My Furry Friends

Jiab Wasserman

I’M KNOWN AS A FRUGAL, rational and practical spender. My husband Jim likes to remind me that, six months into dating, my first birthday present to him was prefaced with, “I think I know what you want and need.” It was a three-compartment laundry hamper to separate his clothes before washing.

But one area where I’m neither rational nor practical is cats. I wholeheartedly agree with Jim Kerr’s recent dog story, where he wrote that a pet is a terrible investment—if we’re only considering money. Unfortunately, knowing this rationally and denying myself a furry friendship are two different things.

We recently returned from a family vacation in Portugal with our two sons. Having previously lived in Spain, we realized how much we miss the slower-paced, life-celebrating Iberian way of living. Jim and I have a renewed itch to live there again, at least part-time.

We moved back to the U.S. last year to be closer to our sons, who work in Texas. In discussing our renewed desire to live overseas, Jim and I agreed that the best balance would be to alternate six months in Portugal with six months in the U.S. We’re not getting any younger, and our go-go travel years will end one day.

We plan to rent an apartment in Portugal while maintaining our home in Texas, which gives us the best of both worlds. We’ll have a base from which to explore Portugal, other European countries and the rest of the world, plus a home in Texas where our family and friends can easily gather and connect.

The only snag in this plan is our cats. Traveling back and forth across the Atlantic every six months with cats isn’t impossible, but it is difficult. We’ve done it twice in the past four years, and there were many hoops to jump through, all accompanied by loud howls and meows.

Moving to Spain in 2018 required as much paperwork—all at a cost—for our two cats as it did for ourselves. We also had to find an apartment that allowed cats, which added complications and reduced our choices among long-term rentals. The hardest part, however, was simply arranging the transatlantic flight with our two cats in the cabin.

Only some airlines allow cats to fly transatlantic. Those that do allow a limited number of small pets on board, and that quota can fill up quickly. Lufthansa was highly recommended for flying to Europe by most American ex-pats.

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We flew Lufthansa, but the airline rerouted our flight to Spain through Frankfurt. This threw us into another paperwork scare because, while the cats were cleared for entry into Spain, we weren’t sure if they were permitted in Germany. Happily, it all worked out.

Then there’s the challenge of the cats’ cooperation—or lack thereof. One of our cats passed away in Spain and we adopted a Spanish street cat that hates traveling. During the entire 24 hours of the car and plane trip back to the U.S., she had one loud message. No me gusta—I don’t like it.

She cried—make that howled—the whole trip from Alicante to Paris to Atlanta to Dallas. There were three crying babies on our transatlantic flight, which prevented us from being the most-hated passengers onboard… well, almost.

Now we’re toying with twice-a-year travel across the Atlantic. Without our cats, we would’ve already gathered our paperwork and applied for Portuguese long-term residence visas. Anticipating fractious feline flying, however, we’re hesitating. It’s illogical.

I know we aren’t alone. Behavioral economics acknowledges that human decision-making is often irrational. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than with pets. From a logical perspective, if we want to be able to travel freely, we’d be much better off without them.

To make matters more complicated, we’ve just adopted yet another cat, a young male named “The Dude.” We fostered him for a bit and then found we couldn’t let him go. On our first night back from Portugal in early October, all three cats curled up with us and made a warm human-cat pile on the bed.

Jim and I have had tremendous luck financially, helped partly by keeping each other rational about our money decisions. We check each other’s blind spots.

But let’s call this one our double-blind spot. No matter how illogical cat ownership may be, they’re part of us and we can’t separate them from our lives.

Jiab Wasserman, MBA, RICP®, has lived in Thailand, the U.S. and Spain. She spent the bulk of her career with financial services companies, eventually becoming vice president of credit risk management at Bank of America, before retiring in 2018. Jiab lives in Texas with her husband Jim, who also writes for HumbleDollar. She’s an advocate for addressing the issue of gender inequality. In addition to writing and playing tennis, Jiab creates and sells art, which is available through her online shops. She and Jim are working on a new book, due out in 2023, that examines the impact of social media influencers on youth consumerism and identity development. Head to Linktree to learn more about Jiab, and also check out her earlier articles.

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Bo Simmons
Bo Simmons
13 days ago

this is a painful but very current topic between my wife and me. We lost our much beloved large 85lbs Kuvasz dog over the summer. Her last year was tough, she required lots of help and we threw an extortionary amount of money and time at her last few years of life. I’m very conservative with our money spending but I laughed at myself when I was the one pushing to do everything we could do, including spending $1000’s (special foods, Physical Therapy, acupuncture, daily at-home exercises, an overnight sitter for the 1 time we both traveled etc). We have a remaining 18-year-old cat. We want to relocate and I want to travel more and ski a lot during the winter. My wife wants a new dog already – a puppy despite understanding it is an impractical and poorly timed idea. Thanks for your post – if nothing else, “self-inflected misery loves company” 🙂

Last edited 13 days ago by Bo Simmons
16 days ago

I don’t think dogs are a terrible investment. Two of my grown kids have cats, and spend way much more on vet bills than I ever do. A big problem is traveling with a dog that isn’t small enough to be in an airline carry-on. That has prevented traveling back and forth to Florida. Driving is out of the question. Too many rude and crazy drivers on the highways. Airlines banned emotional support animals because it got out of control, with passengers abusing it with exotic pets as support animals. They should allow cats and dogs, and charge the same fee they do for pets in carry ons.

16 days ago

Jiab, I can relate to so much of your article.

We didn’t travel for a few years while the last of our pets was with us. He had kidney issues and required special food. We also found that certain feeding and watering arrangements, while not required, were good for him, and we wouldn’t trust them to anyone else.

When he passed, we chose not to get another pet right away. We knew we wanted to travel, and we also knew (as I’ve written about recently) that one way or another, we were going to move. So, the time didn’t seem right for a new pet.

Now that we’ve uprooted and are global nomads, it’s definitely not the time. Like you, we may settle overseas or split our time, and the latter would be especially tough.

We’ve moved pets internationally a few times, and it’s not easy. For now we’re getting our fur fix by petsitting for others. No doubt we’ll have our own again, but not yet.

Mary Gizzie
Mary Gizzie
17 days ago

I feel your pain. It’s not just pets, but also house plants! We live between Florida and Germany. My husband is a biologist and with that goes the love of growing things. Some plants he has had for over 40 years so he can’t just walk away from them. We obligate family to come to the house twice a week to water and check on things, but he stresses for a month about the house and plants before we take off.

Cats are of course require more intensive care than plants. I once had a dog who I sort of shared with a sister-in-law. She (the dog) was happy to visit the other family while I was away and they were happy to have a part-time pet who went home eventually. Dogs, I think, are easier to accommodate.

Purple Rain
Purple Rain
17 days ago

I have an apartment in another country (it is the one I grew up in). It is in a location that would cost us 1/3 our current annual expenditure. However, it would not be as pet-friendly as our current home. Fur babies rule. Always.

Last edited 17 days ago by Purple Rain
R Quinn
R Quinn
18 days ago

You certainly are not alone, dogs and cats are probably the most irrational spending there is and once hooked there is no way out. I don’t have a pet now but I understand the attachment.

In the last few weeks I have read several blogs where the cost of pets has created financial issues, but no matter, it’s always rationalized because they are part of the family and that’s so true.

On our recent road trip every hotel advertised as pet friendly and they were. For an extra fee you could keep your dog or cat in your room – potbelly pig too for all I know. Supposedly they sanitize each room afterwards, but we walked into one room and it smelled like a kennel so we had to change rooms.

If the pet had been a cat, I would have been in trouble as I’m allergic. Same if I sat next to you on a plane with a cat. One of us would have to move or they would be giving me resuscitation.

Americans spend on average about a $1,000 a year on their dog or cat – each. I know a family that gave up their vacation because their dog needed surgery. Pet – money – family, it’s a tricky balance, but no doubt who wins.

I wonder how Mr Spock would feel about pets?

Last edited 18 days ago by R Quinn
Jiab Wasserman
Jiab Wasserman
17 days ago
Reply to  R Quinn

Thanks for the comment. Even Mr.Spock is not immune to a cat as evident in this video.

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