Can you afford a new pet?

Q. I’m interested in adopting a puppy from our local shelter. However, my friends are giving me conflicting advice. Some say shelter pets are popular because they’re cheaper than purebreds – whatever that means. Another friend said that pets can be costly and that her puppy has already racked up thousands of dollars in vet bills. What’s your advice? – Tabitha in Little Rock

A. I’d say, continue going with your gut on this decision. You’re wisely weighing the advice your friends have given; now add a bit of research to the process to help.

The financial aspect of pet ownership is well worth considering. Your friend encountered unplanned medical bills. While certainly no one wants their pet to get sick, it’s important to acknowledge that it can happen. Pets also have plenty of regular medical expenses as well, including annual checkups, vaccinations and tags.

A recent column at by Kristen Sullivan discusses some of the costs pet owners should plan for before adopting a pet. How much will the initial adoption cost? (Most shelters charge a fee at adoption which generally includes payment for spaying/neutering, among other things.) How much will you pay for food, equipment, training and toys? Figuring these expenses into the household budget is important.

A “reality check” that goes beyond the dollars-and-cents reckoning is also important – can you meet all of a pet’s needs? The ASPCA has a list of 10 questions to ask yourself before adopting.

If, after taking the above steps and doing your homework as well as possible, you decide not to adopt a pet, don’t beat yourself up. You’re concerned about providing a great home for a dog – and you have to be financially and emotionally prepared to do so. I wish you the best, no matter what your decision.

Originally published November 2, 2009.

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