The Rising Cost of Companionship

ASHLEY SMITH • Times-News Nicole Giles, of Twin Falls Veterinary Clinic & Hospital, brings Woodstock, a three-year-old mix breed dog, into a room Monday for a physical.

If Wall Street protesters ever figure out how much is spent on pets, their next protest may be on the edge of the doghouse.

For as cute as Fido or Fluffy may be, they also demand a variety of services that show no sign of getting any cheaper. A recent report from the American Pet Products Association shows that Americans are expected to spend $50 billion on their pets by the end of the year. The amount spent has steadily increased over the past 10 years, with a 5 percent increase from last year.

Mounting pet costs come at a time when many pets are being abandoned and left in the streets. In south-central Idaho, it’s not uncommon to find shelters filled to capacity with abandoned animals.

“Really, it’s the lucky ones getting pampered,” said Debbie Blackwood, director of the Twin Falls Animal Shelter. “It’s alarming the number of owners getting rid of their animals.”

Blackwood said her shelter is filled with abandoned pets that are in need of expensive medical services or high-maintenance grooming. And as more people recover from the recession, she’s also seeing more people ditch their pets because they can no longer afford to feed them.

“A lot of people would love to own a pet but they are completely overwhelmed at how to pay for everything when things get hard,” she said.

Americans may be spending more on their animals because pet health care services are also climbing. The APPA report shows that the average surgical vet visit for a dog costs owners $410 and the regular vet visit costs close to $250.

Dr. Zsigmond Szanto of Twin Falls Veterinary Clinic & Hospital says he sees clients traveling from Boise and Salt Lake City to his office in hopes of finding a better deal.

As pet medical researchers require more money to fund their projects, vet supply companies are required to raise their prices. Veterinarian offices must then pay higher amounts to fill their supply closets and in turn, charge their clients higher rates.

“We may not charge the same as Boise does but we have to pay the same price for the same supplies,” he said. “We’ve been lucky to not raise our rates lately.”

And while payment plans can be an option for some, Szanto says that it’s unrealistic to pretend the vet’s office is similar to a bank.

“Payment plans are tricky,” he said. “We understand emergency situations, but our margin is so small that we can’t give out loans to everyone.”

However, as costs continue to climb, it appears that Americans will continue to spend large amounts on their pets.

“Pet lovers will find the money, they will do whatever it takes because it’s a family member,” Blackwood said. “That’s what you do, sometimes that means you don’t have Christmas but it means you have your family.”

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