Dog Ownership is Optional – and Wonderful

Recently, Mr. Money Mustache, a guy who wrote the book on FIRE, wrote a post about dog ownership. In the title, he rightly stated that dog ownership is optional.  My impression of the post itself, though, was that there was a deeper dislike of pets (and dogs in particular) at work.  The topic diverged from whether pet ownership was fiscally responsible into whether or not dogs were unsanitary, or annoying, or useless.  This set off a lot of strong reactions in the comments from both dog lovers and dog haters.  Both sides accused one another of being dispassionate monsters, and little common ground was found.

Anyone who has been paying attention to this blog knows where I come down on the issue of pet ownership.  Though I’m often looking for ways to minimize pet care costs, I am willing and able to spend money enriching, and if necessary, saving, the lives of my dogs.

Almost exactly a year ago, my dog died of a particularly nasty form of cancer.  He was fine one day, and the next day he was gone.  I didn’t have an opportunity to treat him to extra walks, or car rides, or junk food, or anything else.  He was just gone.  I’ve gone through the loss of human family, close friends, and seen unimaginable tragedy in employment as a first responder, but that day was one of the hardest of my life.  I wrote this note to our friends on that day.

SputnikTonight we said goodbye to our friend Sputnik. He became very sick very quickly today and the tests revealed internal bleeding and multiple tumors. We tried to take the only medical option available to us, a very aggressive surgery, but the pre-operative tests revealed that his cancer had progressed too far for it to buy him much, if any, time. In the end, we just couldn’t find a way to buy Sputnik any more days.

 

While we were trying desperately to find what was wrong today, we learned that before we adopted him, someone had shot Sputnik with a BB gun, and that the BB was embedded in his shoulder. In our hearts, we had always known that Sputnik had experienced hard times. When we adopted him, he was always frightened, and took such a long time to become comfortable at home. When he did, though, he became my fast friend and constant companion. He would sit beside me for hours as I would work, just waiting for me to pat him on the head.

 

Sputnik loved french fries, and the only trick he ever managed to learn was “gentle,” our way of telling him not to take our fingers off when snatching food from our hands. I know now that gentle was actually at the heart of him. He was a gentle, loving, faithful friend. He deserved a better and longer life than the one he got, but nothing extinguished his gentle spirit.

 

On the way back to the hospital to say goodbye, we stopped and picked up McDonald’s fries. We took him for a walk in the sun, let him sniff everything and anything, and let him eat every last fry. When I gave him the very last one, I began to cry because in life, there simply aren’t ever as many fries as you need to say I love you, and to say goodbye. Never enough fries.

 

The vet helped us to let him go and waited as we said the same things over and over– that he was a good boy, a gentle boy– that we loved him forever and that he was my true friend.

 

My friend, wherever you are, I hope that there are endless vats of fries, kind and patient pats on the head, scratches behind the ears, and infinite smells to chase and enjoy. If there is any justice in the universe and an afterlife exists, mine will be the heaven of dogs, and we will walk and chase and destroy the trash can, forever, together.

So here was this dog– neither particularly helpful, nor useful, nor even terribly talented at the usual sort of silly tricks we teach animals. He knocked over the garbage can and dragged whole bags of trash into our bedroom while we were at work.  He howled along with fire trucks when they rocketed past our home.

And yet, I loved him to the point that when I was presented with the cost of the emergency surgery (north of $5,000), I didn’t flinch.  “Do it,” I said, “what’s money for, if not for this?”

I said those words with no particular poetic goal, but I’ve thought about them a great many times since then.  We didn’t end up paying for the surgery, as it was already far too late. Still, if I was presented with the same bill again today for one of our other dogs, I would pay it with pride.  Moreover, it was our adherence to principles of minimalism and frugality that gave us the ability to make that choice– the choice to put life and love and happiness first.

If the argument is that those who cannot afford to take care of themselves or their families should not have dogs, we are in violent agreement.  I, like so many others, am offended by those who own a pet and then fail to care for it responsibly.  If the argument is that nobody should own a dog because they serve no purpose for the great majority of people, then Mr. MM and I will have to disagree.

There are some things that transcend our ability to quantify, and love is chief among them.

I commented to that effect on MMM, but I think it bears repeating here:  I am so improved as a human being for having owned my dogs.  I am reminded daily to show compassion, and patience, and unconditional love to others.  I am reminded to forgive when I am hurt, and that life is far too short to carry a grudge.

How do you forgo that kind of radical self-improvement in favor of a higher savings rate?  We make more than enough money to retire in just a few more short years, and we provide for our all of our pet’s needs besides.  I just know that I would be far less than I am if I got there faster, but without having known my dogs.

Maybe it’s a cat for you.  Maybe it’s a horse.  Maybe it’s a rabbit or a rat or a tarantula.  If you love your pet, if you are a better person because you took on the challenge of caring for them, and if you can afford both to care for them and yourself, then you are just fine in my book.

I still love Mr. Money Mustache, and his article won’t stop me from reading his posts.  I think he’s genius, and has done so much good for others. Reasonable people can disagree, and on this one issue we do.  MMM seems like a fine person whatever his feelings about dogs may be– but maybe a guy like me needs a little more help, and I’m thankful my dogs are there to give it.

If you enjoyed this post, it would mean the world to me if you would share it with your friends on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, or other social media.  I know, I’m not the kind of guy who usually does it either– but maybe you’ll make an exception just this once if any part of this rings true for you.

6 thoughts on “Dog Ownership is Optional – and Wonderful

  1. Freedom35

    Great post. Your note about Sputnik is moving. Just thinking about the thought of losing our dog is sad.

    There’s a saying along the lines of “One day I hope to be half as good a person as my dog thinks I am”. That motivation to be a better person is priceless.

    1. The Vagabond Post author

      Thanks a lot. Mr. MM’s post came right at the one year mark, so I’ve been ruminating on it for a few days. You’re so right- I wake every day and try to “be more dog.” 🙂

  2. Our Next Life

    My heart goes out to you for poor Sputnik, but thank goodness he didn’t suffer long. We lost the dog earlier this year who was my soulmate dog, and I still miss her every day.

    Completely agree with every point here. We love our dogs and think they’re worth every penny. Of course, we don’t buy them lots of new “dog swag,” or otherwise waste money on things they have no interest in. They have simple beds and a modest number of toys, eat high quality but not crazy expensive food, and don’t get taken to the vet for every little thing. We wait to see if it will pass, and 99% of the time they’re back to themselves the next day. It’s easy to waste money on pets, but it’s also easy to be frugal with them. That said, our dog who died this year required two years of heart meds and a number of tests, and we didn’t flinch once to spend what it took to get her the care she needed. It was worth every extra day we got to spend with her.

    Just as you said, what else is money for, if not to support our relationships? And we count pets in that just as much as people.

    1. The Vagabond Post author

      Thank you so much for this comment. Honestly, it’s hard for me to even read this post now that I’ve written it. His death brings back really strong emotions even a year later. I am so sorry to hear about your pup– believe me when I say I sympathize completely, and am very glad you had the opportunity to spend all the time you could together.

      We’re the same way with our pups. We play with them constantly, make some of their toys ourselves, let them play with worn out stuffed animals, and feed them decent food. Just those few optimizations removes a ton of the wasteful pet spending.

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