Enterprise Story: Friendly Neighborhood Pet Owners Lacking in Funds, Not Love!

By Chelsea Bishop

Dante has a soft, short honey-colored coat and trusting amber eyes. He is sweet natured, loving and well behaved – the definition of a good dog. Unfortunately, Dante can be pretty expensive, and the costs have been affecting his owners more since the recession.

Zamojski and Dante

Ben Zamojski, Dante’s owner, says that he and his partner Aaron got the dog when he was 6 months old, after he’d been abused by his previous owners. Due to this, aside from the usual visits to the vet, Dante takes antidepressants, which cost $50 per month. Dante also is allergic to chicken meal, which means he requires special dog food made with fish that costs about $45 every two weeks. “It gives him great breath,” Zamojski says, shaking his head to show that he’s kidding without offending the very sensitive Dante, who is currently nuzzling his feet. “And it makes his coat shiny.”

“We’ve never sent Dante to a professional trainer,” Zamojski says, “but he can do all the basic things, like sit, stay, and shake.”

By the end of each of the two and a half years that they’ve had Dante, Zamojski estimates they’ve spent about $4,000 on him. “Aaron and I have researched cheaper foods but we’re afraid to switch because we know it could cause problems.” Instead of spending less on Dante, Zamojski says, “We just cut back on our own stuff!”

Dante is a central part of his owners’ lives and they would never consider giving him less than high quality care, even if it means sacrificing some luxuries for themselves.

Zamojski is only one of many loving pet owners in Eugene’s Friendly neighborhood who are finding that the costs of properly caring for their animal is putting a financial strain on their personal lives. And while not many owners would consider cutting costs in areas that would affect the health of their pet, many are reconsidering certain pet extravagancies.

In a 2008 survey by Fleishman-Hillard International Communications, it was discovered that the majority of pet owners would sooner cut back on not only luxury goods, but groceries as well, before they would consider spending less on pet supplies. This same survey also found that if owners had to cut back on spending money on their pets, the first things to go would be pet fashions and professional pet care, while the last would be medication and visits to the vet.

This bodes well for the canine and feline pals of Friendly neighborhood members. In the American Pet Products Association’s (APPA) 2009 survey of pet owners, it was found that owners’ spending on pets has actually been increasing during the recession. While Dante hasn’t seen a professional dog trainer, many owners are still paying for this pet service. In fact, the APPA survey reported an increase of $2.3 billion in all realms of spending on pets – grooming, boarding, supplies – from 2008 to 2009.

And these numbers are expected to further increase by 5 percent this year.

Many are still determined to embark on the journey of owning a new pet during this time even though money is tight.

One Friendly canine resident who is benefiting from this, Riley, is a rambunctious dark gray pug puppy who will run right up to just about anyone and jump all over them. Luckily, his small size makes this a relatively harmless activity. His owners, Keith Sechrist and Iris Young, apologize for his behavior. It’s a funny match, considering the couple seems to be quiet and mild-mannered.

Riley

“We got him when he was 8 weeks old, and we’ve only had him since December,” Sechrist says. “It took us a while to be able to afford getting him.” They both note that having a dog adds to the financial pressure already heightened by the recession. According to Sechrist, having a professional trainer is “definitely out of the realm of affordability.”

They do, however, feed Riley organic food, which makes the puppy more expensive. But the couple has a trick: Sechrist’s parents make their own natural, healthy dog food, and they use that. So unlike Dante, Riley only ends up costing his owners $15 to $20 in food each month.

“But then of course there are shots, and he’s not quite neutered yet,” Young says. “Since we got him, I’d say we’ve spent $600 total, probably $100 or $200 per month.”

Sechrist and Young try their best to cut costs by doing things like using clinics instead of veterinarians, but there’s no way to completely avoid the price of having a pet. And both of them seem to be okay with that; it’s obvious that they aren’t letting Riley go any time soon.

Kathy Fioretti, who works at the Mini Pet Mart located on Willamette, says, “People aren’t giving up on their pets just yet.” According to Fioretti, South Eugene is a wealthier area so its residents tend to have more money to spend.

Fioretti

She says the store has still been doing well. “There hasn’t been much of a financial difference since the recession.”

The Healthy Pet, a pet supplies store located on Friendly St. that offers all natural and organic products, hasn’t noticed a big drop in sales either. Angela Howard, an employee, says that customers have stayed pretty loyal to the store even during times of financial difficulties. “They might cut back on how much they buy but not what they buy.”

Organic food does cost more, and Howard thinks that this may cause some customers to shy away from The Healthy Pet if they’re short on cash. But she believes the price is worth it and may even end up costing less over time. “Customers pay the higher prices up front to avoid more expensive health issues in the long run.”

Luckily, The Healthy Pet hasn’t had to raise its prices any more in the face of financial difficulties. Howard says only the price of food with salmon in it has been raised due to issues with availability.

Howard firmly believes that a healthy diet is the best thing for a pet. As an example, she discusses her boyfriend’s Persian cat Caesar, who had respiratory issues and was always sneezing. “Once I threw out the Friskies and started feeding him high quality food, all that cleared right up.”

Fioretti, the owner of a long list of unconventional pets (a list that includes 17 snakes and a pot-bellied pig), says that in terms of dogs and cats, owners should do two separate but equally important things: for dogs, keeping up on dental care is a must; for cats, a diet containing low ash food is very important.

Sadly, not all pets are having the good luck that Dante, Riley, and Fioretti’s reptilian buddies are, because not all owners can afford to provide their pets with the care that Howard and Fioretti recommend.

The Oregon Outback Humane Society’s 2008 Annual Report says the organization took in 117 homeless and abandoned animals that year, and it was predicted in an NPR article that 2009 would see that number get much higher.

But in the Friendly neighborhood, at least, pets and the businesses that cater to them aren’t feeling too much of a strain from the troubled economy.

Zamojski laughs as Dante tries to chase after a passing Dachshund. “He wants to eat that little dog!” Fortunately, Zamojski seems to love his dog too much to let his nutritional diet go by the wayside, so Dante probably won’t have to resort to eating the Dachshund.

***

(Some information in the following two sidebars has been adapted from ASPCA.org, HealthyPet.com, and HumaneSociety.org.)

SIDEBAR #1

How Much Is Your Pet Costing You?

We all know that the rewards having a pet can bring are worth the price of taking care of them. But are you spending more than you need to? Find out by taking this quiz!

1. Do you feed your pet wet or dry food?

a. Wet                          b. Dry

c. It varies

2. How often do you take your pet to get professionally groomed?

a. Once a week            c. Once a year

b. Once a month

3. How often does your pet see a professional trainer?

a. Daily                        c. Never

b. Weekly

4. How often do you take your pet to a veterinarian or clinic?

a. About once a           c. Only if something

month                          seems wrong

b. Once a year

4. How much do you spend on your pet per month, on average?

a. $200 or more           c. $50 or less

b. Around $100

5. Do you buy your pet accessories such as clothes and designer collars?

a. Never                       c. Always

b. Sometimes

Answers

Mostly A’s: You could definitely afford to tone it down a notch. Pets don’t need to be showered with expensive services and gifts to know that they’re loved. Unless your pet has chronic problems that require special care, a trip to the vet every four weeks is overkill. And you can get a perfectly good leash or collar for under $20!

Mostly B’s: You seem to have a good handle on the balance between too much and not enough. You realize that your pet needs more attention than possessions, and always give it what it needs.

Mostly C’s: You’re definitely doing well in the money-saving department, but if possible, it may be a good idea to loosen the purse strings a bit. Especially in terms of visits to the vet – there can be something wrong even if there are no symptoms, which is why it’s a good idea to have a yearly visit to the vet.

SIDEBAR #2

5 Ways to Spend Less

Try out the following suggestions in order to save money without sacrificing your pet’s health or happiness.

1. Make brushing your animal’s hair a weekly or daily ritual (depending on the type of dog – generally, the silkier your animal’s hair, the more maintenance it requires) in order to avoid the price of a professional groomer.

2. Don’t feed your pet too many snacks in between meals – it can cause them to gain weight, and you’ll save money by saving food! Establish a feeding routine. Most grown dogs and cats only need to be fed twice a day.

3. Forget about paying a professional dog walker – walking your dog yourself is great exercise for you and a great bonding experience for you and your canine pal!

4. Consider buying dry food – it’s less expensive and can provide the same nutritional value as wet food, especially when accompanied with lots of water (one of the key ingredients to a healthy diet that’s missing from dry food).

5. When you go out of town, leave your pet with a trustworthy, animal-loving friend as opposed to paying for a pet motel.

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