• Love for sale, please bring $$$$

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    photo: David Dyte

    My cat broke. Expensively.

    It started when we noticed that his front teeth were noticeably protruding, more so than usual. "Let’s nickname him Fang," I suggested.

    "Have you had a vet look at that!?" my more observant and empathetic friend asked a few days later.

    Kea was about six months overdue for his annual checkup, so I opted to do the responsible thing and make an appointment.

    "His teeth seem a little odd," I told the vet when we arrived a week later.

    "Yes, those will need to come out," she answered.

    Come. out!? There’s nothing like being told your critter is about to lose his teeth to make you feel like a neglectful guardian.

    It turns out this isn’t uncommon in cats. They’re not terribly diligent about teeth brushing. For $10, you can buy a cat-tooth-brushing kit at any pet store, but — those of you with cats will share my incredulity at the idea of convincing a feline to go along with regular tooth-brushing. I already have scars, prominent scars, from my occasional attempts at claw-clipping. I can’t handle the blood loss tooth-brushing would entail.

    So at age 5, Kea was about to lose his teeth. And our Amex was about to take a $650 hit.

    Now, I’m more-or-less reconciled to this sort of thing. It goes with the territory of having pets, kids, a house, a car, or anything else prone to sudden, catastrophic, and expensive failure. And my husband David and I are in-sync on the financial priorities and burdens of pet ownership — one of the reasons I’m quite fond of him is that he’s very softhearted when it comes to small, furry things. There’s basically no amount of money he wouldn’t spend to do the best thing possible for our critters. So off went $650 and out came Kea’s teeth.

    The topic spins around regularly on personal-finance blogs: What does a pet really cost?

    The ASPCA has a handy breakdown, suggesting that your budget should run anywhere from $35 a year for a fish to $875 for a large dog.

    (Guess what the second-most expensive pet is, saith the ASPCA? Not a bird, cat or small dog. A rabbit.  Rabbit owners, I ask: Does litter really cost you $415 a year? What in hell do rabbits require for litter, shredded euros?)

    But my experience is that it’s the back-end costs that really whack you.

    I got my first very-own cat for my 11th birthday. I had been pleading for a cat pretty much nonstop ever since I encountered the concept, and after five-ish years of begging, my parents were either softened up or worn down. I sealed the deal by returning from the grocery store one day having spent my allowance for the month on a plastic food dish and single can of cat food. "What’s that for?" my mom asked. "For the kitten I really, really, really want for my birthday next month," I answered.  Guess who got to go to the pound and pick out a birthday kitten?

    The adoption cost was about $50, if I recall right, and for the next decade Max didn’t cost a whole lot more than that. He went through about $5 of dry food a week, one $5 box of litter every two weeks, and a $150 vet appointment each year. Total annual ownership cost, roughly $400.

    Then Max got to be a middle-aged cat. That’s when the trouble started.

    Max stayed in Maryland while I went off to college, so my Dad is the one who really got stuck with the tab for my aging kitty, but I vividly recall Max getting the diagnosis of hyperthyroidism. It’s a very common condition for older cats — and the surgery to treat it costs about $2,000. Ouch.

    Max got the surgery, and lived almost three years more years before slipping away quietly in his sleep one night.

    Capital Expenditure on Cat: $2,000 / (365 x 3) = ROI on cat ….

    I can’t do the math. That’s the reason I’ve kept having cats, even though I know they will sporadically break and throw my budget out of whack — and will, less sporadically, claw my couch, throw up on my favorite sweater, wake me up at 4 a.m. by attacking my toes, bat fragile glass things off countertops, and in general act like a troublesome and problematic creatures.

    They’ll also purr, cuddle, stalk random bits of dust, and make me laugh at least once a day at their antics.

    As I type this, Kea is draped across a box of books trying to figure out how to thoroughly kill the computer cord peeking out from the box. It is clearly an enemy computer cord, and my toothless cat is committed to defending the household from its advances.

    I think that’s worth the occasional $650 bill.


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