Their faces were hard to resist. However, its costs – with offices reopening and travel and entertainment options – are leading to some financial delayed shocks.
Pets offered solace to isolated Americans during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. American consumers bought about 47 million of them in 2020, according to VitusVet, which provides services to veterinarians. 10 million of those were dogs.
When much of the workforce was away, keeping a new pet was fairly easy and cheap. Who needed daily dog care when every day was a day at home?
But with offices reopening and travel reviving, pet owners say their expenses are rising sharply, approaching the amounts some people might pay for their (human) rent. While few admit to regretting their purchases, many say they are readjusting their budgets to accommodate the high price of pet ownership.
Josephine Hendricks, 38, a literacy coach who lives in Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood, is one of the pet owners. Last year, she bought Bowie, a seven-month-old sheep. (This is a cross between an Old English Sheepdog and a Poodle.)
“We knew living in New York would be a bonus, and we thought owning a dog would be no exception,” she says.
Ms. Hendricks estimates that she and her husband now spend about $800 a month on daily dog care alone. That’s in addition to vet visits (at least $100 each time), food ($120 for delivery per month), and games ($26 per month for a BarkBox subscription).
Ms. Hendrix also spent about $400 replacing Boy crates as he outgrows them, another $350 for a recent emergency vet visit and $400 for his latest bout of Giardia, a parasite that pups can contract. (Boy is fine now).
The added expenditures are not life changing but have encouraged spouses to rethink public spending.
“Day care is definitely twice the price of a dog walker, we’ve done the math,” Hendricks says. “But we also thought that daycare was twice the benefit a puppy gets from socialization.”
She and her husband cut back on eating out and shopping at expensive delis. They also now park their car on the street instead of paying for the garage.
For people who don’t own dogs, this may seem like an important lifestyle change. But pet industry executives and analysts say it represents a shift in the way people think about animal ownership.
According to Jeffrey Simmons, CEO of Elanco Animal Health, more than 75 percent of Millennials and Generation Z consumers “believe their pets are an integral part of the family.” As such, they have increased their expectations about the care needed for their pets and are willing to make sacrifices.
In a survey conducted by Realtor.com, about 75 percent of home buyers who have pets said they would miss out on an ideal property if it wasn’t suitable for their animal companions.
Sarah Mugen, 34, a software developer living in Brooklyn Heights, has found that in a reopening economy, she has to make some new sacrifices for her dog, Julian, a Chihuahua.
Currently, Julian could stand apart from his owner for about two hours.
“We could probably build that, but that’s where it is now,” Mugen says.
This means she has to put him in the nursery when she goes to her office. Her company doesn’t ask her to go back to the office but she enjoys going three days a week to see her colleagues and separating her work life from her home life.
Mugen estimates that she spends about $600 a month on Julian’s daycare, with each day costing about $50.
“It’s definitely more expensive for me to go back to the office,” she says.
Then there’s pet insurance for $50 a month, $15 for a manicure every four weeks, and $140 for six months of flea and tick medication, along with food, toys, and vet visits.
Once, she had to rush Julian to the vet because he couldn’t stop vomiting (he has since recovered), and the bill was $791. Pet insurance reimbursed $482, but that left her with an unexpected $309 cost.
“It’s definitely worth it, and I love it so much,” Mugen says. “I look at him and I feel so happy. He has this cute little trot when we walk.”
A survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association in June found that spending on pets has increased overall since the pandemic began. About 35 percent of pet owners in the United States said they spent more money on their pets in the past 12 months than in the previous year.
Pet grooming companies have been a big beneficiary of this spending.
At the Pups & Pals Pet Lounge in Austin, Texas, the phone rings at least 10 times a day with calls from potential new customers, according to DeDe Lally, the owner of the two sites.
“We have 250 names on our waiting list at each site, for a total of 500 names who are not our customers but want to be,” she says. “It’s exploding now.”
At Animal Loving Care in Brooklyn, the waiting list is 70 pets, according to Adrienne Preuss, owner.
“We are a much smaller daycare facility,” Breus says. “We’re at the limit every day.”
It’s a similar story across town at Harlem Doggie Day Spa, where owner Brian Taylor says business is growing and dog owners seem to want care three to five days a week, consistent with office attendance in the new hybrid world of work.
“I struggle to find new employees,” Taylor says.
The search for employment is one of the ways in which the pet care industry is affected by the general pressures on the recovering economy.
While supply chain disruptions have led to shortages of everything from furniture to golf clubs, the pet food supply is also under pressure, according to Dana Brooks, president and CEO of the Pet Food Institute.
The average dog owner spent $287 on food last year, up from $259 in 2018, according to the most recent survey by the American Pet Products Association.
Despite the costs, Hendrix has no regrets about buying Bowie. She would buy another dog if her builder allowed it.
“I’m really wondering if we can clone it,” she says.
Updated: November 25, 2021, 5:06 am