We’ve all seen them: adorable, wiggly puppies in a box, being given away for free in a parking lot or in front of a store. These days, you can also find free puppies and dogs all over the internet on social media and sites like Craigslist.
But the truth is that while a “free puppy” may cost you nothing up front, taking care of a dog for life is an expensive commitment. There are always many costs associated with pet ownership, including:
- Vaccinations (rabies is mandated by law)
- Licensing (may be required by law where you live)
- Veterinary care (worming, flea prevention, etc.)
A puppy will depend on you for everything and those needs will come with a price—not just in money, but also in time, effort and patience. Training, socialization, bathing/grooming, housebreaking and regular exercise are all part of adding a dog to the family.
The fact is that any puppy given away for free probably hasn’t been cared for properly, and so you may end up with immediate costs such as worming, vaccinations and bathing just to make sure the pup is healthy. Owning a dog is usually a 10-15-year commitment that could potentially run you hundreds or thousands of dollars over a lifetime.
Sometimes what motivates people to seek out free puppies is the idea that a mixed-breed puppy is somehow less valuable than a purebred or the idea that adopting a puppy “who will bond with you” or “grow up with the kids” is a better experience. Neither of these assumptions are true, and in fact, the millions of people who adopt rescue pets every year can attest to that.
How much is that puppy in the FREE box?
A recent study done by the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine is a great eye-opener about the actual financial costs of dog ownership, and definitely worth a read if you’re considering looking for a “free” puppy. The bottom line? That free dog is going to cost you an average of $3085 the first year alone. Over a lifetime, the tab for dog ownership averages $23, 410.
Those estimates, by the way, include food, bedding, just the basics in vet care and the cost of one serious illness per year. Toys, training, boarding and grooming were not factored in to the costs.
So as you can see, “free” puppies aren’t exactly low-cost pets.
Finders keepers—for life
The truth is you can always find free or affordable puppies and dogs, especially if you’re not particular about breed. However, you should do some research, because not all canines are a good fit for all families. For example, intelligent, high-energy herding breeds are not going to work for a busy family that leaves the dog alone in the yard all day while they’re working or at school. A smaller, more delicate breed of dog might not be the best choice for a home with active, rough-n-tumble kids.
The most responsible way to acquire a dog or puppy is to check regularly at your local shelters and rescues. Many times, they’ll hold low- and no-cost adoption days. These animals usually come with most of their shots and have been (or will be) spayed or neutered at no charge to you. A great place to start is Petfinder, where you can put in your location and other specifics about what you’re looking for in a pet. The search engine will then pull up a list of adoptable animals near you that meet your specifications.
You can also ask your friends and coworkers to be on the lookout for puppies or young dogs needing homes, as word of mouth is often a great way to find a dog in need of a home. Make sure to ask lots of questions before adopting, however. Sadly, many families are often so desperate to rid themselves of a pet they may not be completely honest about the dog’s needs and personality.
And a word about Craigslist: be very careful when researching free or low-cost puppies online at this site or on social media. Again, read the listing in full and ask as many questions as possible. Why are they giving the dog away? Is it spayed, neutered, or vaccinated? What is the dog’s history and are there vet records you can have or access?
Most importantly, before you adopt, ask yourself: am I prepared to take care of this dog for life, even if I move or finances become difficult?
There is an alternative
If your family is thinking about adopting but want to take a test-run of adding a dog to the family, there are some other options.
- Be a foster family: Work with a local shelter or rescue to take in a puppy or dog that needs a place to stay on a temporary basis until it is adopted or until there’s space at the shelter. This will give you a taste of the pet-owner life without the commitment.
- Volunteer at a dog shelter or rescue: These organizations are always in need of people to walk, play with, and care for dogs. Several organizations are even breed-specific, so if there’s a breed you’re particularly interested in, you can learn more about it through volunteering.
Adding a dog to the family can be a truly rewarding experience if you make sure that you’re prepared. Remember, there’s no such thing as “free”— especially when it comes to pets.