The rising costs of keeping Fido healthy


We were presented with an invoice for dental services that ran about $727.

For whom were these services provided. Me? My wife? Or, nahhhhh, it can’t be? My dog!! Samson!

Good grief, Charlie Brown, when did veterinary medicine get so prohibitive?

I remember a time when if you wanted a dog you went to the local pound or to the ASPCA if there was a chapter nearby. And there you would find “Ol Blue,” his big eyes swallowing you up with love before you were even introduced, his tale fanning the world behind him.

Within minutes, Blue was your sidekick, looking every bit like a mixture of hound, shepherd and God only knows, his tongue lapping the right side of your face as you carefully navigated him to his new home. You might have taken him to a vet if you acquired him from someone who advertised his availability in the local newspaper; otherwise you accepted the word of the pound rep that he had all his necessary shots.

If Blue was either well-trained (unlikely), or lucky (more than likely), he would avoid getting tattooed by a passing motorist, you could look forward to a reasonably long relationship. You generally made sure he had his rabies shot, but if we missed one, oh well, he’ll live. And he did.

My point is that veterinary services were infrequently called upon back in a day, usually reserved to mend a broken bone or for when he could no longer hear or see and it was time to put Ol Blue down. That’s if you lived in the city.

In the country, Dad, his jaw firm, would take care of that chore and then he would weave some cockamamie yarn to his tearful children who would cry themselves to sleep that night assured Blue was in a “better place.”

But sometime in the 1980s as the American Kennel Club began expanding the number of recognized breeds, the annual Westminster Dog Show made primetime and it became chichi to own a registered breed whose ancestry was easier to trace than of your own family. And there were champions in their bloodlines.

Today, depending on what your source is, the AKC recognizes anywhere between 189 breeds (according to Wikipedia quoting an AKC representative directly) and 252 if you count the breeds they list on their own website. Why the disparity is an issue for someone else to reconcile. But by their own count, from 1990 through 1999 they added 14 breeds; 19 more were added between 2000 and 2010, and another 19 from 2011 through 2015.

Names like Blue, Missy, Two Dab, Chuck, Beau, Duke, Brutus, Sister, Lucky, Sweet Pea, Lassie, Little John, yielded their popularity to names like Tiffany, Princess, Galahad, Beauregard, Algernon, Milady, Carson, names with panache.

Commensurate with the increasing interest in pure breeds was a significant increase in cost for these prima donnas, anywhere from $500 to $5,000 per pup depending on how many champions were scattered through their lineage and how popular was the breed.

Something else happened at the same time; dog owners found a need to protect their “investment” and with the first unexpected sneeze rushed Aristotle (nee Butch) to the vet where for $250 they had a fecal exam, a blood test, a body probe by a sweet young technician and five minutes with the vet.

So where am I going with this? Who is the villain here? Interestingly, it’s not the veterinarians, as I first thought. I had this sense that their income rewards had caught up with those earned by people doctors. That’s not the case. Their compensation has been running consistently on average about 30 percent less for the past 10 years.

No, the “villains” are the drug companies that are understandably and rightfully driven by the profit motive. Since 2007, they have watched their goods rise in cost by a factor twice that of people meds.

Where vets may undermine your effort to reign in pets costs is in their unwillingness to give you their prescription. They are aware of competing options to purchase those drugs at significantly lower costs.

And that’s not all.

On a personal level, I’ve watched our out-of-pocket medical costs for the same period ($34,000) outpaced by the $43,000 we’ve spent on our pooches.

When we share this experience with many of our dog-less friends, they shake their heads in disbelief. And, while they won’t say it out loud, it is obvious they don’t understand why we continue down this path, why we don’t consider giving them away, or, saints preserve us, put them down.

But then they haven’t experienced that moment when after a difficult day you arrive home happily greeted by this furry creature, whose eyes draw you in, her short tail rapidly twitching side-to-side, her tongue stretching to reach your face and if that doesn’t work, then your hands.

It’s unconditional love. And so we endure the responsibility, looking for cost savings in areas with a lower priority, like our own health, our grocery needs, new clothes, vacations and family trips. But the rising costs of taking care of Fido (nee Algernon) assure us of one thing: He’s our last dog.

N. John Garcia and his wife, Susan, live in Mount Pleasant. Garcia, who is retired, has been a correspondent for United Press International, worked in human resources and as a securities arbitrator. He is finishing up a nonfiction book targeting high school seniors and college freshmen and sophomores.