The reward is a little tougher to parse out. On the balance sheet, it's an annual loss. Pet adoption site Petfinder puts the average annual cost of owning a cat between $300 on fairly benign years to $4,570 when something goes horribly wrong. For dogs, that cost rises to more than $500 a year in food, health care and other associated costs and upwards of $9,000 in the bleakest circumstances.
On the upside, you're saving one or more of the millions of animals euthanized in shelters every year. The Humane Society estimates that only 30% of dogs that enter shelters are ever reclaimed by their owners. That is an even more dire situation for cats, which only have 2% to 5% of their owners come looking for them.
You're also helping confirm large companies' decisions not to breed and sell pets on their owns. Two of the nation's largest pet retailers -- Petco and PetSmart (PETM) -- each adopt cats and dogs through local shelters and animal welfare groups and only house those shelter animals on a temporary basis. Shelters, meanwhile, have been increasingly effective in convincing smaller pet stores to help them adopt out their surplus residents.
Even in the worst case, where a prospective pet owner has to pay out the average cost of care regardless of where their animal is obtained, a shelter offers the best value for the initial cost. Shelter staff that are familiar with the animals they're housing and well-versed in pet idiosyncrasies -- like young, male cats' penchant for getting along better with existing groups, for example -- help would-be owners avoid further costs down the line by making an ideal match the first time around.
Combo was a bargain, but there are a whole lot of others out there like him for anyone savvy enough to invest in a shelter animal. The intangible benefits of having a feline coworker around when deadline's looming is nice, but getting a healthy pet at a discount that will keep him in kibble for months may be one of the best calls of the year.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
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