Big Costs and Tough Choices: Owning a Greyhound

When Jamie Cattanach got her first greyhound, she wasn’t expecting the added costs of owning a purebred dog that would sadly lead to an untimely goodbye.

Written by Jamie Cattanach / December 7, 2021

Quick Bites

  • In addition to expected costs for food, vet bills and heartworm medication, you’ll also need to purchase clothing for greyhounds in winter.
  • Retired racing greyhounds have a tendency toward dental problems and dental cleanings are expensive, especially if they require anesthesia.
  • Along with their dental issues, greyhounds also have a tendency toward osteosarcoma (bone cancer).
  • Having a dog can mean sacrificing some of the money that would have otherwise gone toward retirement or homeownership.
Greyhound photo
Jamie Cattanach

The first time I met Odin—a retired black greyhound whose racing name had been Jim Croce—he picked me. It wasn’t subtle: He leaped in two scrambling bounds up the outside stairs to my crappy walk-up apartment, made his way directly to the bedroom, jumped onto my mattress, and flopped.

“I don’t think he’s going anywhere,” the rescue agency representative said.

It was meant to be a home visit, a meet-and-greet; the adoption was tentative. I was in grad school, and it showed in my housing: I’d spent all morning cleaning, but you can’t clean away cheap and drab.

Still, some things are meant to be, and I was meant to be with Odin. I signed over the adoption check and he quickly settled in, helping me smile through grad school stress and a cold, gray Ohio winter. What I hadn’t expected then was all the costs that would come with owning Odin.

Big dog on a little budget

Even in a funded program like mine, graduate students don’t make much money. I was studying poetry and teaching introductory composition classes, making about $15,000 per academic year. I was fortunate that my program was in a rural, midwestern locale: My rent was less than $500 monthly, and I lived alone. I was more fortunate, still, to have the financial backing of my parents, who regularly deposited checks into my bank account.

Still, times were tight. A few of the other students in my cohort also had large dogs, and all of us felt it in our monthly budgets: the food, of course, but also the vet bills, the flea and heartworm medications, the toys. In my case, because greyhounds are thin enough that they require clothing in the winter, the wardrobe was another cost. (Odin was less pleased with his pink, elephant-print onesie than I was.)

Odin had retired early, having won exactly zero races, a fact that didn’t surprise me when I learned firsthand how lazy a retired racer can be. Aside from our long walks around town and bouts of first-snow zoomies, Odin mostly made the rounds through every nap-worthy surface in my apartment.

He was young and, thankfully, healthy, and too slothful to be accident-prone. The only thing that worried me was those rickety wooden stairs to my apartment, which seemed primed for breaking a long, graceful leg on, especially when they slicked over with ice.

So we practiced in the English department, with its big, solid indoor stairways on either side of the three-story building. We went up and down, up and down the stairs, at first with me behind him showing him where to put each paw, one by one, in order.

Soon, we had it down. And our adventure was just beginning.

Unexpected costs with purebreds

I spent the summer after graduate school driving around the country—with Odin’s long, lazy tail in my backseat. We went to New Orleans, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas and Big Sur, staying in cheap Airbnbs or couchsurfing.

When we got back to my home state of Florida, it was time to figure out what I was doing with my life—and to stop accepting handouts from my parents. Through a combination of hard work and good luck, I found myself a full-time staff writing position and my first grown-up paycheck. But by now, Odin was getting a bit older, and I was about to learn about the true cost of owning a greyhound.

Most purebred dogs have some sort of thing: Golden retrievers are known for hip dysplasia;¹ dachshund’s long, hot-doggy backs lend them to intervertebral disc disease.

Retired racing greyhounds, though I didn’t know it at the time, have a tendency toward dental problems. Those years eating mushy food on the track add up.

After our first prescribed dental cleaning—a procedure that involved general anesthesia and racked up a bill of more than $600—I took to kneeling on the floor after dinner, brushing Odin’s teeth much like I did my own.

Still, every time we got a checkup, the vet would frown.

I was making $35,000 a year when I started my job, a figure I was pretty darn proud of at the time—and I was soon promoted to $42,500. Nonetheless, my dog’s mouth was becoming a hefty financial burden, one I wasn’t expecting.

I was able to shift some things around (and patronize some local thrift stores), but if I’d taken every word of my vet’s advice, I would have been spending more money on my dog’s teeth than on my own.

The surgery I couldn’t afford

Fast-forward half a decade, and Odin and I took another great adventure: traveling by car from Florida to Portland, where I’ve since settled. It was a long journey, but a worthwhile one. It was the first time I’d seen my mother in two years, (no) thanks to the pandemic.

It was arduous, but fun. Odin and I enjoyed exploring the small cities we stopped in: Las Vegas, New Mexico; Helper, Utah. On our last gas stop—La Grande, Oregon, only about four hours from home—I let him out for a quick walk and a drink of water. As he hopped gamely back into the car for the last leg of our journey, he caught his left hip and froze, stumbling forward sickly.

He didn’t cry. He was too stoic and sweet for that. But a rivulet of drool streamed from his mouth, and his eyes were saucers.

“Oh, you did not just break your leg,” I said out loud.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what had happened. My fear from all those years ago had finally come true.

The emergency vet’s X-ray revealed a fractured femur—one that required surgery. After calling around to what felt like every veterinary surgeon within a 50-mile radius, I found one who’d operate that day … but he had a caveat.

“The way this break looks in the pictures, the fracture lines aren’t as sharp as we’d hope,” the surgeon said. Along with teeth, greyhounds have another thing: a well-known tendency toward osteosarcoma.

Bone cancer.

Given the X-ray, his age and the ease with which the break had happened, the surgeon had his suspicions. We wouldn’t know for sure until we did the surgery, which, the surgeon went on to tell me, would cost $5,500.

At that point, I was established in my career; I had traded the staff position for full-time freelancing, which I’ve done for half a decade now. I earned almost triple what I first made as a staffer. Still, that sum would wipe out more than half of my emergency fund. Even if there was no cancer, the recovery would be long and arduous. If there was cancer, we’d get maybe another six months together, tops.

“It might just be … time,” the vet suggested, gently. But I had to make the call.

Putting Odin down was one of the worst days of my life.

It all happened so fast, I was blindsided. He got hurt on a Thursday around 5 p.m.; by Friday at noon, his head lolled on my thigh, lifeless. It wasn’t the first time I’d held a dog in my arms as they drifted off into their last sleep; I’d done the same for my childhood dog, Cleo.

But Odin was my first dog as an adult—adopting him was the first real, grown-up decision I had made. He’d seen me through some of the most unsettled times of my life, guided me through my 20s. He’d been my adventure buddy, had roamed and roved beside me. He’d seen me cry more times than I could count.

Even if I could have afforded the surgery, it probably wouldn’t have been the right answer. Still, if money were no object, we would at least have tried.

Choosing to adopt again

Only three weeks later, I adopted a new greyhound: a small, brindle girl, almost exactly Odin’s opposite. I named her Aspen, after the stripy yellow trees Odin and I saw in the desert on our way home. She has the same little white tuft at the end of her tail, the same near-endless laziness. I already adore her—but I still miss Odin every day.

Aspen is a puppy, just shy of 17 months old at the time I’m writing this. I’m hopeful that means I’ll have lots of time with her, though life always has its surprises.

Given my income, it’s easier for me to afford her care than it was with Odin in the early days. Still, having Aspen means sacrifice: Money that could be going toward my retirement fund or goal of homeownership is going toward her instead.

But we’re doing our best, eating lots of dental cleaning treats, and being very careful when we jump into and out of cars.

For more on the costs of having a pet, read our stories on what life is like living with a neurotic dog, how to tell if you should get pet insurance or dog liability insurance, and more.

About the Author

Jamie Cattanach

Jamie Cattanach

Jamie Cattanach is a writer based in Portland, Oregon whose work in personal finance has been featured in outlets like the Motley Fool, CNBC Make It, Yahoo! Finance, and many others.

Full bio

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