How much is that doggy in the window . . . worth?
Because what he costs is one thing. What he’s worth is quite another. And according to a new paper, he’s worth around $10,000.
Depending . . .
In “Monetizing Bowser: A Contingent Valuation of the Statistical Value of a Dog Life,” published last November in the Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis, economists set themselves the goal of coming up with something called the value of statistical dog life (VSDL).
To put it in human terms, the value of statistical life (VSL) is an estimate of the mean dollar value people place on their own lives when making decisions that involve mortality risk. Current estimates of the VSL for the US general population is approximately $10 million per person, according to the authors.
Until this paper, no one had ever bothered trying to determine VSDL.
To do it, the researchers ran this scenario by 4,682 dog owners: imagine there was an outbreak of a canine influenza that kills 12% of all dogs who get it. Now say there’s a vaccine that reduces the risk of your dog dying from 12% to only 2%. How much would you be willing to pay—up to $3,000—for that vaccine?
The catch: the vaccine would only be effective for one year.
Based on respondents’ answers, the researchers came up with a range of $5,000 to $9,000, which didn’t factor in the emotional value the family placed on the dog. To correct that, the researchers gathered information on whether the dog was seen as a valued companion. That information raised the value of a dog’s life by around $1,000, putting the top limit of the monetary value of a dog at around $10,000.
If that figure seems like it was pulled out of a hat, compare it to what a dog would cost an owner over the course of the dog’s lifetime—a figure that some estimates put at around $15,000, depending on the size, breed, and services required (and that’s on the low end).
NEWStat contacted corresponding author Hank Jenkins-Smith, MA, PhD, director of the National Institute for Risk and Resilience at the University of Oklahoma, to find out why knowing the VSDL is important.
“Practically speaking, having an estimate of the value of a dog’s life can inform decisions about the value of regulatory decisions,” Smith said. For example, it can help determine the net benefit in enforcing stricter rules in pet food manufacturing when enforcement costs money and would improve dogs’ health. And it would be useful in court decisions when calculating compensation for the loss of a dog in, say, a car accident.
Smith stresses that the $10,000 figure is an average value: “The value of any individual dog will of course vary around that amount.” The loss of a prize-winning show dog, for example, or a social media influencer who earns his owner a six-figure income would likely command greater compensation.
As to those who say it’s impossible to put a price on the value of a beloved pet, Smith would heartily agree: “This estimate is not a value for a particular dog to a particular person.” Smith posits his own dog, Chuco, a “high-energy” cattle dog rescue mix, as an example. To Smith, Chuco’s value is “infinite.”
“Except when he’s being a pest,” Smith adds. “At which time I would happily rent him out at a very low rate.”
Smith knows that VSDL is a hot-button question. He acknowledges that issues involving valuation of life, whether in people, dogs, or any other species, often generate intense reactions.: “in some cases for philosophical reasons, in others for personal ones.” Smith thinks that’s a good thing. “It makes people think about not only what they value, but why.”
That’s a large part of the motivation behind writing the paper, says Smith: “to provide a basis for making some kinds of decisions in ways that better reflect societal values.”
“We, obviously, think dogs are worth a lot,” Smith adds. “And we want that reflected in societal decisions.”
Photo credit: © iStock/kirkkis