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How to trim costs of caring for pets

Erin Lord Kunz poses with her dog, Sidney, at a Grand Forks park recently. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

At 2-and-a-half years old, Sydney is a playful, fun-loving pitbull cross who “is just so goofy,” said her owner, Erin Lord Kunz.

“She makes us laugh every day.”

As lovable as she is, taking care of Sydney still costs money.

“You kind of plan for it, but you never how expensive it’s going to be,” Kunz said.

She and her husband, Carter Kunz of Grand Forks, rescued Sydney two years ago from the Humane Society in Mandan, N.D., their hometown.  

Sydney’s annual physical exam by the veterinarian is “pretty costly,” Kunz said. “Her shots are pretty costly. We buy flea and tick medications every year.

“We expected those expenses.”

Then there are the unexpected bills, she said, “like the time we thought Sydney had swallowed a die from a Yahtzee game,” which warranted a visit to the vet.

“We thought she might need to have an X-ray… Sydney has eaten toys whole.”

In this case, luckily, the lost die was found in their home.

David and Kathy Hagen of Roseau, Minn., “have spent a lot of money” on their 13-year-old miniature Schnauzer for treatment of “bladder stones (three times), ulcers and foot injections,” they wrote in an email to the Herald.

“I would estimate we have spent over $3,000,” David Hagen said.

Added to that are “vaccines, dog food (low calcium) at $70 a bag and well checks” plus the cost of grooming, he said.

To cut the expense of pet-ownership, he recommended adopting your pet from an animal shelter.

It’s also a good idea to check out the characteristics of various breeds before making a selection, he said. That will alert you to typical problems in a breed that may require veterinary care.

In his own way, their dog, Doctor Watson, has communicated a certain hierarchy in the home, Hagen said.  

“I don’t think he thinks of us as (owners) but as his caretakers or maids.”  

Shared dog-watching   

In order to keep pet-related expenses under control, Erin Lord Kunz and Carter Kunz share dog-watching duties with several other friends.

When they went to New York for 10 days last fall, their friends looked after Sydney the entire time.       

“We’ve never had to put her in a doggy day care,” Erin said.

The friends take care of each others’ pets while the owners are out of town or are very busy with long days at work. 

Most of them own dogs but “there’s one friend who has a cat who acts like a dog,” she said. “He’ll run and greet you at the door.”

On the “rare days” when she and Carter are away from more than eight hours, Sydney stays in her kennel.

“But then we let her sleep in our bed that night,” she said, to compensate.

Another suggestion for trimming costs is to make homemade dog treats, Herald readers said.

Sandi Bates of Bismarck, formerly of Grand Forks, makes Peanut Butter Puppy Poppers, which her German shorthair pointer, Abraham Lincoln, “has always loved.”

“Everyone laughs at me,” she said in an email, “because I rarely cook for myself but regularly make Poppers for Abraham Lincoln.”  

Some other tips for saving money on pets:

  • Check sites like Groupon for daily deals on toys, treats, day care, dog walkers and grooming services. Also monitor or for online deals and printable coupons.
  • Check out for doggy duds. Following a company’s social media account, website, membership club or email list will bring deals even closer.
  • Don’t forget thrift shops, or ask your vet if he or she knows of any local deals.
  • Scour the Internet for free recipes or books in stores that feature recipes treats and dog food.
  • Focus on preventive care, including dental care, for your pet.

“Getting that shot before your dog gets sick is worth it in the long run,” said Dr. Louise Murray, vice president of New York’s ASPCA Animal Hospital.

“Vaccines or medications help your dog avoid serious illnesses that could cost thousands of dollars to treat,” she said.

Watch for bargains

The Kunzes watch for budget-friendly bargains.   

“We buy doggy bags (for waste clean-up) in bulk — a thousand at a time — to save money,” she said.

The couple does all of Sydney’s grooming themselves, including bathing and de-shedding. But they leave the nail-trimming to the experts.

That chore “kind of scares her,” she said. 

They are “big proponents of the Humane Society,” and they encourage others to adopt pets rather than spending hundreds of dollars for one at a store, she said.

Some of her family members were concerned about their adoption of a dog that was part pitbull, Kunz said. But worries quickly subsided.

“She’s the sweetest dog in the world.”

And she’s also something of a fashionista.

Last year, when Lowe’s had a “doggy sweater sale” Kunz said, “we stocked up.

“Sydney is one of the rare dogs who really likes to wear clothes. She gets all excited.

“As our only ‘child,’ we kind of spoil her.” 

Knudson covers health and family. Call her at (701) 780-1107, (800) 477-6572 ext.1107 or email

Homemade dog treats

Try these money-saving recipes for treats you can make at home for your furry friend:

Frosty Paws:

Place a banana in a blender or food processor. Add 32 ounces of plain yogurt. Scoop 2 teaspoons of peanut butter and 2 teaspoons of honey into the mix. Put into ice cube tray and freeze — my pups love it!

Submitted by Jennifer Ekberg, Grand Forks

Peanut Butter Puppy Poppers:

2 cups whole wheat flour (no white flour)

1 cup milk

1 cup peanut butter

1 tablespoon baking powder

You can roll the dough out like sugar cookie dough and cut out shapes, or roll into quarter-size balls. Bake at 375 for 20 minutes. Yield: 60-70 balls.

These fit well into a medium-size Kong toy.

Submitted by Sandi Bates, Bismarck (formerly of Grand Forks)