x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

Expensive best friends

Cute as they may be, pets represent a major investment of time and money. But there are ways to minimise your costs without reducing their quality of life.

Jennifer Triplett spends more than Dh1,500 a month to care for her 12 pets - and that's after a discount from the vet clinic she works for.
Jennifer Triplett spends more than Dh1,500 a month to care for her 12 pets - and that's after a discount from the vet clinic she works for.

Cute as they may be, pets represent a major investment of time and money. But there are ways to minimise your costs without reducing their quality of life. Essam al Ghalib reports Street cats and dogs live their lives by eating out of dumpsters and scavenging around for food wherever they can find it. They scrape by without vaccinations, cushy toys or proper food. Pampered pets, however, have their requirements and demands, and will inevitably affect your finances. Like any major purchase, would-be pet owners should consider the various ongoing costs before bringing a furry friend home.

Jennifer Triplett, the accounts manager at the British Veterinary Clinic in Abu Dhabi, is a serious pet owner, and she spares no expense in making sure her animals are properly cared for. Ms Triplett, 36, arrived in the UAE five years ago from Monterey, California. She now shares her home with her husband, Jaime, four pugs, three indoor cats, three outdoor cats and two African Grey parrots. "Between food, vaccinations, collars, toys, cat litter and veterinary care, I spend more than Dh1,500 per month on my creatures, and that is with the discount I get at the clinic," she explains.

Ms Triplett estimates that without the discount she would be paying at least 25 per cent more. And she has one main word of advice: like you, an animal is what it eats, so she recommends staying away from generic food. Instead, she says that premium foods - such as Iams, Royal Canin and Hill's Science Diet - can help ensure the longevity and health of your pets. But premium food will cost you. An average can of generic dog and cat food at LuLu, she says, runs between Dh3 and Dh6, while a premium can might be double the price.

Other costs Ms Triplett incurs include shampoos, eye wipes, and fruits and nuts for her parrots, all of which contribute to her Dh1,500-a-month bill. Like Ms Triplett, I share a deep love for animals. Just six months ago I had two dogs, six puppies (the result of a failure to neuter and spay the dogs) and three cats, one with five legs and one which I adopted after I almost ran her over while driving.

On average, each dog would eat two cans of supermarket food per day at Dh6 a can, a Dh720 a month bill. The cats went through four bags of Whiskas dry cat food a month (Dh24 a bag), a total of Dh96. For two months the puppies were nursing, so that cost practically nothing in terms of food. But when they turned eight weeks old they started eating four cans of food a day, at Dh7 a can, for which I paid Dh840 per month.

That outlay lasted for one month, because I quickly found a home for five of the puppies on a Dubai farm. In total, I was spending a whopping Dh1,656 per month on pet food. Being a different kind of pet owner than Ms Triplett, I didn't pamper my animals. No toys for them. The dogs - Patches and Twixie - played fetch with empty plastic bottles, and the puppies chased each other around. But while I saved money in these areas, I ended up spending a mint on the sixth puppy, Culo.

The dog was promised to my brother, who lives in Egypt, and that involved export fees and vaccinations. It cost me Dh350 to vaccinate the animal and have him implanted with a microchip, as required by UAE customs. Micro-chipping is mandatory because it establishes ownership and helps identify the animal. Culo's export certificate cost Dh100, and freight charges to Cairo were Dh900. Once the dog was there, customs and clearance charges cost another Dh800. The total amount paid to export the puppy to Egypt was Dh2,150.

Patches and Twixie were rescue animals given to me by the British Veterinary Clinic. Fortunately, they were already vaccinated, but each dog cost me Dh500 when I made a donation to the clinic for them. The five-legged cat cost Dh750 to adopt, as it needed X-rays, vaccines, and treatment for other ailments. The other cat, Jane, was adopted from a friend whose fiancé suffered from allergies. The kitten I rescued from the street was also free.

Now I have the two dogs, a cat and a kitten. The five-legged cat was not accustomed to living with other animals, and was returned to the clinic. Between the two dogs, I spend Dh540 per month on food, and I dish out just Dh75 per month for food and cat litter for the cats. The dogs must be neutered and spayed this month, or else I will end up with more puppies. Also, the kitten needs to be vaccinated. According to the British Veterinary Clinic, this will all cost between Dh1,700 and Dh2,000.

Granted, Ms Triplett and I are not your average pet owners. But keep in mind that even a single-pet family have important costs to consider. To purchase a dog at a pet store in the UAE you can expect to spend about Dh4,000, and sometimes much more. For example, a Shar-Pei runs around Dh18,000. Meanwhile, a cat will likely cost you less, at around Dh1,200. "In Abu Dhabi, I would recommend Quality Pets on Khalifa Street for pet supplies and for buying puppies, kittens, reptiles, fish and birds," Ms Triplett says. "They guarantee the health of all of their pets, and their parrots and reptiles are sold with the appropriate documentation. In Dubai, try PetLand, which is located in the Oasis Centre, and Pets Habitat, in the Al Kazim building in Barsha 1."

Rather than buying new from a pet store, many expatriates turn to clinics and shelters for their companions, often at discounted price, which will vary greatly depending on the facility. The British Veterinary Clinic, on Khaleej Al Arabi Street, as well as the American Clinic on Al Falah St and the German Clinic in Khalifa City, are all excellent resources in Abu Dhabi, while pet owners in Dubai can consult the Al Barsha Veterinary Clinic, located just off of Sheikh Zayed Road near Mall of the Emirates.

Ms Triplett says that there are no mandatory procedures when buying a pet. However, she recommends microchipping, vaccinations, and spaying or neutering, all of which will hit your budget. Spaying your dog at the British Veterinary Clinic in Abu Dhabi, for example, will cost between Dh765 and Dh1,145, depending on its weight, while a cat will run you about Dh817. Annual vaccinations for a dog or cat costs Dh316, and implanting a microchip starts at Dh152. The price to neuter a dog at the clinic runs between Dh633 and Dh690, while the same procedure for a cat will result in a payment of Dh519.

Ms Triplett adds that you should insist on getting a clean bill of health for any animal you are considering buying, include verification of all vaccinations. "A little knowledge goes a long way in protecting yourself from the purchase of a sick animal," she says. "Don't buy from a souq or a shop where the animals look sick, malnourished or ill-treated. I know that most people's first inclination is to rescue such sad-looking creatures, but the best thing to do is contact the local authorities and report what you have seen."

Ms Triplett's biggest concern, however, is what happens to pets when their owners leave the UAE. Too many expatriates, she says, end up abandoning them when they depart the country. She says that pets should be considered serious investments of both time and money. "Many expats will tell you that they plan to be here in the UAE for a long time, but life doesn't always work out like we plan," she says. "Educate yourself about transport costs and start budgeting for it, and set funds aside each month just as you might for any impending expense." @Email:ealghalib@thenational.ae