommended. Add to that the price to feed the animal on a daily basis as well as litter for cats. Depending on the breed and size, we recommend a family be prepared to pay a minimum of $1,000 annually for just the basics needed for your pet. Like humans, older animals often require additional medical care and medications. A pet owner should consider whether or not they can afford current costs, as well as those that will most likely be needed a decade later.”

A huge chunk of the expense of owning a pet is food. The total cost not only varies with the quantity of food consumed, but also with the quality, as higher quality foods lead to better overall health and, subsequently, fewer visits to your veterinarian.

Susan Cooke, VMD, who operates a mobile vet clinic and is a mother of four, said that ingredients are key to leading a healthy life both for her pets and her children.

“My focus at home with my children’s food is to avoid artificial colors and flavorings, and I feel it should be the same with pets,” said Cooke. “Every day there is research on using better ingredients and how bodies are adjusting to food, both animal and human.”

When thinking about what breed of dog you would like to bring home, consider that some breeds will have larger needs than others when it comes to food.

“Size and activity level of dogs greatly affect the type of food that they need,” said Cooke. “Working breeds [such as boxers and mastiffs] require higher caloric content in their food.”

So what should new pet owners look for when deluged with the selection at their local pet supply store?

“Pet food companies often offer a range of their product, from basic to premium,” said Cooke. “Go for the premium, as it will adhere to more vigilantly held standards and generally have a higher protein content and contain less processed ingredients. Protein should be up front on the list of ingredients. If the label says ‘Lamb and Rice Formula,’ lamb and rice should be first on the list, not corn meal or wheat. Pet food is much improved in recent years. There are foods available that address animals that have different needs such as chronic illnesses like diabetes and kidney disease. These help keep pets healthier longer. There are a good variety of great products.”

Medical care and food are essentials when caring for an animal, but you must also consider expenses that don’t necessarily have a dollar amount. Time is money and is a cost that needs to be included when budgeting for an addition to your family. Dogs need to be walked, shown affection and socialized with other animals to maintain health and wellness.

“Pets who do not receive adequate exercise and socialization can develop behavior issues, including being destructive to your property,” said Vondrell. “An animal that doesn’t receive the proper medical care could develop diseases and parasites. Some of these diseases are not only harmful to your pet, but could spread to humans.”

Putting in the time and capital will result in a long and mutually beneficial relationship between you and your pet.

“People who properly maintain the health and wellness of their cat or dog should expect 10 to 18 years of love and devotion from their pet, depending on size and breed,” said Vondrell. “This includes preventative care, proper nutrition, exercise and socialization. Properly providing for your pet on all these levels will not only help your pet be happier, but you as well.”

Once you’ve made the decision to bring a pet into your life, consider looking for your new friend at an organization that helps alleviate the initial cost of pet adoption, like SICSA or the Animal Resource Center (ARC).

“When you adopt an animal from SICSA, that pet has been spayed or neutered, evaluated by a veterinarian and is up to date on regular vaccines and preventative care (worming, flea, etc.),” said Vondrell. “If we identify a medical or behavioral need prior to adoption, we work hard to fix the situation before the animal is allowed on the adoption floor. And should an identified need be longer term (for example, a dog with a food allergy), we let you know that up front, as well as any cost implications that may come along.”

“Our adoption fees include the spaying and neutering along with the micro-chip, license and vaccinations,” said Mike Sagester, Shelter Supervisor of ARC. “It’s really a great value. It includes costs not everyone thinks about when they adopt a pet.”

What it comes down to, when selecting an animal companion to complement your life, is make sure you have the budget to provide a healthy, happy environment for your new friend. Some pets are lower maintenance than others and require fewer funds to maintain. Mixed breeds tend to accrue fewer expenses over the course of their life than purebreds, cats tend to cost less than dogs, goldfish tend to cost barely anything at all, in the grand scheme.

After you have your finances in order and are weighing the decision as to whether or not you can provide a happy home for a potential pet, consider house-sitting for a friend with pets or volunteering to walk dogs at the Humane Society. This will provide you a glimpse of what your life might be like with an animal companion. Despite all of the costs, the relationship you stand to develop with a pet is truly priceless.


Reach DCP freelance writer Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin at


Run the numbers

Potential first-year cost* of your “free” puppy:

License: $20

Tag/collar/leash: $20

Food: $300

Food bowls: $10

Spay/neuter: $150

Shots: $180

Heartworm medicine/flea medicine: $110

Vet visits: $250

Treats/toys/bedding: $75

Additional deposit on rented property: $250

TOTAL: $1,365

Additional lifetime costs* may also include:

Grooming: $45/visit

Doggy daycare/boarding: $15/day, $3,750/year

Micro-chipping: $50

Obedience training: $50/session

Emergency vet visits: $500-$4,000

Death of pet (euthanization, cremation): $50 – $400

Property damage: $1 – infinity

When you realize the damn thing is so cute that you want another one: $$$$$

*Costs based on averages from local organizations and businesses.

For more information on pet adoption visit these sites.


2600 Wilmington Pike

Dayton, OH 45419



Montgomery County Animal Resource Center

6790 Webster St.

Dayton, OH 45414



Humane Society of Greater Dayton

1661 Nicholas Rd.

Dayton, OH 45417



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About Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin

View all posts by Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin
Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin
Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin is a writer and amateur cartographer living in Dayton, Ohio. She has been a member of PUSH (Professionals United for Sexual Health) since 2012 and is currently serving as Chair. She can be reached at or through her website at

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