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Everyone’s run the numbers. Don’t pretend you haven’t. You’ve sat in a vet’s waiting room, cuddling the creature you love most in the world, and asked yourself: How much can I pay to get them through this? Sometimes it’s a practical question—what’s in the bank? Other times it’s more complicated— what am I willing to spend?
For many of us, pets occupy the same emotional space as family. But they differ in one awful way. One day we’ll need to answer that question.
How Do You Value a Life?
It’s a ghoulish question, but one that Deven Carlson, Simon Haeder, Hank Jenkins-Smith, and Joseph Ripberger set out to answer. They work in academia across public policy, political science, and risk and crisis management, but came together to publish a paper where they calculated the “statistical value of dog life.”
They weren’t the first to ask this kind of question. The experimental survey they built their work around already existed and had been previously employed to give a dollar value to human life (alongside other “priceless” things).
Not surprisingly, the factors behind that kind of calculation are vast. But put very basically, this is done by looking at an individual’s potential ability to earn and spend money. In short, how they contribute to a society and economy. For humans, their value was placed at $10 million.
But without the ability to earn or spend, that metric is trickier to apply to pets.
What Is a Dog’s Life Worth?
For the dog-version of this question, the authors began by surveying dog owners from around the US. Detailing their work in an article for the Conversation they wrote about trying to “assess how much they [owners] are willing to pay to obtain small reductions in mortality risk for their dogs.”
From that data they extracted that the “statistical value” of a dog’s life is $10,000. Or, 0.1% of a human life.
Why Do This at All?
Fair question. Awful as it is to admit, there are practical applications for this finding. The authors present it as being helpful when it comes to deciding on financial compensation when an animal is killed. Say a dog dies after eating contaminated pet food, the value helps direct how much the owner should be paid in a settlement.
Similarly it could help when trying to work out who gets the dog in a divorce or separation, and how much they might need to pay their ex partner.
Currently in situations like this, the dog’s worth is usually determined by “market value”. In short, a purebred is seen as more valuable than a mut, no matter how much you love them. So, in some ways, this valuation can be seen as an improvement in the way we think about pets.
I’m Still Not into This. Dog’s Are Priceless.
Well obviously we agree. Or at least they’re worth more than 0.1% of the rest of the family.
For more thoughts on life with dogs: