• Posts Tagged ‘pets’

    My One and Only

    by  • May 10, 2012 • Tagged:   • Comments

    Would You Declare Bankruptcy for This?

    Would You Declare Bankruptcy for This?

    My husband and share the same frugal-to-the-point-of-stupidity tendencies. We will skimp on nearly everything, and not always for the better (see: my recent bout of food poisoning in Spain, when we should have just headed to a clinic, but spent a morning slowly re-hydrating me instead). I can always go to him to validate my monetary decisions when it comes to miserly behavior, and he knows I similarly share his mindset.

    Except when it comes to our cat, Norman. While I might be happy to contemplate the necessity of a hospital visit while I am the person lying on the bed in the fetal position, slowly losing feeling in my limbs after seven hours of vomiting and wondering whether that’s reason enough to incur an international hospital bill, there is no cost too high for our cat. He is the light of our lives, the greatest purchase (i.e., donation to a shelter) we ever made, the most wonderful thing we could have done together. And if anything were to happen to him, we would pony up the cash like there was nothing to it.

    Compare our mindsets when it comes to spending money on ourselves:

    “Brad, don’t you think it’s time for a new pair of glasses, as you cannot see out of the ones you have?”

    “Ugh, the expense.”


    We have been incredibly fortunate (knocking on ALL THE WOOD) that nothing catastrophic has happened to him. But I know that if something were to happen, and our vet were to tell us a cost that might seem extreme, that cash would flow out of our emergency fund instantly. Part of this is a commitment I feel people should make when they adopt animals. Indeed, part of the reason we haven’t adopted a second cat is the knowledge that we would absolutely want to finance their health issues, and our concerns that while we might be able to do so with one cat, we may not with two.

    And part of it might be an inherited behavior. My family brought home a sweet, beautiful yellow Labrador when I was ten years old, and in her older years she developed diabetes. After using canine insulin on her for a few weeks, we realized she wasn’t responding, and the vet told us she would need human insulin. I watched my mother (who once had me drive myself to the emergency room at 3 AM, because she didn’t think the granite I had lodged in my eye precluded me from driving myself there) get down on her knees twice a day, and deliver the wildly expensive human insulin to my aging dog herself. “I can’t just let her DIE,” she would say, syringe in hand. “She’s our family.”

    I feel the same way about Norman. I once asked my husband if he would cry when Norman dies. “Oh,” he said, “I’ll cry like a baby.” And that kind of emotional attachment allows for a financial commitment I don’t mind making.

    What are your thoughts on expenses for pets?

    image: MowT

    Should you insure Fluffy and Spot?

    by  • July 8, 2010 • Tagged:   • Comments


    photo: theogeo

    When I posted a few weeks back about my cat’s sudden spate of vet bills, several people responded with questions about pet insurance. Is it worth it?

    Rarely. Here’s why.

    Matthew Amster-Burton just posted an excellent column at Mint explaining why some types of insurance are worth carrying and most aren’t. The short version: Insurance is a hedge against a gamble you can’t afford to lose. You need to insure your health, your house, your actions behind the wheel of a car, and — if you have others dependant on your income — your life.

    With almost everything else, the hit you’ll take if something goes wrong is manageable. Highly annoying, as I can attest from having our big-splurge LCD TV die the week after its standard warranty expired, but not financially devastating. You’ll do better over the long run socking away the money you would have spent on extended warranties, insurance, and the like and using that cash to cover the occasional debacles.

    But pet insurance is in a special category of rip-off, because the “coverage” you’re offered is almost always heavily stacked in the insurers’ favor.

    Here’s an example case. I checked the numbers on PurinaCare to insure Kea, our four-year-old American shorthair (and now toothless) mutt cat. You can pick your coverage level, so I ran the two most extreme scenarios: all-in coverage and catastrophe-only coverage.

    A plan covering only serious care (hospitalizations, surgery, illness and medications) with a $1,000 deductible would cost $18.49 per month in my state. Adding coverage for preventative care (annual exams, dental issues and vaccinations) would take the bill to $20.94 per month.  So, the lowest-cost case is $221.88 a year.

    Dropping the deducible to the lowest offered, $250, takes the monthly bill for the plan to $40. That’s a $480 annual bill.

    But then you hit the fine print. These policies carry a 20% co-insurance rate, meaning you’re still on the hook for 20% of any bill incurred. All pre-existing conditions are excluded. And then comes the big whammy, buried in the contract fine print:

    “Annual maximum – maximum allowable payment under this ‘Policy’ for all combined claims is limited to $20,000 per year.”

    I loathe back-end caps on insurance plans. To me, they instill a false sense of security: You’re covered, but only if things don’t get too catastrophic.

    Now, to be fair to Purina, $20,000 is at least a respectable sum. I haven’t heard of many vet bills getting that high. But it still means you’re not really insuring against all expenses: You’re covering yourself for 80% of the amount above your deductible and below $20,000.

    Kea’s bills for his dental adventure totaled $650. That wouldn’t have topped his deductible unless I’d picked the lowest deductible, *and* picked the plan that covers preventative care. If I had, Purina would pay $320, leaving me with a $330 bill.

    … but I’d also be paying $480 for the year for the insurance, meaning my total outlay would be $810, vs. the $650 I ended up paying. And I’d be paying that $480 every year, meaning my total insurance-premium outlay for a 15-year lifespan would be $7,200. Add in the deductible, and Kea’s total lifetime vet bills would have to exceed $11,000 for me to come out ahead.

    I checked the numbers on VPI Pet Insurance as well, another popular option. There, the annual cap is $9,000, unless you pay extra for the VPI Superior Plan, which caps at $14,000 annually. Adding “CareGuard” for routine coverage costs extra, and so does added cancer care; with those, I’d be looking at an annual bill of $429 — for a plan that excludes “hereditary conditions” (ie, “all the things most likely to mess up Fido”) and came with so many other caveats and exclusions I totally lost track.

    Pet insurance can pay off, of course. Sometimes the dice comes up all sixes.
    A friend of mine got whopped with a $10,000 vet bill last year for his two-year-old cat’s sudden kidney crisis; a plan like Purina’s would have offset a bit chunk of that.

    But most people with pets don’t have just one; David and I have had three cats in the decade we’ve been together. (One we lost last year, heartbreakingly young, to a sudden lung cancer. Total vet bills incurred in her nine-year life, including the final round: about $2,500.) Any one of our critters could suffer a nasty and expensive health crisis. But the odds are good that I’m better off skipping the $960 a year it would cost to insure my two current cats and instead absorbing the occasional, larger bill.

    You can make that argument about most forms of insurance, of course. I’ve been paying $1,500 or so a year for health insurance for 12 years now, and in that time I’ve never used $1,500 worth of medical services within the year. So why am I happy to keep paying my premiums each month instead of socking away an $18,000 buffer against future catastrophe?

    Because if my cat gets cancer, I’m looking at a $2,000 to $15,000 bill. If *I* get cancer, I’m looking at a bill that could easily pass half a million dollars

    That’s why I buy insurance for me and David, and skip it for the feline family members.

    Love for sale, please bring $$$$

    by  • June 14, 2010 • Tagged: ,  • Comments


    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.

    Our $84 show poodle

    by  • February 1, 2006 • Tagged:   • Comments

    We have two cats. They were a bargain at the local shelter, $55 each and they arrived spayed and microchipped. One of them, we’ll call her “Snowball” is a mostly Persian mutt. She’s a pretty, fluffy white cat. She and I get along great, whereas He gets along better with our other cat, a brown tabby. Snowball has textured fur that mattes easily and she exacerbates the problem by rolling around and getting her fur all knotted. I groom her every night but over time, the mattes accumulate and become unmanageable. So recently we took both cats to the vet and had them shave Snowballs’ belly. They didn’t feel qualified to do a full-blown cat shaving, so they recommended a local groomer. It took a few weeks to get an apointment with the groomer so by the time we brought Snowball in, it was bad news mattes. We were going for functionality: we just wanted a naked cat at the end of the day. So a few hours later we picked up Snowball in her crate, paid $84, and took the traumatized cat home.

    Then we let her out and got our first good look at her.

    In addition to shaving most of her fur, the groomer also went crazy with what little fur Snowball had let. Our cat is now sporting the “Del Rio haircut” which consists of a lion mane, two pair of little Ugg boots, and nothing else. The best part was the fluffy bow around her neck. She looks like a freaking show poodle! It’s humiliating, for her and for us. There’s no way we can have friends over until the fur grows back. It looks like we wanted her to look like that!

    I can’t believe we paid $84 to make our $55 cat look like a poodle.