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The $50,000 Hunting Dog

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426 – The Annual, 2014-15

By Chris Robinson

A few weeks ago, a guy I know called, more or less out of the blue, to ask if I might be free for lunch that week. I said, “It’s possible.” and added, since the guy is a CPA, “What do you have in mind?” He said he wanted to talk with me about getting a hunting dog because he knew I’d bred, trained and hunted with both retrievers and pointing breeds for more years than I care to admit. He then added the magic words, “I’m buying.” That sealed the deal for two reasons: First, it would be a violation of the journalists’ credo to turn down a free lunch. Secondly, I’ve known this particular CPA for a number of years and I can count the number of times I’ve seen him pick up a check for any meal on the fingers of one hand. To describe him as “frugal” would require a complete redefinition of the word. So, it was with both some amusement and a considerable amount of bemusement that I headed into the lunch meeting, knowing as I did that over the years, he had seemed perfectly content to hunt over other people’s dogs thus sparing himself the expense of actually keeping one.

When I arrived at the restaurant, he had already braced himself in anticipation of the likely financial ordeal he was about to endure as a half empty martini glass sat in front of him and another totally empty glass was sitting on the table’s edge waiting to be picked up by the waitress. He said, “I’m thinking seriously about getting my own dog to hunt with. I’ve got the breed I want pretty well thought out but I wanted some idea of what this was going to cost me. Since I know you are able to write your dog expenses off on your income taxes because you write for dog magazines, I figured you would have a good handle on what sort of investment I’ll need to make.”

Well, he was right about that. I definitely know how much money it takes to support my dogs in the manner to which they have become accustomed because once a year, my accountant looks at the totals and shakes her head in complete disbelief somewhat like the reaction of a cat-loving IRS agent a number of years ago who stared at my tax forms like they were roadkill that had been left to fester in a July sun for several days before she grudgingly sniffed, “Well, I guess we’ll allow these expenses. It must be a business because nobody in their right mind would spend that kind of money on something that wasn’t producing income.” After pausing a second or two, she added disdainfully, “I can’t imagine anyone spending that much money on cats!”

The first thing I needed to know, I told him, was if he planned to get a pup or and older dog. He said, “I plan to get a finished dog that’s fully trained. I don’t have the time or the know-how to train a pup or even a well-started one. I need something where all the training has been done and I know I’ll have to lay out some bucks to get a good dog. The question is, how many?” The answer was that price range for a professionally finished dog with a solid pedigree from a top name trainer was anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 or more depending upon the breed. The more rare the breed, the greater the price for a finished dog. If you remember anything from Econ 1, I said, it’s the old law of supply and demand. “That’s about what I expected and I’m prepared to pay that,” he said. “Actually, I thought I’d have more than that in costs up front.”

I assured him that indeed he would have “more than that in costs up front.” Because he had always hunted over his hunting partners’ dogs and never owned one himself, he had absolutely no equipment beyond his hunting clothes and shotgun. He had no dog stuff at all including such basics as a collar and a lead. All of these items including food dishes would have to be purchased “up front.” “Well, how bad can that be?” he asked. “All we’re talking about is a collar, a leash and a box or two of biscuits, right?”

Summoning up all my self-control to keep a straight face and also to avoid making a complete spectacle of myself by falling on the floor in hysterical laughter, I began to outline the basic costs of dog ownership. Before I even got to things like the food and vet bills, he flagged down the waitress and asked her for a sheet of paper along with a third martini. Clearly the information I was providing was already starting to elevate his stress levels to the point where he needed the kind of serious soothing provided by fermented juniper berries, what writer E.B. White called “The elixir of quietude.” At least I think he was drinking gin and by this time, he was probably seriously considering asking the bartender to hold both the vermouth and the olive as they were taking up space in the glass that, for his purposes, was better served by more gin. I got the feeling that this new dog idea was already beginning to go sour with him.

When my list reached the bottom of the paper, he leaned over for a look and then violently started back into his chair before he took a long, deep and half-choking swallow of his martini. “Whatthehell are you talking about? My last kid didn’t cost that much. Well, maybe that’s not quite true but you are already well into five figures. Better than $15,000 by my calculations if I’m reading your numbers correctly. And, we’re talking about a dog here!” He grabbed the paper for a closer look. “Travel crates, outdoor kennel, dummies, whistles, vet bills and food.” He looked up from the paper with an anguished expression, “Dog food! My God, I don’t spend that much on my own meals in an entire year!”

That I could believe. When I reached for the paper again, he moaned, “You mean there’s more?” “Yep. I forgot the $650 a month plus the price of birds that it’ll cost you for the three to four months it’ll require to get the dog tuned up by a professional trainer. Since you admit you have no dog training experience, I’m absolutely confident that the few months before hunting season and the time between seasons will be more than enough for you to screw up the dog to the point where he or she will have to go back to the trainer for a major overhaul and this will have to happen every year. By my math, that brings the total very close to $18,000 but there’s also another piece of gear that you absolutely can’t do without.” As he frantically beckoned the waitress to bring him another martini, and this time to make it a double, he groaned, “What would that be? One more piece of gear can’t make that much difference.”

“Don’t be too sure about that,” I said and then, on the back of the sheet, in very large letters I wrote “Pickup or SUV–$31,000.” He had forgotten that since he and his wife had packed up most of their belongings and the kids and had moved wife and kinder to another state when her job required the move while his business dictated that he remain where he was, the only vehicle he owned was a snazzy, two-seat sports car so low slung it couldn’t get over a curb let alone make it in the field. Furthermore, there was no place for the dog or any of the absolutely necessary dog stuff in it.

Two minutes or more passed as he contemplatively swirled his drink around in its glass. Finally, in a soft voice, laden with gravity, he said, “You know, the more I think about it, the more I realize how much I’ve enjoyed hunting over other people’s dogs all these years as well as their company in the field. What’s more, if I got a dog, that would just reduce the number of opportunities their dogs would have to hunt, wouldn’t it? How selfish of me to have even considered doing something like that and after all the birds my hunting partners’ dogs have found for me over the many seasons we’ve hunted together that I would get a dog indicates a complete lack of gratitude and appreciation on my part for all their work. I understand how small-minded, even childish it was for me to even think of getting a dog. So, no matter how much I’d like to have my own hunting dog, in the interests of the long relationships that I’ve had with my dog owning hunting partners, I’m going to put my personal desires on the back burner and I’ll think about getting a dog when their dogs get too old or infirm to hunt. What do you say to that?” he said as he crumpled up the paper with the dog costs itemized.

Stifling a giggle and without even a touch of irony and with only the barest hint of a smirk, I said I thought it was really very generous and big-hearted of him to put the needs of his hunting partners’ dogs ahead of his own wishes. Not many people, I said, could be that altruistic. Thus establishing, once again, that there are times when a journalist, in addition to their wordsmithing capabilities, also needs to possess serious skills in the art of diplomacy.

At my comments, the CPA smiled, waved the waitress over to ask for the menus and said, “Bring me the check,” also proving that there are times when a few judicious lies, no matter how outrageous they may be, can have some very positive benefits.

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Posted by on Aug 9 2020. Filed under Current Articles, Editorial, Featured. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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