Pet Worth: Runaway Costs of Runaway Pets

Eleanor Greene

If you haven’t  seen pictures of a beagle plastered on yellow fliers all over the city, you should probably open your eyes. Sassafras is a beagle with a “distinctive flag-like tail” and a couple of dedicated owners. Jeff Abramson and Beth Edinger have been searching for their beloved pet since April, hanging and distributing over 6,000 fliers. However, they’re not alone—many members of the community have joined the search.
After about a month of looking, owner Abramson started a campaign aimed at local media outlets, which snowballed into a national story. “Sassy” has been featured on the Anderson Cooper talk show, the Today Show blog and on the front page of The Washington Post. A blog with nearly 100,000 hits (, a Twitter account (@FindSassafras) and a short film by AU grad student Jon Hussey have also been staples of the “Find Sassafras” movement.

It’s hard not to hear Sassafras’ story and wonder how far Abramson and Edinger will go before their dog comes home. On their blog’s FAQ page, the owners simply say that they’ve spent “a lot” on the mission, acknowledging that the cost is continually growing. However, as of September, they had spent over $10,000. Sassafras is prone to seizures and had been on medication for six months before she disappeared. The costs of her medical bills and her veterinary neurologist compounded with the additional search funds would have caused less motivated or well-off pet owners to give up the search.

Freshman Gabrielle Jette, who has three dogs and two cats, thinks that’s a lot of money. “It’s sad to say its not worth it, but in reality, it’s too much,” she said. “Ten thousand dollars is too much.” Sassy’s family, however, reaffirms that their optimism and hope reflects money well-spent.

The term “animal tracker” might bring up the image of a microchip imbedded under the skin of a pet. Sassafras has one of those, but she also has a different kind of animal tracker. Sam and Salsa are the human and canine team from Pure Gold Pet Trackers that are responsible for bringing the hope “rushing in unbidden” Edinger said. The search doesn’t come cheap though—tracking with the olfactory-enhanced dog runs $100 per hour, no small cost for a family that’s offering a large reward and has a baby at home. Edinger said tracking sessions lift spirits, but morale is more of a struggle. In the end, late night calls from neighbors or residents reassuring her that Sassafras is still alive help Edinger the most. She credits some of those late night sightings to the “quirky” schedules of AU students.

Rebecca Day, an AU student, has yet to call, but has been helping with the cause in her own way. Her involvement started out as a way to decorate her door at the beginning of the year, taking cool or funny posters off walls on campus. Then, on her way to work in September, she saw a Sassafras poster.

“I thought ‘Oh, this is the dog that everyone’s talking about,’” she said. This may not have been what Edinger and Abramson wanted for the poster, but the poster’s presence on campus has helped get the word out to AU students. The bright yellow flier, which miraculously survived the winter hallway cleanup, may help to make passerbys aware that Sassafras is still missing.

For many AU students who are without an animal companion, their pets are often considered extensions of the family. Nonetheless, it’s hard to imagine spending money on an animal that requires more than two pinches of food every day.
Having a pet isn’t cheap; the ASPCA says that owners spend between $715 and $800 per year on each dog or cat they own. The cost combined with the necessary responsibility of owning a pet is enough incentive to make most students wait until they have real jobs and homes. Maybe the temporary isolation from their pets makes it harder for some young people to relate to a predicament like that of Sassy’s owners. Maybe that’s why Edinger and Abramson get the occasional call from people trying to scam them out of the hefty reward.

For freshman Caitlin Freiss, not having a cat in her life is almost as bad as losing one. She and her roommate considered living on campus next year, but what drew them toward off-campus housing wasn’t just the lower cost, but also the possibility of being a foster home to cats through the Washington Humane Society. Freiss has even done research on what kind of human food cats could eat, because the cost of owning a pet can get expensive. Abramson and Edinger can certainly relate to Freiss’ hopefulness about providing lost pets with loving homes.

Illustration by Carolyn Becker.