4-H helps youth factor in the costs of pet ownership

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Owning a pet is a valuable and rewarding experience for youth. However, youth and parents should understand both the financial cost and commitment required for different animals. Before acquiring a pet, you should thoroughly consider the demands of owning different pets to be sure your choice will fit in with your family’s lifestyle and budget realistically and without undue hardship. A fish fits neatly on a counter top; a Great Dane needs a big yard.    

Animals feature prominently in 4-H programs because they provide youth with outstanding experiences for virtually unlimited learning. Pet ownership teaches youth critical life skills, increasing critical thinking, decision-making and communication.

The goal of the 4-H Dog program, while specific to dogs, indicates some of the benefits youth will enjoy with virtually any pet. Youth can expect to:

•Learn about the animal and be able to identify their characteristics

•Study the responsibilities of ownership

•Demonstrate care and management, feeding, care, handling, and grooming

•Keep record of all costs and management practices

•Learn and follow health regulations, including first aid and simple treatments for ailments not requiring veterinary attention

•Train animal to follow simple commands

•Understand the role of scientific research in animal husbandry

•Develop sportsmanship, cooperation, decision-making ability, and public speaking skills through participation in demonstrations, tours, judging, and/or exhibits

•Practice leadership skills and roles, take part in community affairs, and demonstrate citizenship responsibilities

•Explore career, job and productive leisure opportunities

But despite the great value of animal ownership, you need to make the decision carefully. Initial costs, such as neutering/spaying and puppy/kitten vaccinations, for dogs and cats are not insignificant. Pets also require steady purchases throughout the year, in addition to routine yearly vaccinations and exams. You should factor in emergency and unplanned veterinary visits as well.

Consider that you will need to purchase all or some of the following for a dog: yearly vaccinations, monthly flea and heartworm treatment, grooming, dog food and treats, leash and collar, water and food bowls and toys. Cats will need similar purchases. An indoor cat requires a litter box and litter. Another, less expensive option is fish, which require a tank and accoutrements to decorate the tank.

Pet ownership costs per month will vary depending upon location, stores in the area and personal buying decisions. You should carefully consider your family’s financial situation to be sure you can readily absorb those costs, especially during this economy. However, having limited means is not always a barrier to pet ownership.

Adopting from a local animal shelter or using free or reduced-cost resources can lower expenses.

Often, veterinarian clinics or shelters will offer routine care, such as rabies shots, at specific times of the year. In some situations, family financial circumstances may lead to purchasing a different pet, which will still provide youth with the rewards of ownership.  

For more information, contact the Trimble County Cooperative Extension Service at (502) 255-7188.
Source: Jann Burks, UK 4-H extension specialist  Ralph Hance, 4-H extension agent

Ralph Hance is Trimble County’s Cooperative Extension agent for 4-H and youth development.