Can you put a price on puppy love?

Well, it was bound to happen.

A few months back, I smugly blogged about how much money we were saving by minding our friend’s cat instead of going out and getting a full-time pet. Lulu spent another visit with us, this time for two weeks — which, we assumed, would quell the girls’ pet-yearning, even temporarily. Well, the opposite seems to have happened — for all of us.

We got a pet.

Let me interject here that this was not a decision we rushed into, or entered lightly. Bronwyn has had fish — guppies — for the past three years, and they’ve been great, low-maintenance starter pets for her. But for more than a year, she’s been lobbying for something fuzzy. “I want a pet that I can hold,” she said. We suggested a guinea pig — bigger and friendlier than a hamster, and less likely to create a mess or jump up on the kitchen counters than a cat — an idea that she liked. That didn’t stop her from crying tears of desolation as, one by one, her fish died of natural causes; Bronwyn is a kid who loves dearly and cares passionately about the people and cherished things in her life. Matt consoled her by saying that when the last fish dies, we will get a guinea pig.

Well, the fates conspired to move up our pet-acquisition-date. Shortly after Lulu returned home, I learned that I’d have to visit a Toronto Animal Services Animal Centre for work. A far cry from the “city pounds” of days gone by, the Animal Centre has small, bright, happy rooms with a limited number of cages. Volunteers are constantly in and out of the rooms, playing with and grooming cats, head-rubbing dogs and taking them for walks — even cooing to the dove (yes, apparently you can have one as a house pet), rabbits and rats in the Small Domestics room. But because they see every day what can happen when people don’t do their homework before getting a pet, they take adoptions very seriously. One of Bronwyn’s friends has been talking about getting a dog for about as long as we’ve been talking about getting a guinea pig, and even though her mom works at home and will be around for through-the-day attention and walks, they don’t say, “Go ahead and take a dog home.” They suggest the family foster a dog for several weeks to make sure they’re sure before committing.

The cost of a pet is a big consideration — not simply to acquire, but to cover vet bills, food, bedding, toys, replacements for gnawed furniture, for years and years to come. The shelter’s adoption fee is $100 for cats, but includes all shots, and spaying or neutering. It really is a good deal, but if you aren’t able to afford the day-to-day stuff, then you really do need to reconsider if a pet is right for you, right now.

Toward the end of the day, Matt brought the girls to meet me at the shelter, and maybe look at some potential pets. “Any guinea pigs?” he texted. Alas, no guinea pigs in-house at the moment. But lots of affectionate rats, some beautiful bunnies, and lots of cats and kittens. “What about a cat?” I text back, along with some adorable photos of felines available for adoption. (See one, below.) “Well, if you’re sure, and we’re all committed to taking turns maintaining the litter box and everything else…. I’m OK with it.”

The girls looked at Mika, a three-year-old calico. She literally climbed back into her cage — not because of anything they did; they were being super gentle. But because… well, she wasn’t into hanging out. They played with Fern, also three. She was a little more into being petted, and allowed Bronwyn to brush her fur. But when it can to sitting in laps, Fern was outta there. They thought Margery, a one-year-old black cat with white markings, was cute, but she wasn’t terribly cuddly.

They were starting to get disheartened. “We can come back,” I told them. Deena, the volunteer who had been helping us, agreed. “We’re open seven days a week,” she assured.

Besides, just hours earlier they had been talking about a guinea pig! Maybe, I said, they should visit with a few before deciding.

The next day, Matt took the girls to the dentist in the afternoon, and finished earlier than expected. “Maybe we’ll go to PetSmart and look at guinea pigs,” he said. PetSmart doesn’t sell dogs or cats, but they do facilitate adoptions by working with Toronto Animal Services and other rescue organizations. The might even look at some cats.

I got a bunch of texts from the pet store. “They are smitten,” he reported.

Later, I went back to the pet store with them to meet the creature who’d stolen my girls’ hearts. “Are you sure?” I asked. “Just yesterday you were talking about a cat.”

“She’s the right pet for us,” Bronwyn assured me.

So we went home with a guinea pig. As well as: her large cage, which came as a starter kit with food and special bedding (guinea pigs, we learned, can’t tolerate the cedar shavings used often with hamsters, because the shavings generate too much dust; the dust can cause upper respiratory infections). We also had to buy timothy hay (an essential source of fibre for guinea pigs — I’m not kidding), vitamin C drops (they need supplments or to be fed “a lot of oranges”, said Hailey, the customer service rep who helped us), somewhere to hide (plastic igloos are designed especially for this purpose) and a chew toy (to prevent teeth from overgrowing). Grand total, including taxes: $140.

Here’s Linney (named after the guinea pig on The Wonder Pets), at home:

Did you get a pet after having children? Was cost a conscious consideration?

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