Every January I go through the house and get rid of stuff. We’re planning for our next move to be into an even smaller house, so I’m trying to empty as many closets and drawers as possible. This year, the annual January downsizing coincided with a lot of reading about the environmental implications of trash, which has made it extra-guilt-inducing.

As part of this process, eventually I got to Silas’s stuff. And boy, is there a lot of it.

I won’t even list the number of coats and jackets and harnesses and grooming tools. We won’t talk about the mountain of food products that are either in use or sitting around because they caused an allergic reaction.

Instead, we’re talking about this:

Creating Less Waste With Pets

I’ll bet you have a similar box full.

What’s worse, this is just what was in the box. I keep some things down for Silas to use. (Too many toys out at once + dog with a problem relaxing = disaster.)

Silas still generates a lot of trash, even though I’ve been more careful lately, and most of it is really, really trash. Dog food and treat bags are almost always either a plastic/paper hybrid that can’t be recycled or plastic outright. Dog toys tend to be made of mixed plastic (like a “rubber” toy with a squeaker inside) or of unknown materials that are difficult to recycle. Color me a bleeding-heart liberal yuppie, but it bothers me to be filling up landfills with toys my dog didn’t even like that much.

So here are some things tips for cutting the trash and the clutter:

1) Donate used-but-functional leashes, collars, and harnesses to your local shelter, along with those gently-used toys that your dog just didn’t like. Check individual policies before you just show up with an armload. Some shelters particularly don’t want or need toys.

2) See if your friends have dogs that can take those leftover/rejected foods, or if there is a charitable organization in your area that will accept them. Maybe because it’s so hot here that food spoils quickly, but I haven’t had much luck. If your dog eats the same food all the time, consider buying a bigger bag, which usually has less packaging per serving. (Watch for spoilage, though.) Consider baking or dehydrating at least a portion of your own treats. (If I were really a hippy, I would tell you to make sure and buy your baking supplies from the bulk aisle. In reality, I’m skeptical of bulk shopping. Feel free to ask why in the comments–no room.)

3) Check before you throw those toys in the trash. Orbee/Planet Dog takes back cleaned toys for recycling. WestPaw’s Zogoflex toys (you’ll spot several in our pile) are “designed to be recycled,” although the website is unclear about how. 100% cotton rope toys can be composted, as can other natural fibers.

4) Repair things when you can. There’s no hope for a busted tennis ball, but a stuffed toy or dog bed with one bad seam is easy to resew.

5) Remember that your dog doesn’t have the most elaborate memory. Keep most of his toys put away. Once a month or so rotate toys. Look! A new toy! In-home recycling, if you will.

6) Most importantly, stop shopping. Dog stuff is so cute! It’s hard to leave in the store. But seriously, you probably don’t need that new water dish or eight Kongs just in case or a new collar with Santa on it. My own weakness is treats–I just get so excited when I find one that Silas can eat.

7) If you must shop, don’t buy junk. If a toy won’t last more than one or two play sessions, skip it. Also, remember that your dog carries his toys in his mouth, and there are real dangers to ingesting certain kinds of paints and plastics. Personally, these days I will only buy new toys from a few companies that I really trust. As a bonus, those toys tend to be well-made and long-lasting.

The Cost of a Fearful Dog

For a while I was taking a cue from The House of Two Bows and posting a little monthly budget summary here. Then I realized that our numbers were crazy and I gradually quit doing it.

It is very easy when you have an anxious dog to throw money at the problem. There are a thousand calming widgets on the market, many of which do help, albeit not enough that you aren’t enticed into buying the next one. It’s also tempting to buy a lot of dog toys, because you spend most of your dog’s life in the house. Good toys that won’t leave indelible paint marks on your white walls aren’t cheap. All that’s before you even get to training classes. Also, spending money makes you feel like you’re doing something to help, even if what you’re buying doesn’t help at all.

So I thought I would present the conversation from a slightly different side. These are our current baseline minimum numbers per month, assuming that we want to make progress rather than just managing the level of fear Silas currently has:

Behaviorist: $120 (that’s for the maintenance visit). This is a fair price for our area. $120 would get me once a month with the behaviorist, once a month private lessons with a few dollars left over, or a 4-6 week class if I could find one that wanted Silas.
Food: Silas eats roughly 22 pounds of food in a month. The cheapest thing he eats is about $2/lb, ranging up to about $4. We’ll say $50, although the amount I spend per month fluctuates depending on what’s available. Our numbers are higher than typical here, thanks to the food allergies.
Prescription medications: Roughly $25. This is alprazolam and Silas’s heartworm preventative. If we decide to use a daily medication, this will obviously go up.
DAP Collar: $20, depending on where I can find it on sale. This is one of those whoo-whoo things that really does make a lot of difference for us.

That’s $215 dollars a month, assuming I don’t buy a single toy or treat and nothing unusual comes up. If financial calamity were to hit, I could of course cut out a good bit of that, but that’s not really what this post is about.

Helping a fearful dog is not cheap. Even if I could feed Silas kibble instead of raw, I would be looking at a substantial monthly outlay. I’m not telling you that because I feel sorry for myself. I’m very lucky that we can afford this, and I don’t feel bad about it.

I’m also lucky that Silas is not worse. I don’t think our numbers are the highest out there. Separation anxiety can easily cost a small fortune in either repairs to your home or in doggie daycare. In some dogs, fear can lead to aggression, especially toward other household pets, and you may have extremely high veterinary bills.

I feel like sometimes people get sucked into rescuing anxious dogs because they “feel bad for them.” Or, more likely if the dog is coming from a shelter, the dog’s problems don’t really manifest for a few weeks. Badly bred puppies, either from mills or from unfortunate accidental litters, may not show their problems until they enter adolescence. I think this kind of data needs to be out there as a part of that discussion.

The emotional cost of dealing with a fearful dog can be unexpectedly high. I’m used to it, and I still have days where it gets to me. The real financial cost is also quite high. It’s okay if you can’t afford either of those things. It can be a wonderful thing to help a fearful dog, but we also need to acknowledge that not everyone has the resources.

If you have a fearful dog and are willing to share, please give your numbers in the comments.


(Updating with our more recent numbers: we finally were able to phase out our behaviorist visits, and the DAP collars stopped working after a while. Silas’s daily medication plus his heart worm treatment is roughly¬†$45 per month, and his food costs have remained the same. I find that Silas is happiest if we stay involved in some kind of training class online, which ranges in price from¬†$65 per six weeks at the Fenzi academy and up.)

Dogs and Money, December Edition: In which I make us all feel better

For the last two months of my budget reports, I’ve been promising you that I’m not a crazy spendthrift. There was just an unfortunate coincidence of expensive months with the first two months of my project. Now I have some proof!

Food: $30.88
Treats: $9.22
Grooming, etc: 0
Toys: $9.50
Training: 0
Vet: $58.50
Media (Books, DVDs):

Total: $119.05

That’s more like it. Food costs are mostly for canned food for traveling and a few odds and ends. I can’t get canned pork-based food in our town, so I grabbed some while I was back home. Plus a few cans of the Spring Naturals Turkey for him to eat while we were there. That stuff is solid gold, people.

Treats were a couple of fish-skin chews and a new box of Wet Noses stars.

I shouldn’t have bought toys so close to Christmas, but I couldn’t pass up the other toy made by the purple hedgehog people. Again, I haven’t found this brand locally, so I grabbed while the grabbing was good. There was also the fuzzy ball, which is already long gone.

Almost exactly half of our expenses for the month went to a new six month supply of heartworm medicine, which is absolutely not optional here.

For more background on why I’m doing this, you can check out the other posts in this category.

November Budget Report

Oh, MC puts me to shame.

Shame, shame, shame.

Before I post this month’s numbers, which look wild and scary, I’ll remind you of why I’m doing this. As I said last month, this is an idea I took from M.C. over at The House of Two Bows. What I liked about her plan for myself is something rather different than her original intentions. My two intentions are, first of all, to show the costs associated with owning a dog like Silas, with his food issues and his . . . quirks. (Now, keep in mind that these are far from a minimum amount. We do buy a lot of non-essential things.) Also, as I said last month, I think our inability as a society to talk about money helps to keep Americans in financial hot water. That is, ignoring fiscal reality pushes us to make stupid decisions. Another side of that “reality facing” is the incredible grossness I am feeling right now to put these numbers out there. Confession is good for you, right?

Now for the numbers, and then I’ll justify myself out of this hole:

Food: 174.93
Treats: 20
Grooming, etc: 56.18
Toys: 7.18
Training: 0
Vet: 0
Media (Books, DVDs): 21.06
Tripe bonanza: 164.36

Food costs are high because I bought food for both November and December when I did my turkey blitz. We should need very little this month. There were also some expensive things that he doesn’t usually get, namely canned food and a bag of that Stella and Chewy’s cat food. Treat costs have gone way down, thanks to my new dehydrator. I bought a few things before the dehydrator came in, and nothing since. To be really precise, a small portion of his food budget should technically be his treats budget. Grooming is usually a non-existent category for us, but this month we finally replaced our woefully inadequate nail clippers. I also bought Silas a Thundershirt, which I put here, thinking of it as clothes. Toys: I caved and bought him a squeaky rubber hedgehog, which has turned out to be a wonderful investment. It may merit its own post. And then there’s the real monster in the budget, the last of the venison tripe left in our metro area. We wound up with about a year’s supply, which makes me happy. Also happy that I will not have to pay for it again.

Grand total is: $443.71. I’m hoping that next month will even out the average of these last two a little. In October I bought a lot of random things, excited because Silas wasn’t having to go to the vet, then I put Silas back in obedience class and we needed emergency travel supplies right at the end of the month. November had a few extras, but should mostly be a good investment for December and beyond. I promise, I don’t customarily spend money like a drunken sailor.

How to go over budget, lesson one:

So, everything was looking great in October. Up until about the 20th, Silas was well under his usual budget. Then things went a little crazy.

Our final breakdown looks like this:
Food: 194.10
Supplements: 43.65
Treats: 50
Training: 95
Assorted: 37.70

Total: (gulp) 420.45

The food costs are high for two reasons. I bought duck at the beginning of October, which it turned out that Silas couldn’t eat. This meant I had to go back and buy more food mid-month. There was also the tripe debacle, so I bought $100 or so of canned tripe. We have about a year’s supply now, so I’m feeling slightly less anxious about it. The sad fact is that the food cost is actually not right–I bought a box of Honest Kitchen dehydrated food as emergency rations when we left town, and the charges haven’t shown up yet.

I also finally found a greens supplement that didn’t have a meat product in it, so YAY!

Treats are expensive because they are. I’ve talked about this before. I had to stock back up when we went to training class. Turns out that I (way) overbought, so maybe I’ll get through next month with fewer. I’m seriously looking into a dehydrator to make these myself. A pound of turkey hearts costs me about $2. 3 oz of dehydrated turkey hearts (a pound before dehydrating) is $10.

Training: $95 may or may not seem high to you, but its a going rate for where we are.

Assorted: This is a collar and a magazine subscription. I’m hoping that the collar will stop some of Silas’s over-the-top neck scratching. It’s been really bad this week, which coincides perfectly with him having to wear his collar around the clock. Now, if it will just come in. I’m a day or two away from having to e-mail the company.

Happy news, though, is that there are No! Vet! Bills! One whole month!

Dogs and Money

I’m in confessional mode today, thanks to House of Two Bows, who goes so far as to publish her dogs’ expenses every month. Our September expenses were positively outrageous, even by our standards, so I am not going to follow suit exactly.

People talk very little about the financial side of owning pets. Most Americans don’t like to talk about money. Many choices we make with our dogs, from food to toys to veterinary care, are a reflection of our own lifestyles and income brackets. Optional items bought for pets can seem like waving a big flag: “Look at Me! I have so much extra money that I spend it on my dog.” Unless you are deliberately using your pet as a vehicle for conspicuous consumption, like a movie star or socialite, that can be a little uncomfortable.

I sincerely believe that most Americans would be better off, both emotionally and financially, if money weren’t such a taboo. Hence the following rambles about our dog finances:

The fact is, we spend a lot of money on Silas. This is partly optional, partly not. We don’t have kids. We drive paid for cars. We consider it to be living fast and loose if we eat out once a week. So why not spend some money on the dog? He has a few $25 toys. He wears a $60 leather collar. His dog bed is the $150 model from LL Bean. None of those are regular purchases, but they’re there. (The dog bed was his Christmas gift last year; the collar was his first birthday present. He’s gentle enough with toys that nice ones are worth the investment. [See how intensely I feel like I have to hedge? And you all are a sympathetic audience.])

Silas is also just a fairly expensive dog, in a day-to-day, non-traumatic, kind of way. I’m not complaining, just stating the facts. His average vet bill is right at $120, not including neutering. That’s a real number, not a guess. So far this year we have been to the vet in March, April, May, June, August, and September. At one point his special food was costing us $250 a month. His raw diet is pretty economical in comparison–quick and easy math puts it around $60 a month–but it’s still more expensive than the top-of-the-line kibble he ate before, which was closer to $40/month. That $60 is before I add supplements, which add up really quickly, or treats. Fortunately we come off easily in the medication department. Silas doesn’t need regular flea control, and his heartworm medicine is fairly cheap. The cost of his food allergies is reflected entirely in his diet, unless he has a bad skin flare up.

I’m sorry I only have observations right now, rather than a grand conclusion.