Recent college graduates -- I want to have an intervention with you. If you were lucky enough to land an internship or job after college, then congrats! You're on cloud nine, being an adult, getting a paycheck (I hope), and probably either moving into own your place or thinking about it. And in between lamenting that your college years are over and trying not to get scammed by your new cable company, you probably have considered this phrase: "I want a pet!"
You probably shouldn't get one, though.
You might be thinking, "Cathy, are you serious right now?! You are a very proud cat lady who doesn't stop posting pictures of your two adorable cats on Facebook. Why do you want to stifle my happiness?!" It's not that adopting animals from animal shelters and humane societies is bad, but that in your excitement about being independent and adult and living in the real world, you might impulsively get a pet without taking into consideration the cons of pet ownership as a young college graduate.
Pets are expensive. I absolutely cannot stress this enough -- I had a cat growing up and thought this made me fully aware of the costs of pet ownership. In fact, I was dumb enough to adopt not one but TWO kittens while I was unemployed in the fall after I graduated college. I have savings, I said to myself, and these cats will bring me joy in my time of sadness about being jobless.
One, kittens and puppies and baby animals are exponentially more expensive than older animals (by older I mean a few years old, maybe 2-5 years old, as really old animals need more vet care and can be really expensive also). Not only do you have to pay whatever fee from the shelter, but also a huge pile of vet costs from vaccination, neutering, and any sickness that may arise courtesy of their sensitive little immune systems.
When I picked out my two kittens (Asher and Stella), they were both healthy (and adorable).
I came to pick them up a week later, and Asher had an upper respiratory infection. So here's what my vet bills/shelter bills looked like from day one:
Asher: $80 (microchip, collar, flea treatment, feline leukemia/AIDS shot, rabies shot, misc. taxes and fees)
Stella: $80 (microchip, collar, flea treatment, feline leukemia/AIDS shot, rabies shot, misc. taxes and fees)
Asher: $152.63 (neutering, after coupon from humane society that knocked $36 off the price)
Stella: $150 (can't find her invoice for being spayed, but we'll assume it cost about the same)
Both: $69 (got antibiotics for Asher's upper respiratory infection; antibiotics for Stella post-surgery; charged for seeing the vet)
$300 pet deposit per cat
So all told, in just the first week of having my kittens, they cost me $971.63, not including purchasing food, cat litter, food dishes, and some cat toys. It's safe to say that it was instantly a $1,000 investment from the start, though I eventually got the full $600 pet deposit back (thank goodness the landlord didn't see they had climbed the curtains and put lots of little baby kitten claw holes in them). Some apartments make you pay pet rent; some places make you pay a non-refundable pet deposit. So this was $500/cat.
And these are just the basic, mandatory fees I had to pay to adopt from the humane society. I had to have them microchipped and neutered through this humane society, and you could avoid those costs by getting a cat that is already fixed or by using other means (e.g. Craigslist) to get your cats. But you should still have them spayed/neutered and vaccinated.
I hadn't expected Asher to have an upper respiratory infection, and it turns out he is prone to them. These vet bills? The prices were LOW compared to the robbery committed by the vet hospitals in my current town, which has a higher cost of living. I found that out when I took Asher to the vet one evening because he wasn't eating and was coughing and wasn't destroying everything in my apartment per usual.
The bill: $277.10.
And then he got Stella sick.
The bill: $224.00.
So $501.10 down the drain later, I realized that my experience with a healthy cat who never needed to go to the vet was not universal. My cats get sick, and it's a lot of money to get them better. You can purchase pet insurance, but I still am convinced it'd be a waste for me and my cats. So now my tab is about $1,500, making it about $750 per cat. This doesn't include all the cat litter, cat food, and other things I've bought them. I've had them for almost two years, so if I bought two bags of cat food a month ($9 x 2 = $18) and only one big box of cat litter ($12) in the 20 months I've had them, that's $600. Did I mention their yearly shots and rabies certificates? That'll be another $254.15.
So these cats have cost me about $1,177 each, so personally that's $2,354. I also buy random things -- cleaner to clean up the massive amounts of cat vomit; scrub brushers to clean said vomit out of carpet; costs of replacing things that they've ruined through bodily function or by ripping things to pieces. Exhibit A:
I'd say I've spent at least $2,500 on them. Want to get them declawed so they don't tear your stuff to pieces? That'll cost a few hundred, too.
In discussing this topic with my boyfriend, he stressed that these are minimal expenditures and are even higher when it comes to dogs. Dogs' cost for vet visits, boarding, obedience training -- all much higher. He estimated that for his post-college dog, the costs were about $6,000. Though that included treatment for an illness, these are common costs that you have to take into consideration, especially if you get a puppy or a much older dog.
2. Apartment limitations
Pets severely limit you when apartment hunting. When I search for apartments on craigslist in my price range and limit the search to DC and have no pet restrictions, I get 790 results. That number plummets to 230 when I mark that cats need to be OK. It falls even further to 135 when I include dogs.
Landlords don't want to deal with pets, and if you're even looking to fill a room in a group house, roommates might restrict pets. Apartments that do allow pets are more expensive, and they often charge pet deposits or pet rent if you want to keep pets there. You also need to keep in mind how much room your pet needs when considering apartment size -- bigger apartments mean more money, but you can't be living in a studio apartment in the middle of the city with a Great Dane.
You are the caregiver of this pet, and you are making a years-long commitment to taking care of them. This commitment for cats means food, water, litterbox maintenance, and grooming. Let me tell you what's inconvenient -- having cat hair on EVERY SURFACE of my apartment. Get an apartment with carpet, at least it will suck in the cat hair and you can vacuum it up. Tumbleweeds of cat hair float around my fake hardwood floors because they just shed constantly.
But cats are more convenient than dogs. Cats are independent, and if need be, you could leave them alone for a couple of days with water and food and a clean litterbox and they'd get along fine. You can go out at night and not have to worry about them -- dogs are another story. You need to take dogs out to use the bathroom, you need to dedicate time to training them, and you need to board them if you're going to be gone (or find a dog-sitter) for longer than half a day.
As a college grad, a puppy especially can put a cramp in your social life. You have to be extremely responsible and calculate when the dog went out last, how long it can wait to use the bathroom again, and when you need to be home to let the dog out. My kittens have needed antibiotics several times, and they need to be administered every 12 hours on the dot -- something you have to keep in mind when making plans. And as kittens and puppies, they really can't be left alone for long periods of time. As a kitten, Asher once got stuck behind the refrigerator -- I can't imagine what would've happened if I were out at a bar when that happened.
In conclusion, adopting pets from animal shelters and humane societies is great -- don't get me wrong. But being a young college graduate, you need to seriously consider holding off on this commitment for a few years. Pets are very costly for someone who is just starting out, and there are lots of other adult costs you will be bombarded with post-graduation (rent, utilities, security deposits, car maintenance, college loans, insurance/cell phone if you haven't already been paying them, groceries, etc.).
Please, please, please think twice before jumping the gun on pet ownership. I love my cats dearly, but I make a lot of sacrifices that I didn't expect to make because of them. It's really tempting to be independent, on your own, and sometimes in a new city by yourself and think, "I should get a cat or a dog," but be ready for the financial responsibility, time commitment, and inconveniences that come with pet ownership.
On a happier note, cats are excellent mouse killers, and I want everyone to know that I do love my cats, despite the trouble they sometimes cause me.
But had someone told me then that in two years, I'd have spent $2,500 on them, I'd have thought a lot longer and harder about adopting them.