Image description: Nougat, a golden retriever, models square glasses on the right, and lays his head on the ground in the left.
By Millie Muroi
If Pelican readers mirror the general population, 62% have had a dog at some point.
Given the large proportion with a vested interest in the matter, it has come to the attention of your correspondent that a thorough investigation should be conducted into the true value of ‘man’s best friend’.
This analysis examines two general groupings: collared comrades in the latter half, and pampered pooches (prone to taking up three-quarters of the bed) in the first.
Marley and Me: The Maths Behind Mollycoddled Mongrels
The numerical costs of acquiring and caring for a dog vary across households, but are more easily quantified than the more equivocal benefits.
On average, a four-legged friend is purchased for $451, with 28% acquired at no cost. Average ongoing annual expenditure per canine is $1,627, headlined by spending on food, veterinary services, and pet healthcare products. Assuming an average lifespan of 10 years, this equates to roughly $16,721 spent on a dog over its lifetime!
Assuming we are all rational beings that don’t cave at the sight of puppy-dog eyes looking at us through the fence of a shelter, or – more recently – the screen of a device, that means that dogs are expected to provide at least around $16,721 of utility. Utility in economics is the total satisfaction received from the consumption of a good or service.
Though difficult to put a number on, academic research and survey results suggest that owning a pet has positive impacts on everything from cardiovascular and immune system health, to blood pressure and anxiety.
Some of the utility can perhaps also be attributed to popular reasons for getting a dog, which include companionship for the owner (42%); companionship for other pets (9%); and education and responsibility for children (5%).
One source that may indicate the quantitative value of dogs is the reward offered for recovery when they go missing. Your correspondent recently received a pamphlet in the mail offering a $25,000 reward for a black, female toy poodle named Remmy*.
It may not be too far-fetched to deduce that the value of owning a dog is similar to that of having family and friends. Indeed, 63% of owners refer to their dog as a member of the family, and 23% see them as companions.
Providing a numerical output here is difficult, but most would probably agree that the benefits of dog ownership far outweigh the costs.
Worked Like a Dog: What’s the Output?
Whether blue or white-collared, working dogs provide unique – though not entirely mutually exclusive – benefits to the companionship of a family dog.
A 2014 study of 812 herding dog owners found that herding dogs in Australia offer a 5.2-fold return on investment; they cost their owners an average of $7,763 over their working life; and perform an estimated $40,000 worth of work over the same period.
Given the average yearly return of 3% per year for cash investments, your bank deposit is most certainly earning you less on a percentage basis than these pups are.
What about assistance dogs? One study conducted in the US shows significant benefit for people with functional impairments. Physical service dogs – which assist their owners with everyday tasks – can reduce their owners’ overall health care costs by around $6,000.
Furthermore, they contribute 0.28 QALYs (a measure of quality of life) for a net cost of $17,788 (acquisition, training, and maintenance costs less the reduction in healthcare costs) – or one QALY for $63,528. The Institute for Clinical and Economic Review values a QALY in drug cost-effectiveness analyses between $50,000 and $150,000. Given the non-pharmaceutical nature of the intervention, physical service dogs are a relatively cost-efficient way of improving the quality of life of people with functional impairments.
Having around forty times more olfactory sensory cells than humans, specially-trained dogs can also sniff out suspicious substances; symptoms of disease; suspects of crime; and missing persons.
Though scholarship pinpointing the payoff of these dogs is sparse, there are several testimonies as to their efficacy. A systematic review of scientific reports on canine detection of various cancers, for instance, highlighted the promising yields of medical detection dogs. The cruciality of early diagnosis for numerous diseases, and the accuracy with which dogs are able to detect early-stage cancers in a non-invasive way, suggests that the payoff may be significant.
BBC has recently reported the commencement of trials to see whether medical detection dogs could be trained to ‘sniff out’ the novel coronavirus in patients. It has already received £500,000 of government funding in the UK, and, if successful, could see each dog screening up to two-hundred and fifty people per hour.
If assumed to save even just one life over their career, the net benefit of these dogs easily stacks up to the millions. The upfront and ongoing costs of training a medical detection dog total approximately $22,000. Given the $4.5 million price tag placed on a human life by Deloitte in a 2018 report, the return on investment of these canines is potentially colossal.
As this article draws to a close, one lapdog – far too large to be comfortably classified as such – gradually displaces your correspondent’s laptop: a compelling case for the hitherto humble costs of dog ownership outlined above.
Nonetheless, if readers have been receiving doggedly disheartening dividends recently, it could be time to consider investing in dogs over stocks.
*If anyone has any information on this case, please contact 0406 834 001.
Image credit courtesy of Millie Muroi
Millie is an arts student camouflaged by an enthusiasm for economics!