If you visit one of the animal glossary websites – dogbreedsource.com is a good one – the first thing you're likely to notice is the differences between one breed and another. It just doesn't seem like Chihuahuas and Mastiffs have anything in common, let alone that they share their ancestors.
Oddly enough, the same can be said about pet owners. At first glance, they can seem widely different. The stereotypical little old lady and her cat is one sort of pet owner, the football player and his Am Staff is another. But put those aside, and you'll find that most hip urban dwellers today have cats – although there are bastions of dog ownership within those city environments as well, like NYC's upper east side, and the Cambridge section of Boston. Can we quantify the average pet owner today?
Looking at research done by pet food manufacturers, trade associations, marketing mavens and animal organizations, the average pet owner is 43 years old. Now let's remember that average is about finding the middle ground. Every other pet owner is younger or older than that!
There are as many different pet owners as there are reasons to own a pet. Many seniors own pets to stave off loneliness and isolation in their later years. Families with young children often purchase pets to grow along with the kids. Singles face loneliness too, and many businesses rely on animals for security. Hunters use dogs and most are house pets between outings. Ranches and farms rely on dogs to protect livestock, and on cats to keep grains free of vermin. The model draped in her pet boa constrictor has little in common with either – and yet they all share one common ground: they prefer to share their home and their life with an animal they love.
(We'll talk about exotics elsewhere; here, we're discussing the costs of purchasing dogs and cats.)
Cost of ownership
Once you've decided to add a dog to your family, what will it cost? Basically, there are three different price categories: pound/rescue, breeder pets and show dogs.
Nationally, pound fees currently hover at an average of $70. Seasonal promotions often will halve the amount; donations or grants may provide bonus items with each adoption (free food or leashes, for example). Animal rescue groups may be breed specific (Samoyed Rescue) or general (Cold Wet Noses) tend to start there and run up to approximately $300.
Who's the buyer?
The broadest assortment of people fall into this category of pet purchases. They range from folks desirous of an expensive purebred without the price tag to green-minded humanitarians who want to ‘recycle' a pet that's become homeless. Young families and senior citizens are both part of this category too. Breed-specific rescues are usually at the higher end of the price range. Their clients include those who are already owners and aficionados of the breed who want to expand their family.
"After my Samoyed passed away, I knew I wanted another one. Getting my next one through the breed rescue seemed like the right thing to do in her memory," says Mark Smith, an insurance claims director. Living in the greater Philadelphia area, he found Samoyed Rescue had a local chapter and soon was introduced to a dog he adopted. They had several Samoyeds being fostered by different people, Smith recalls, "But something just clicked when I met Seamus."
Next price category, the animals for sale as pets by reputable breeders. These usually start at $300 and top off around $1,500 for rare breeds.
These animals are usually from top blood lines, but have some minor deviation from the breed standard that makes them unsuitable for showing. These are usually aesthetic and harmless, like a Saint Bernard with only half a mask. At the lower end of the price range, hardy breeds are readily available in all regions. At the top of the price range, rarer pets – not as well-represented nationally, or those in need of artificial insemination to reproduce, are examples you can find.
"I'd wanted a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel for quite some time, but they were just out of my price range until one of the breeder's I'd visited contacted me about a puppy with what she considered a fault – Buttons has smaller, more almond-shaped eyes than most of these Spaniels do. That was enough for the breeder to consider her a pet only, and that meant a price I could afford," says Brandi Young, who runs a variety shop in Encinitas, California.
For many, these pets are truly ideal. They are the top quality, professionally bred animals most of us desire. What flaws they have are cosmetic only, and all but invisible to the untrained eye. As most pet owners will never become breeders themselves, having a pet with a slight fault has no genetic implications of any kind.
Having Championship bloodlines without the price tag make this the pet choice of many individuals who desire the best at a bargain price.
Show dog pricing begins where the others leave off, and with good reason. All of the professional's expertise and commitment goes into producing litters that exemplify the perfection of the breed. The perfect combinations of form, color, stance and attitude have all joined to create the newest generation – and that generation, whether pups or kittens, is available to join the right families, for a price.
For discerning individuals, there is really no other way to go. If you are driving the car of your dreams, living in the home of your dreams, chances are you will want the very best of the breeder's offerings for your new companion.
Possessing the ultimate is never cheap, and animals are no exception. Millions of dollars change hands when the right dam and sire reproduce, whether horses or dogs, cats or koi.
"The Pet Economy" Bloomberg Business Week, August 2007, by Diane Brady and Christopher Palmeri
"The Economics of Pet Ownership", by James E. McWhinney, August 2009, Investopedia
"Investors, make the most of a dog's world" by Jon Markman, MSN Money, January 2007