The dogs among us| OPINION

We’ve owned dogs. The last was a Cock-a-peke-a-poo our kids selected at an animal shelter, lo, those many years ago. And as usually happens, the kids grew up and moved on while the dog stayed. The little guy was a mutt, but such an affectionate mutt that “Mutt” wouldn’t do for a name, so we called him Mutty.

He was irreplaceable. When talking with him, he’d answer by masticating musical growls into syllables. “Hi, Mutty, what’s happening?” Ever responsive, he’d say, “Groo-wow-arrr-owr,” and thinking that needed explaining, he’d take a breath and continue, “ooohr-owee-uhh.” He kept guests in stitches by trading comments with them for minutes at a time. How do you replace a dog like that? It’s impossible. Fifteen years later we still have a rug named Mutty’s Bed and a plastic bowl known as Mutty’s Dish.

But now we find ourselves surrounded by neighbor-dogs and, of course, their owners. When we became condo-dwellers we had no idea that so many empty-nesters were turning to dogs to replace that measure of company one loses in retirement. These particular animals are scaled somewhat smaller than the dogs of suburbia, running about a third of a dog tall by three-eighths of a dog long. There are a few yappy sopranos among them but the condo-developer was big on sound-proofing and even those seem to quiet down when outside tugging at leashes.

Much has been written about tiny dogs being snappy and yappy but we haven’t experienced that here — with one notable exception. When I stooped to give a neighbor’s Scottie a sniff of my hand, he had it for lunch. Five punctures and a tear. That owner allowed two more unsuspecting residents to offer hands and the Scottie, having enjoyed the flavor of mine, went to work on them. Needless to say, the neighborhood wasn’t happy. The point of this story is to illustrate how far dog-owners will sometimes go for a pet. Rather than part with the nasty little beast, that owner packed up and moved.

Like the Scottie, most of the neighbor-dogs are high-bred beasts. After checking puppy prices it became clear that the most humble probably set its owner back something north of $600 and a few others likely topped $2,000. They visit doctors and groomers at least as often as their masters. If these owners fit a seasonal study, they dropped an average of $46 on Christmas presents for each pet as expression of material affection beyond throwing-sticks or balls of yarn. This season’s total receipts for chew-toys, pet beds, scratching posts, gourmet snacks and what have you totaled three quarters of a billion dollars.

Some people gave puppies for Christmas, which isn’t always a good idea. For starters, people bond better with pets if they have a hand in choosing them. This is important because it can have something to do with one’s enthusiasm for picking up steaming piles of doggy-do. If not careful thought out, puppy-givers can end up in charge of their well-meaning gifts.

Small puppies arrive in twos or threes at most while big dogs routinely crank out litters of eight or more. It’s interesting that the two most popular breeds, the Yorkie and the Lab, are near opposite poles of the size spectrum. While prolific Lab puppies are relatively cheap, Yorkies and other toy-breeds that deliver only one or two pups per litter, sell for upwards of $2,000, which makes them a top target for dog-nappers.

Of course there are other considerations than price. Certain breeds are rated as the most gaseous, the biggest droolers and the clumsiest. Since those are big-dog distinctions, our development’s hamster-sized population largely escapes those particular defects. But toy breeds often compensate by displaying a Napoleon complex. They try to rule their “masters” and it’s surprising how many owners let that happen.

Suppose you want a dog in your life but you have to do it on a budget. To own a lovable little mutt like Mutty, you’ll shell out about $100 to the shelter, $5-$7 per month for food and the usual kit of stuff that includes leash, collar, bowls, crate, and tags that can run upwards of $100. A yearly stop at the vet for a check-up and booster shots can cost another $130. Grooming runs as much or as little as one can afford.

One high-spender said owners should plan to spend $1,000 during a pup’s first year of life. He went on to recommend setting aside another $1,000 for pet emergencies and at least $250 for obedience classes. Really big expenses come when one’s love for a pet bumps into canine health issues or injuries. Potential costs in the range of $3,000 for pet Chemo and $1,500 for an MRI drive some owners to purchase health insurance. So far, only 3 percent of all dogs are covered at premiums ranging between $20 and $90 per month.

It’s a new world out there, not like the old days when kids sold mongrel puppies from cardboard boxes in front of Safeway and Dad dispatched ailing pets with his 22 behind the barn.

Comments may be addressed to robertgraef@comcast.net.


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