Jake and I have two cats and a dog. To us, having pets is one of the most important aspects of our lives and identity. You might even consider it a hobby. Unfortunately, it is a hobby that, as you will see, has not always been entirely strategic.
Our love for animals has permeated much of our lives. I've been vegetarian for over a decade, and Jake was veggie for six years and still cuts back where he can. We also have a standing commitment to donate only to animal welfare organizations. They're our charities of choice!
Meet Julius, the almost-third cat
When Jake and I met, I actually had three cats. One of them was diabetic, however, and passed away. So when an ex co-worker of Jake's said that she had found a homeless cat she couldn't keep, he said yes. Sight unseen. Can you guess how well this is going to turn out?
We picked the cat up and brought him home. At first everything seemed to be going great. He'd been living in an alley, but was friendly and litterbox-trained. He was an orange tabby, so we named him Julius.
Unfortunately, when I took him to the vet for a checkup, it turned out that he had feline immunodeficiency virus, or FIV. Now, we're okay with spending money on sick pets. Additionally, cats with FIV aren't always “sick” and can live long, healthy lives. It's also very difficult for cats to transmit the disease to others. It principally spreads through serious fights where blood is drawn. Likely, Julius was attacked by feral cats while he was living on the street and that's how he got it.
The first (cheaper) FIV test they ran can show false positives, so the vet also ran a more conclusive (expensive) test on the basis of the initial results. I also got Julius his first round of regular shots and also had him tested for worms. The initial vet visit including all tests was about $300.
When a pet doesn't work out
The next step was to supervise Julius's introduction to our other two cats to make sure there wasn't going to be fighting that could lead to FIV transmission. This was especially important because our other two cats, Nina and Max, were elderly and thus had weaker immune systems. They were also both declawed in the front and wouldn't be able to defend themselves.
Unfortunately, Julius decided to be a bully to Max. I was genuinely concerned that Julius would draw blood.
Additionally, I felt that, since Max was getting old and frail, he deserved better than being tormented during his golden years (his death two years later would teach us some important emotional and financial lessons).
Julius had also clearly gotten used to life on the streets, and he didn't appreciate being kept inside. How did he express his displeasure? By yowling at the top of his lungs. All day. All night. It was seriously like an air raid siren going off in our house 24 hours a day. You probably think I am exaggerating. I am not.
Jake was working from home during this time and, as an attorney, he has to talk to clients, judges, and other attorneys on the phone. Needless to say, having a cat screeching at 110 decibels in the next room wasn't conducive to the work environment he was trying to create.
Limited (read: expensive) options
Our options, however, were pretty limited. The Humane Society and Animal Control usually put down cats that test positive for FIV. Most privately run rescues won't take these animals at all. There are just too many healthy, easily adoptable cats out there who also need help.
We also didn't feel comfortable letting him loose because then he could infect other cats. It was looking like our only option was to put him down. I spent two weeks contacting vet offices (many of which are happy to help re-home pets) and a variety of rescue organizations.
Finally, I got an email back from Best Friends Animal Society in Utah. You may have heard of them. National Geographic did a series called Dog Town on their work. They agreed to take him! Only problem? I'd have to bring him to Best Friends myself.
Before I could drive him to the sanctuary, however, I had to take him back to the vet for a special checkup and a certificate so that he could legally cross state lines. Another $150. And did I mention the only date that worked for a drop-off was the day before my bridal shower?
It was a six-hour drive, so I drove the first half of the way there on a Thursday with my two bridesmaids and we stayed in a hotel. Another hundred bucks. We drove the rest of the way on Friday and dropped off the cat before touring the sanctuary (which is totally amazing, BTW. They are IMO the best animal rescue in the country, hands down). We probably spent another $100 or so in gas and $100 on food during the trip.
All in all? I think we ended up spending over $600 on a cat we didn't even keep.
Was it worth it?
Not having to make the decision to put an otherwise healthy and friendly cat down definitely made the experience worth it for me and Jake. We were also able to track his eventual adoption via their website. I know Best Friends vets (haha! pun) potential owners very carefully, so I'm sure Julius got a great home that's a better fit for him than we were.
And now that I've witnessed the incredible work that this organization does, I donate to them any time I'm able. In fact, Jake and I wooed each other this Valentine's Day by sponsoring some of the special needs animals at their rescue. It seemed cooler than getting gifts (plus, honestly, we procrastinated!).
Even though the situation ended up being the best possible outcome for Julius, we did learn a very expensive lesson in what can happen when you make decisions without fully considering the consequences.
After Max died, we waited two months before even starting to look for another cat. Once we had decided to go forward, we made sure to go through a rescue so that we could get a cat that would be a good fit for our family. And that's how we ended up with Lucky Cat!
What tips and tricks do you have to make sure you adopt the right pet instead of making an expensive mistake like we did?
Honey Smith has been reading GRS since at least 2008, right when she got her first â€œrealâ€ job and started getting serious about finances. She and her husband Jake are in their mid-30s and recently bought a home together. Currently, she manages graduate programs at a large state institution, and he is an attorney at a mid-sized firm.
Between them, they have paid off approximately $30,000 in consumer debt since she started writing for GRS in 2012. However, they still have nearly $200,000 of student loan debt, so she will continue to chronicle their debt-paydown journey. In addition to personal finance, Honey is interested in vegetarianism and cooking, gardening (despite living in the desert and having a black thumb), issues in higher education (including the student loan bubble and the slow death of tenure), and animal rights; however, her heart lies with fantasy novels, trashy TV and Skyrim.