Our Approach To Affordable, Responsible Dog Care
Last week, Frugal Hound had her annual doggie wellness exam and vaccinations, which set us back $116. Far from bemoaning this expense, Mr. Frugalwoods and I were delighted to fork over the funds because it means Frugal Hound is a healthy and happy creature. Plus, we had the ever-entertaining experience of trying to get her to step up onto the scale at the vet’s.
Mind you, this dog is very tall and this scale is very small–it’s a raised platform that’s less than 2 inches off the ground–but every year, she is not having it. Shots? Fine. Exam? No problem. But step up on the death scale? Heck no. At each visit, the vet has to pick her up and hoist her on top of said scale (which, by the way, is covered with a soft pad) where she proceeds to tremble and quiver for reasons known only to her walnut-sized brain. She then gets a treat and all trauma is forgotten. It’s equal parts tragic and hilarious.
Much like coffee, seltzer, and quality produce, our dear little Frugal Hound is one of our joyful frugal luxuries. Yes, she’s a dog and yes, she’s sometimes stinky and yes, she requires money, but she’s worth every cent. Last year I calculated that she costs us $930.35 annually, and I think that’s probably a fairly accurate, if generous, estimate (I suspect she actually clocks in at a tad less).
Sure, it would be less expensive for us not to own her, but the gratification we receive from her presence far outstrips her doggie costs. Not to mention her practical use–I mean, who else could we dress up like a unicorn for Frugalwoods purposes? On a daily basis, Frugal Hound makes us laugh with her absurd antics, reduces our stress, gives us an excuse to get outside for a walk, and brings us closer as a family. It’s hard to stay mad or frustrated with this face looking up at you (see one hound face at right).
Frugal Hound is one of our emotional spending decisions and we’re fully aware that she’s technically a drain on our finances. But by that same metric, the impending Babywoods could also be categorized as a drain on our finances along with a plethora of other luxuries we relish around our frugal home (not to mention our home itself!).
Our goal isn’t to live the cheapest existence possible, our goal is to carve out a strategically thrifty life that’s optimized to permit spending on the things (including babies, hounds, seltzer, and coffee) that we value. For example, I’d much rather have Frugal Hound in my life than buy new clothes. The Hound makes me laugh on a daily basis; new clothes, conversely, would only serve to thwart my epic decluttering tirade and clothes buying ban. The trade-off is as simple as that. And, since we’re able to save 71%+ even with a Hound in tow, we’re pleased with our decision. The key, as in all frugal endeavors, is to carefully choose where and how we spend.
Through crafty strategery, it’s possible to partake in seemingly unfrugal things for surprisingly low dollar amounts. It’s all about employing frugal cleverness. And yes, puppy ownership is one of those things you can hack. Just like groceries, setting up a baby nursery, and having a car, there’s a cheap way to do it and an expensive way.
How We Frugalize Doggie Care, Maintenance, and Sundry Bits
1) Get a frugal dog.
It’s true, some dogs are just better at managing their money than others. You’ll see them at the dog park talking up index funds and showing off their purchased-on-Craigslist collars. But seriously, some pups are less expensive to acquire and maintain than others.
Adopting a hound, either through the Humane Society or another rescue organization (Frugal Hound came to us from the Greyhound Options rescue group) is a surefire way to start dog ownership off on a frugal foot. Rescued dogs are a great deal more economical than “new” dogs from breeders. As with most things in life, shopping used is the wisest option.
2) Temperament matters.
Another way to ensure lifelong frugal pet ownership is to thoughtfully consider the breed of dog that’ll best fit with your lifestyle. Ideally, you want to adopt a breed that’s habituated to the type of life you live. For example, since Mr. FW and I both work outside of the home 40+ hours per week, we knew we should get a dog that’d be content staying home alone during the day.
After extensive research, we learned that greyhounds are lazy, laid-back animals who will gladly snooze all day while you’re gone. Frugal Hound has unequivocally proven this true. When we first adopted her, we set up a webcam while we were at work to see how she handled being home alone–and, uh, let me tell you what, she slept so soundly that we had to wake her up when we got home. Ushering in a new bar for laziness, the dog barely changed positions all day…
Clearly, this is a breed that’s well adapted to the working parent family. Since Frugal Hound is basically a 60lb cat (who looks like a deer), we don’t need to pay for a dog walker or doggie day care. Plus, since we adopted Frugal Hound as an adult dog rescued from the racetrack, she didn’t require any pricey obedience classes or trainings. She came to us already knowing not to bark, jump on people, or bite. We really can’t take much credit for how polite she is, it’s just the way she was raised. And her calm demeanor gives us great peace of mind now that we’re about to welcome a baby into our lives–we know Frugal Hound will be patient, tolerant, and likely quite indifferent to Babywoods.
3) Consider the coat.
Grooming is another expense that thwarts many a would-be frugal dog owner. Our solution? Get a dog with scant grooming requirements. Frugal Hound’s limited fur coverage (poor thing is nearly bald on her underside) means that she has a grooming budget of $0.
Alternately if you have a canine with beauty needs, DIY it! The true frugal aficionado cuts their own hair already, so why not add your dog to your home spa day regime?
4) Insource all the things!
As consummate frugal insourcers (can we be “insorcerers“? yep, I’ve just decided we can), Mr. FW and I devised ways to conduct almost all of Frugal Hound’s care ourselves. No dog is entirely maintenance free, but it is possible to do their maintenance for free (oh wow, I’m on a terrible roll here… ). Here’s how we DIY hound care at Frugalwoods HQ:
Claws: hound claws should be trimmed to avoid scratching selves, others, and wood floors, so we use this cheap Dremel knockoff to file down her talons. Word to the wise: do this outside as hound nail dust gets everywhere. Our technique is to sit on either side of a standing Frugal Hound. Then, I hold her paw up and Mr. FW Dremels each nail using first the course sandpaper attachment and then the fine grit attachment.
- Fangs: hound fangs should be brushed regularly to avoid expensive trips to the doggie dentist. Brushing can’t entirely ward off cleanings (and we’ll likely need to have Frugal Hound’s teefs cleaned next year), but, it does allow us to space out her cleanings to once every four years as opposed to annually. We use this houndy toothpaste (human paste is not safe for dogs) and a regular human toothbrush (received for free from our human dentist). We also wear these latex gloves because, no matter how much we love her, we really don’t fancy getting dog spit all over our hands. Our technique is to both sit on her bed and have Mr. FW hold her mouth open while I get in there and brush. To add to the humor (and utility) of the session, I wear a headlamp so that I can see each tooth. It’s important to scrub ’em all. Someone should really take a video of us doing this because I’m sure we look patently ridiculous.
- Ears: hound ears should be cleaned in order to avoid hound ear infections. Frugal Hound’s ears are like gigantic sails into which all manner of debris flies. Seems like an inefficient ear design to me, but what do I know. I use regular human Q-tips to gently clean the dirt out of the outer regions of her ears. I don’t dig too deep so as not to harm her hound hearing.
Baths: hounds should be bathed occasionally in order to avoid stinkiness. Frugal Hound is, by nature, a pretty clean canine, but she gets musty smelling about every 6 months. And so, each spring and fall, we dunk poor FH in the tub. It’s a whole family affair of hilarity and hair, but we endure and are able to scrub her down in under 15 minutes (our record is 13 minutes. And yes, of course we time these things because we’re efficiency nerds!). We use this houndy shampoo (human shampoo is not good for hounds) and a no-skid bath mat, which enables her to get better traction in the tub. Our technique is for me to stand inside the tub with her and Mr. FW on the outside. This prevents her from ill-advisedly leaping out and also allows us to soap her up on both sides. Word to the wise: close the bathroom door first. The first time we attempted a hound bath, we failed to do this and ended up with a damp animal running around the house flinging water from her tail. After we scrub and rinse her, we lift her back out of the tub and towel her dry with two towels. She then goes and rubs herself on our one carpeted room for about an hour until she forgets all about the bath and resumes her usual routine of… snoozing all day. Since I’m aware this is her routine, I vacuum that room right before her baths.
- Brushing: hounds should be brushed periodically to remove dandruff and loose fur. We use this hound mitt on Frugal Hound since her fur is so short. She goes through a molting period every spring whereby she sheds a great quantity of fur and we need to brush her weekly. The rest of the year, brushing every once in awhile suits her just fine. Pro tip: only brush dogs outside. Fur. Goes. Everywhere.
5) Administer preventative medications.
As with humans, dogs do best with an ounce of preventative medicine. It’s far cheaper to avoid diseases than it is to treat them. Not to mention the fact that your dog depends on you to do what’s best for them. Frugal Hound gets a monthly heartworm prevention pill in her food bowl (which she inexplicably always eats first) as well as a monthly application of Frontline flea and tick prevention medication during the warmer months (no need to apply in the wintertime–all the bugs are frozen… as is the earth).
6) Adhere to annual vet exams.
In this same vein, taking your pup for a yearly check-up is a responsible course of action. Spending the nominal fee to ensure your dog is hale, hearty, and up to date on vaccines is crucial. Find a vet you’re comfortable with and commit to this annual ritual. This is not an area to frugalize or cut corners. When we assumed the responsibility of caring of Frugal Hound, we assumed the responsibility of taking her to the doctor every year.
7) Find frugal fido food.
In the interest of keeping Frugal Hound fit and healthy, we feed her grain-free kibble. We were purchasing Taste Of The Wild from Amazon (which is cheaper than fancier in-store options) until a reader clued us into the wonders of Costco’s generic version, called Nature’s Domain (thank you, Frugalwoods readers!). Turns out, Nature’s Domain contains nearly identical ingredients to Taste Of The Wild, but for a fraction of the cost. Frugal score! Whatever ingredients work best for your hound, see if you can find a thriftier generic version. Costco alone vends several different options.
8) Dog swapping.
This might be where we realize the largest margin of savings with ol’ Frugal Hound. Dog swapping is quite simple: we babysit other people’s dogs for free and they in turn babysit our dog for free. It’s a beautiful system. Hosting hounds at our house is fun and, we feel much more comfortable leaving Frugal Hound with friends than at a kennel.
Since we travel a fair amount, creating this network of hound sitters has been of tremendous value. In the past two months alone, we’ve babysat for two different dogs and left Frugal Hound with no less than three different friends. I shudder to think how much we’d be shelling out on kennel boarding for each of our trips. Plus, we’re delighted to help our friends out when they travel!
As with so many aspects of our uber frugal lives, there are quite a few tertiary benefits to managing hound care on the cheap. Through dog swapping, we’ve built a community of dog-loving friends. By insourcing her houndy maintenance, we’ve learned the skills associated with those tasks. Adopting a rescue dog means we’re giving a home to a hound-in-need. And by owning a dog who is well-adjusted to our lifestyle, we have a harmonious home and a happy hound. Enjoying these benefits beyond the mere monetary make frugal hound ownership just that much sweeter.