Is the pet relationship lifecycle unavoidable? That was the thought that went through my head again and again as I was sitting there on the lazy boy at my friends house. I was at Joe and Amy’s place. They were a younger couple, just past the modern day status symbol phase of moving in together. They had decided to get a new puppy. This I knew because they were a younger couple, and that means that every single thought that goes through their head has to be posted in some way on social media. The problem with social media is that it’s a stream, not really a billboard. So I missed what happened after they got the puppy. That ignorance was rectified when I went over to visit with them and heard the story, and boy what a story it was.
The dog, a German Shepard they named Brownie, was bought from a breeder. A day after they got the dog home they realized something was wrong with it. A quick trip to the vet showed that the dog had worms so bad it needed blood transfusions as well as multiple advanced deworming techniques. Normally, this is where the story would stop. A typical response would be for a couple to bring back the puppy to the breeder and demand their money back as well as the vet fee spent to find out that the dog was on death’s door. They made the emotional decision to try and get the dog the treatments he needed to get healthy. Fast forward through the emotional roller coaster of the touch and go medical treatments, and four thousand dollars later they had Brownie back to the bouncy overactive puppy they expected to have when they first walked into the breeder. The one element of the story, the one that resonated the most with me was that the cost was so crushing that Amy put together a Go-Fund-Me page for the puppy’s vet bills. She received over $1300 in donations from others.
Normally I would lose my shit at what I consider to be such incomparably immature and entitled behavior. In effect making a poor choice, and then doubling down on it by asking people to support their clearly poor choice. Unfortunately I can’t, because I did the exact same thing myself, well, mostly the same thing. It was when I was just married in the years before children. We had a Pug dog, Lady was her name. We didn’t name her but we loved the “Lady Pug” pun. We also had a Pekingese named Daisy. We were looking for a pug, and wound up getting Lady only because we agreed to take Daisy. The former owners had them both and wanted them to stay together when they went to their new home. We had a good deal of healthy years with both Lady and Daisy but then something happened. Lady seemed to be limping. She also started going to the bathroom in the house. Several expensive trips to the vet later, we learned that Lady had a spinal condition where the spine was slowly degenerating. The Vet bills piled up and eventually she lost all of her mobility in the back half of her body. We solicited friends and family for help and ultimately wound up getting her a doggie wheelchair, which is to say a contraption with wheels that strapped to her back half and let her pull herself around with her front paws. It didn’t really work all that well, but it was something. Eventually even that didn’t work, and ultimately her quality of life got so bad we had to put her down. Shortly after that, it happened again. This time with Daisy. She started to get cloudy eyes. Once again there were trips to the vet, which resulted in trips to a doggie eye specialist. Daisy had an ulcer in her cornea which required special medicine, as well as multiple visits to the very expensive dog eye specialist that was well over an hour away from our home. I honestly don’t recall if we solicited help for Daisy’s vet bills but considering our situation at the time, I wouldn’t be surprised if we did reach out again, and most likely did get some assistance from friends and family, even if it was more indirect.
So was this concept of getting a pet before you are ready for it, can afford to care for it, and then getting so overwhelmed with bills that you wind up reaching out for others to help, unique to just me and Joe and Amy? Or is it something many/most young couples do? Answering that question is the point of this article.
Getting a pet in the early part of a relationship is a fairly common thing. I know multiple people who got into a relationship, got a pet, and then broke up. Once they moved into the new relationship, they got a new pet. Usually a dog, but sometimes it’s a cat. The species of the pet isn’t as important. All of this together makes me wonder if it’s a normal part of life. Part of the early cycle of relationships. Date, move in together, get a pet. If you are not of strong financial means, as most young people aren’t, then when life happens to your pet, you have to scramble for help.
In one instance the pet relationship cycle is like a new step in the old relationship cycle. In the days of my grandparents and prior, you would date, get engaged, get married, move in together, have a child or two, and then get a pet. Today the pet’s role has changed, it is a trial child. Well the whole relationship chain has changed. It’s swipe, text, screw, date, achieve the move-in-together status symbol, and then get a pet. Human children and marriage come into the plan next but the order on when these last two happen depends on the couple. This almost makes sense. Almost. By putting the pet before the deeper commitments such as home ownership, there is less risk of lifelong impact. Relationship issues and general life screw ups don’t impact a pet like they do a child. Dogs and cats, thankfully, don’t have the same psyche.
On the other side of the “Is it stupid?” quandary is the question of cost. If you spend a moment and really think about that period in our life, when we are young, with limited financial resources, there are much better alternatives we can choose for said resources. Right off the top of my head I can think of Retirement, Rainy Day Savings, Debt Reduction, Housing, Transportation, and many others.
I guess retirement was the first thing that came to mind because it’s what I’m closest to at this point in my life. I know that the bigger the seed is when you are young the exponentially larger amount you’ll have later. It also sets up a good habit of saving for retirement that will follow you throughout your career. The Rainy Day fund is another huge issue. If you think about Joe and Amy’s situation as well as my own from back in the day, the huge vet bills wouldn’t have been much of an issue if we had the money in the bank. Sure we wouldn’t want to spend it on the dog, and that would be frustrating, but we wouldn’t have had to throw ourselves on the mercy of loved ones or strangers who have a thing for throwing money at emotional Go-Fund-Me’s.
The list continues on. In some ways debt reduction is more pressing of an issue than ever for the current day young adults. They are typically dealing with massive student loan debts that will burden them until they completely meet the debt obligation. The more you can throw at the debt the better. Housing, especially in the current market, has become a big affordability issue for young couples, and cars have always been expensive.
Unfortunately, when we are in our early twenties, we don’t think about being strategic with an eye to the long term when we consider our financial resources. Usually, most of us aren’t logical yet (LINK TO SPOCK WA RIGHT ARTICLE). In our early twenties we live in the moment. The cute puppy, even at $1200 to the breeder, will always win over the extra 5% of our income into the retirement account or student loan.
So I think I’ve come to the conclusion that having the pet with the boyfriend or girlfriend is now part of the relationship lifecycle. It’s a social construct that exists for the dating years. Now that I’m married the role of the family pet has changed. In my current situation, I won’t do a multi-thousand dollar vet bill. Even though I have a strong affinity for certain AKC breeds, I won’t buy a dog for asking price. I got my current dog on clearance. I call him my refurbished dog. Technically he was ‘re-homed’ when the original owners couldn’t keep him and returned him to the breeder. There was a rehoming fee which was about 1/6th of what it was when you got the new puppy. I love my dog but I also know that once he gets really sick, to the tune of thousands of dollars, it lights out. I say this because, as I’ve already explained, I’ve been through the pet lifecycle. I know that even if you pay the crazy bills, there is no guarantee how long the pet will remain with us. Is it six months? Maybe it’s an extra year if your lucky.
I’m not anti-pet. If I was, I wouldn’t have one. I think they really have a role to play with kids, with families, for mental health and in many other places and at other times in our lives. As an example, you see pets add value to people’s lives well after the kids leave the nest and pet’s once again become the child surrogates. Fortunately at this phase, the pet owners usually have the resources to care for the pets, no matter how expensive the bills get.
Still thinking back to all of the experiences of Joe and Amy, of myself, and others I’ve witnessed. I think the pet lifecycle is unavoidable, it’s now part of growing up and getting into a serious relationship. For the new couple It adds complexity, it adds risk, and there is always the shame of having to ask for help when you get in over your head, but even with all this, it’s still better than making the mistake with a child. I’ll admit there is one silver lining to the stress of having to spend thousands of dollars on vet bills for your new puppy and all that goes with it. You’ll still get all stinky puppy breath kisses which are definitely one of the best ways to forget all about those stresses in life!