LIFE-PET-DEBT-TB

Caitlyn Isham gives her pet pig named Porkchop a kiss at her Chicago home.

When Caitlyn Isham got her pet pig, Porkchop, six years ago, her large family had just welcomed three stair-step newborns.

“I had nephews born in May, June, and July,” said Isham, a 37-year-old Wicker Park resident. “I got Porkchop later in the fall and said, ‘Here’s my contribution to the family.’”

With 14 nieces and nephews, Isham said she’s “not short on the baby aspect.” And much like her siblings, she’s a devoted, caring parent — her child just has hooves.

Porkchop snuggles in bed with Isham at night; Isham makes sure his diet is top-notch; she’s on top of his veterinarian visits; Porkchop has his own room in the apartment (Isham’s old walk-in closet, which she converted); he has ample toys and entertainment; and he even pouts or throws a tantrum here and there.

“I treat him like my child,” said Isham, and one thing that comes along with children: an exorbitant amount of expenses — seen and unforeseen.

Recent data from an August 2019 LendingTree survey found that approximately 42% of the millennials surveyed have been in pet-related debt. Nearly 1 in 10 are currently paying it off.

The survey questioned 760 pet owners during the first three days of July 2019. The goal was to see how pet owners pay for their animals, especially when a surprise expense pops up.

Brianna Wright, lead researcher of the study, said that the debt comes down to a millennial’s net worth and discretionary income.

“Higher salaries come as you get older,” said Wright, a consumer research specialist at LendingTree, “so millennials may have student loan debt or other things (to pay for), so finding money for their animal in an emergency might be impossible to do without taking on debt; they might not have a choice.”

Luckily for Isham, who named her pig Porkchop so his name could read “Porkchop Is Ham,” a play on her last name, she hasn’t had any emergency expenses for Porkchop, and she isn’t in debt because of him.

Before purchasing Porkchop from a breeder in Florida — he cost between $1,500 and $2,000 — Isham did a lot of research to determine if she could properly care for a pet pig. Even with being equipped and knowing what she was signing up for, there were still a few curve balls.

“The surprise was more in the vet bills,” said Isham, “because I never anticipated that he would have to get put under (with anesthesia) each year (so that they could trim his hooves and his tusks).”

Since Porkchop is a pig, Isham has to go to a “special vet,” she said. “He’s basically the only vet in the area (suitable for Porkchop), so I have no choice; I can’t shop around for a better deal.” Porkchop’s last visit cost $800.

Isham has a designated CareCredit credit card for Porkchop’s veterinarian visits, which she can pay in six months to a year with no financing, she said.

The survey found that a credit card was the most common form of payment among millennials for emergency pet expenses, said Wright.

Porkchop has earned a little income from movie appearances and a few photo shoots, which helps to offset some of the costs for Isham, she said, like paying for strollers, a wagon or any special treats. “Any money he makes, it goes back to him,” she said.

More millennials have pet insurance than Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, according to the survey, yet the avocado toast eaters still somehow have the most debt. That discrepancy makes sense when you think about how pet insurance works, said Wright.