sabr: (misc : chawhee tail swishing)
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People love their pets, but how often do they think about the costs? The question is akin to asking which child we love more.

Yet the reality is that pets cost far more than many people expect. And right now, as the economy continues to stumble, those costs have become a burden to many people, like the cat lover who cannot afford medical care or the horse owner struggling with boarding fees.

The problem is that the general information out there is not realistic. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates the cost for a large dog at $875 a year for food, medical expenses, toys and a few related expenses, and $560 for first-year setup costs. The estimate for a cat is $670 a year, with first-year expenses of $365, for a total of $1,035.

When I looked at these numbers, I thought they were taken from Voltaires "Candide": derived from the best of all possible worlds. This month alone, my wife and I spent $600 on one Labrador retriever with a bladder infection who needed some kidney tests and $300 on the other one for an injured paw. This did not include the food for the two of them and our Maine Coon cat, nor their monthly flea and tick medicine or heartworm pills.

So with the holiday gift-giving season under way, I write this column for parents who may be asked by children for a dog or a horse. Remember that the costs need to be factored in.

Many pet lovers scoff at talk about expenses. Dan Denbow, co-manager of USAA's precious metals and minerals fund, said he had purposely never added up all the expenses from his four dogs, two cats, hermit crab and aquarium.

"No, I'd be afraid to," said Mr. Denbow, who lives in a rural town north of San Antonio. "It's a lot of money, but it's just something we've ended up doing."
But the expenses have added up. One spaniel charged a porcupine five times - with a cost to remove the quills at $250 per poke. Another dog had buckshot removed from its hindquarters. Only the hermit crab has been cheap: food, water and an occasional cage cleaning.

Mr. Denbow said he was fortunate to have a good job to cover the costs, but added. "I realize some people have to make that decision - can I spend $300 to have this fixed?"

Andrew and Julie Sacks of New York estimated that they spent $15,000 a year on Skye, their black Labrador. Skye has a dog walker to take care of him when they are at work. And he goes to camp in Pennsylvania when they go away.

"It's all about the right team," Mrs. Sacks said. "We've been so lucky to have them."

Some people may find this excessive, but what else are they going to do with him? He needs to be walked during the day and he needs to be boarded when they go away. Kennels are not cheap, with board costing a minimum of $50 a night.

But they are not complaining. Mr. Sacks, who runs Agency Sacks, a consultant that works with the affluent, said Skye's brother Moose recently had a sock removed from his stomach at a cost of about $6,000.

Of course, people who have horses will say that dogs and cats are cheap in comparison. And this is where otherwise intelligent people can make expensive mistakes.

A thoroughbred racehorse can be purchased for as little as $1,000 at Keeneland, the premier horse auction in America. But Chauncey Morris, its sales marketing associate, cautions against thinking a less expensive horse will be less expensive in the long run. Just because the price tag is far below the $4.2 million paid by Benjamin Leon Jr., a Miami health care executive, at Keeneland's yearling auction in September, does not mean that the maintenance costs are far less, too.
"To keep a horse in training in the U.S., it will average $40,000 a year," Mr. Morris said. "It's the same for the $1,000 horse or the $4.2 million horse."

(For dreamers, Mr. Morris said Zenyatta, the champion mare, was purchased at the 2005 yearling sale for $60,000 and won about $7 million in her racing career.)
Not everyone who buys horses trains them to race. But the fixed cost is still high. Andrea Redmond, a consultant in Chicago and a lifelong horsewoman, owns the Bull Run Equestrian Center in Elburn, Ill., where she said she cautioned newcomers to ease into the sport. She said boarding alone was $750 a month, but could stretch into thousands of dollars at other barns.

That fee does not include the farrier who shoes the horses - about $200 every four to six weeks - or the veterinarian bills. There are also the costs of the saddle, bridle, blankets, boots and brushes to get started.

"I had three horses die in the past 12 months," Ms. Redmond said. "One was old. The others were fluke accidents."

She said she had recently reduced the mortality insurance - such insurance is common for high-value animals or those with earning potential, like race horses and breeding animals - for a 12-year-old horse that died, but she was glad she had not dropped it entirely. "I learned the hard way to insure them," she said.

The costs of insuring horses depends on what they do. Holly Griffin, executive director of the equine department at the insurance broker Hub International and a former show jumper, said the least expensive was a dressage horse with an annual premium of 3 percent of the purchase price. The most expensive are steeplechase horses at 9 percent.

Ms. Griffin estimated total fees for a horse at about $2,200 a month. "When you're not around, that's more for someone to exercise the horse," she said.
Health insurance exists for dogs and cats as well. But the Sackses said they dropped their pet health insurance because getting reimbursed for claims was time-consuming and frustrating.

What can you do if your children are clamoring for a pet this year? Saying no is an option, but it rarely works.

With a dog outside of a city - meaning no dog walker - the fixed costs can be fairly low, but a family needs to have a cushion for those times when the medical care costs increase.

As my wife and I know, pet owners have few choices when their pets are sick. I remember a woman at Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston whose job it was to make sure we could pay before they began caring for our cat ($2,600 for liver problems) and later a dog ($1,250 for relief from a sausage that irritated his intestines). On this woman's desk were brochures for payment plans, the same type people use for funerals or cosmetic dental work. But these plans only spread out the bill - with interest.

Horses are different. With continuing costs of $9,000 to $40,000 a year, they should be for the rich only. Still, lots of children from more modest families want to ride, too.

Lessons on a school horse are the cheapest at about $50 to $100 for 45 minutes. Beyond this, people have traditionally leased horses, by covering the boarding and insurance costs for the person who owns it. Ms. Redmond said that horse shares had recently become popular. In this sense, families are taking a half or quarter of a horse's riding time in return for covering that amount in expenses.

The biggest problem is when people cannot afford their animals. Lori Muhlenberg, a senior vice president at National Penn Investors Trust Company, takes care of 23 retired racehorses.

Her family has owned 60 acres of pasture in Pennsylvania for decades, which she does not count in calculating expenses, and her horses spend their days grazing outside unless it is too cold. Still, she estimates that each one costs $5 a day to feed and an additional $6 a day for the four months when they need to be inside - or about $58,000 if nothing goes wrong.

But the responsibility of caring for them cannot be simply calculated as an out-of-pocket expense."You have to have the compassion and the commitment," Ms. Muhlenberg said. "It's not just the funds. You have to worry about them."

How do you feel about this article? Do you think that the figures discussed, particularly for horse ownership, are realistic? Racehorse specific? Who do you think the target audience of this article may be, and what purpose do you feel they were trying to accomplish?

Date: 2010-11-28 04:15 am (UTC)
starstrider: (Equine -- Bond)
From: [personal profile] starstrider
Personally, (granted I have generally very low opinions about 90% of journalists these days), I think it's exactly what I'd expect from a writer for a newspaper. As little actual research as possible, even for the discussion on dogs (though that was a little better). Using data from Big Cities really skews things, especially because they were talking to the larger business ends of those Big Cities. And notice that most of their figures came from racing? Lazy.

I think it was mostly aimed at the "flim flam" parents--the parents who are likely to dive into something without actually knowing anything about it, which while it's a larger group than one would hope for, still exists. Regardless, I can't see anyone just buying a horse for their family without having ever been around horses or taking lessons, unless you own your own horse-capable property. Chances are they'll at least have some equine professionals or quasi-professionals that should (hopefully) be able to offer good advice. This is probably different when talking about dogs or cats, because they're not a specialty animal, you know?

As for the figures...again, Big City perspective makes it hard. Our barn is one of the more expensive barns in the area. Not *the* most expensive, but we're 375 for a month's full board, and the most expensive barns in the area are still under 500 for a month's full board. Lessons in this area are generally 45-55 per hour for private. And you can, if you want to, find very reasonably priced tack. What they don't mention is that tack isn't a one-time-buy, and that was a big omission in their article. We all know you can't get buy on just one blanket for the next six years, for example.

The other was that they talked about leasing. At a barn like mine, where there are a LOT of barn-owned horses, there isn't a problem with leasing. But most barns are not like mine. Most people would have to find a horse and owner from the great beyond to lease, and chances are the horse wouldn't be suited for a child like the article makes it out to be--too advanced, or otherwise the owner would probably want someone to keep the training going strongly, which is not really going to happen with anyone under ~15.

So, yeah. I think the intent of the article was in the right place--don't do something unless you know exactly what you're doing--but the wording was really awful, and overall, not something the industry needs in circulation among the public right now.

Horse ownership isn't only for the rich people. No one at our barn is rich by any standard. We're all middle to lower class backgrounds. We all have horses in the 2-8k range or cheaper (with a few exceptions) that we have bought and trained ourselves, and even from this background, a lot of our riders have National Championships within the Arabian Sporthorse world. You don't have to be rich. You just have to have a head on your shoulders and be dedicated. On that front, I think the article should have been more about being dedicated and responsible for the animals you buy or intend to buy, and if something happens, giving some options--rescue organizations, etc.

Edited Date: 2010-11-28 04:18 am (UTC)

Date: 2010-11-28 04:42 am (UTC)
starstrider: (Equine -- Bond)
From: [personal profile] starstrider

Especially that last bit. I feel like nearly everything I read in newspapers or online editions is just crap. I could actually give you my full analysis of why, but I shall restrain myself for both our sanities. XD

(I almost typed "myselves" there...Kerazy!)

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