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Molosser Moolah

Just how much does it cost to keep one of these big’uns?
"All you add is love ... "
Whoever said that didn't own a Molosser — or was a very bad accountant.
Just how much it costs to maintain these big'uns? Molosser owners confess all ...

The Doctor Is In

Veterinary care is a major monetary concern for any dog owner, but particularly those with giant breeds. When medications are prescribed by the pound, a prescription may empty the pharmacy – and your pockets. And it’s not just drugs; it’s anesthesia, bandages and other surgical supplies, heartworm and flea prevention – about the only things that cost the same regardless of size are vaccines. 
In a recent survey by Modern Molosser, annual veterinary costs ranged from $250 per dog on up – and that can be in a good year! And that doesn’t include health clearances, which for some Molossers may include hip, elbow, heart and eye (CERF) testing, depending on breeding plans and age. At least fecal exams aren’t done by the pound!
When big dogs get sick, sometimes you can’t help but think about the cost – it’s either that or move under a bridge. Chemotherapy for cancer is one such situation. Dan Nechemias and Lois Claus of Dawa Tibetan Mastiffs in Yamhill, Ore., usually spend $500 to $1,000 per Tibetan Mastiff in veterinary expenses each year. But the year they treated one for cancer, the cost was about $12,000. Mitzi Walters of Brazenhead Mastiffs in Dublin, Ohio, also fielded a $3,000 bill for cancer treatment. 
The most commonly cited big-ticket veterinary expense is surgery, with anterior cruciate repair running $2,500 to $5,500 (for TPLO technique). Removing diseased and infected anal sacs in her Dogue de Bordeaux ran Tracey Pintabona of Leominster, Mass., $3,000. Even a routine spay can cost between $600 and $700. And if you think having puppies would be cheaper, you better hope you don’t need any heroic veterinary help getting them bred or birthed. 

Mondo Repro

High reproductive expenses mean breeding Molossers is not for the faint of heart – or light of wallet. Margo Lauritsen of Lamars Mastiffs in Brentwood, Calif., spent $7,000 to save her bitch from a staph infection she got from a surgical implant. Then the bitch developed mastitis, and spent five days in the hospital. And that didn’t count the $3,000-plus emergency C-section. “With related expenses I’d guess the five surviving puppies cost me about $15,000,” says Lauritsen, who kept one and sold four for a total of $9,500, or a $5,500 loss. 
Above: Margo Lauritsen's $15,000 litter learning how to chow down. Below: One of the five-figure cuties at eight weeks old.
Mary Schaller of Conquest Leonbergers in Mogadore, Ohio, had an expensive and devastating experience when she bred a bitch that required alternate-day vet visits for lab work and injections because she wasn’t holding her progesterone level. “She developed a uterine infection, and had a C-section. The puppies were in intensive care, then developed SIDS, bled out and died. She was in ICU herself for a week. Eventually, I lost all the puppies and the poor bitch. I’m still not over this horrible experience. The hospital bill was, well, thousands, probably close to five. No bitch, no puppies. I miss her to this day ...”
Even without tragedy, breeding can be expensive. Progesterone testing is commonplace, but at least is no more expensive than for any other breed, ranging from $80 to $100 per test, and requiring from four to 11 tests. Collection and shipping of semen for chilled or frozen breedings is not more expensive than in other breeds, but implanting it can be, especially if surgically implanted. Lauritsen paid $1,800 to have her bitch surgically implanted – on top of the progesterone tests ($320), collection and shipping of semen ($750), stud fee ($2,500), ultrasound ($150), and C-section ($2,500), for a total cost of $7,270. Her bitch had three puppies, of which she sold one for $2,500.  “That was one of the most expensive,” she says. “On average I always do AIs or surgicals and testing and C-sections, so it’s around $4,000 average per litter.”
Sophia, prematurely gray at 7½ years old, wasn’t so chipper when it came time to whelp. A staph infection was just the beginning of a series of complications that lead to a five-figure vet bill.
Planned C-sections are common, though it depends on the breed. Dan Nechemias and Lois Claus say that Tibetan Mastiffs usually breed and whelp naturally. “We’ve had one C-section with a bitch that had 13 puppies,” Nechemias recalls. “It cost about $1,200 for the section. The price was certainly a value, considering we went home with a stable bitch and 13 healthy, breathing puppies.” Most C-sections for Molossers run between $1,200 to $2,800, with emergency C-sections costing more. 
Most respondents said litters that didn’t have complications ran them between $4,000 to $5,000. Natalie Allouche of Shevet Ariot Mastiffs in Mississippi may hold the record with a $10,000 litter – but that’s only if you include the purchase price of the $6,000 bitch. But litter supplies, formula, insemination, C-section, and care of the brood bitch and puppies also added up. “When you have a female who does not want to mother,” she explains, “you need to have lots of coffee and determination. Can’t put a price on the determination, but coffee … probably $5 a day!”

Supersize It

The first thing most people ask when it comes to the cost of owning a Molosser is “What does it cost to feed that monster?” It depends. Survey respondents returned a variety of commercial and home-prepared diets. The commercial diets included Pro Plan, Eagle Pac, Blue Buffalo, Evo large bites, Diamond Naturals, Purina One, and Nutro Sensitive Skin & Stomach, and the weekly cost from feeding one dog these foods ranged from $15 to $25. Raw-food diets cost more, about $25 to $30 per dog. Feeding puppies also cost more, depending on age, at around $35 per week. And of course, adding canned food ups the cost. Cathy DeLuca of West Hempstead, N.Y., feeds her Neapolitan Mastiff “two cans of Triumph plus two cups of Life’s Abundance per day,” at a weekly cost of about $35.
Margo Lauritsen owns 12 Mastiffs and a “Meagle,” and spends about $270 a week between them. “I feed multiple foods for different needs,” she says. “Salmon-based grain-free food for a skin problem, Beef Purina One for a picky eater, and Costco Nutra Nuggets Lamb & Rice for the rest of the crew. I boil chicken breasts with hamburger, add pasta, and that is what I supplement their kibble with to get the spoiled brats to eat!”
Then there are treats and supplements. “Supplements are very expensive,” Lauritsen continues. “I give calcium-phosphorus supplements to pups to one year. The cost is $60 for 500, which lasts about a month, depending on how many pups I’m raising. I also give Joint Max to my old and injured dogs at a cost of $60 for 120, which lasts two weeks. Daily vitamins, Ester C, Vitamin E and fish oil supplements are probably around $300-plus per month for the group. Giant joints require giant care.”
Expensive? Yes. But when it comes to the food bill, many Molosser feeders say they just buy the best and write a check. A big check.

The (Not So Small) Stuff

Most people don’t worry too much about the cost of toys, treats, collars, beds and the other miscellanea involved in keeping a dog happy and styling. That is, until they own a Molosser. 
Take toys. Don’t bother shopping at the dollar store. Or even the 10-dollar store.
Jenna Walter Bowers, of Middletown, N.Y., describes her Corso as a toy killer. “Kongs and Dogzilla toys survive best,” she says, “but can be pricey from good pet stores.” Allouche says she has yet to find a toy that her Mastiffs cannot destroy. “I even bought a horse ball at a feed store,” she recalls. “It stated on the box, no horse could chew it and it would never deflate. My male deflated it in about one week.”
Ed the Mastiff and his supposedly indestructible ball. It wasn't.
Even a collar can be a challenge. Mitzi Walters says she’d had to have choke collars custom-welded to fit her Mastiff because “there’s nothing over 32 inches available!” Connie McClure of Milestone Bordeaux in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, says that even basic show collars are expensive. And if you want something a little fancy? Bowers reports that any nicer leather or decorated items are a premium price – “if you can find any without having to go online all the time.” Cathy DeLuca has paid $150 and up for beautiful Neo collars. After all, she explains, “anything less expensive would look like junk on such a beautiful dog.” Terry Pickhaver of Alberta, Canada, has a practical solution: “We actually buy leather belts intended for human use and use them as collars.”

Preziosa the Neapolitan Mastiff in her purple handmade beaded collar — steep at $150, but beauty knows no price!
Then there are the doggy duds. Just because Molossers are big doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate fashion. Or at least, a cozy coat or a cooling blanket now and then. “A cute princess T-shirt on the puppy would be fun,” says Jenna Bowers, lamenting the fact that her husband won’t go for the idea. But she adds that she’d probably have to buy people clothing if she did do it. Clothing lines cater to purse-sized pups, and when you can find them, they’re more expensive than human clothes – Jane Lessard of Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, reports paying over $90 for a Bullmastiff coat. Jane Lee Cooper of Zeland Mastiffs in Aukland, New Zealand, solved the problem by buying small horse jackets and having the neck altered to fit. “That wasn’t cheap,” she adds. As for bitch’s britches or other delicates? Mary DeLisa of Divine Mastiffs in Centennial, Colo., reports you can only find them big enough at dog shows or online. And just try finding life vests … McClure is still searching.
Jane Lessard of Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, spends close to $100 for coats for her Bullmastiff Brava.
Where does a Molosser sleep? Anywhere he wants to – but some want to sleep on their own dog bed. Forget buying the cuddler-style beds at dog shows or pet stores. They don’t exist in their size. Even finding one online is a challenge. And keeping one from being fatally squished or otherwise destroyed is an equal challenge. Monique Stuart, of Canyon Country, Calif., recommends hammock-style beds, which she explains “alleviates pressure on their joints because they are so heavy, and keeps them cool as well – and they are very easy to clean.” But at about $100 each, they don’t come cheap. Jenna Bowers is considering building a solid bed frame able to hold two queen mattresses side by side, but it is “still in the design phase.” Of course, there’s always the sharing of your own bed and sofa alternative – along with lots and lots of towels and blankets. 
Crates for Molossers are definitely not impulse buys. They need to be both big and strong – no soft-sided crates for these guys. At least, not if you want them to be there when you get back. A good-quality Molosser-sized wire crate will can cost a couple of hundred dollars. And good luck finding a plastic shipping kennel type big enough for anything but, well, shipping. Mary DeLisa reports flying with her dog and on a few occasions having the check-in person say her dog needed a larger crate because he couldn’t stand up in the one she had. “But usually they get it when you say, ‘That is fine, sell me a bigger crate, and they realize you already own the largest crate made!’”
Toys, chews, apparel, beds, crates – you name it, if it goes by size, it goes for a lot. That is, if you can find it at all. “Anything bigger costs more,” says DeLisa. “The more annoying thing is that we have to order nearly everything online, or sometimes we can get them at dog shows if we call the vendors in advance and ask them to bring their largest size.”
Finding super-sized items, from bitches britches to collars, is a chore for Molosser owners.

Molosser Mobiles

So long, sports car; hello, van! So much for that hip image. But some still manage to get a lot in a little. Jenna Bowers bought a Toyota RAV4 for its spacious back area. She reports she can fit all three of her dogs (a Neo, Cane Corso and Great Pyrenees) back there. Fitting is one thing; getting them in is another. Connie McClure bought a Twistep to help her dogs get in and out, explaining, “it’s better for their joints.” Mitzi Walters also purchased a ramp and folding stair, but admits she now just uses the “push and shove” method.
Jenna Bowers bought her Toyota Rav4  because it fit her dogs, which include  a Corso and Neo.
A car or small SUV is all well and good for letting the dogs ride loose, but if you want to include crates, that won’t work. Dan Nechemias and Lois Claus have a large Sprinter van they custom-modified to fit several of their dogs in a climate-controlled environment. Lauritsen bought a ¾-ton GMC Savana. “I can get three 700 crates in it and transport three to four Mastiffs with gear,” she reports. For around town, she uses a Buick Enclave, which can fit two Mastiffs once the seats are folded down. And for dogs shows? “A 40-foot Country Coach RV with double slides for room when we get where we are going with our multiple dogs.”
Dan Nechemias and Lois Claus customized this large Sprinter van for their Tibetan Mastiffs; its nickname is “Muffin.”
Bullmastiff fancier Grant Whitney of Scranton, Penn., also went the motor-home route, not just for the space, but because “that way we don’t have to find hotels that take big dogs!” Motels can be a huge challenge when traveling with a huge dog. “Many hotels have size limits,” says Rebecca Simonski of Legion Cane Corso in Acworth, Ga., “and the ones that don’t have limits impose a pet fee. So the more reasonable hotels only take the smaller-size dogs.”

As the Mo Flies

Of course, you could always fly instead of drive. That should be pretty cheap, right? Cargo charges depend on the weight of the crate and dog combined, explains Natalie Allouche, “so you know you’re out of luck before you even leave the ground! To fly a Mastiff you’re looking at approximately $1,300.”
Nechemias and Claus have flown one adult Tibetan Mastiff from Portland, Ore., to New York for Westminster in 2008. “It cost almost $1,000 each way,” they recall. “The biggest hurdle was getting from the airport to the Affinia hotel in the Pet Taxi. They weren’t exactly prepared for the hairy beast they picked up!”
Mary DeLisa has flown with her Mastiffs many times, although she tries to drive whenever possible. She’s had better luck with cost. “California to New York is the farthest flight. Average is around $450. I have done it for less than $300 and more than $600.”
Many people bring their new puppies home in the plane’s cabin, as at a young age they can usually fit in an underseat carrier. But not necessarily so if you’re bringing home Baby Huey. “Flying with 8-week-old puppies in the cabin can be a pain as they are over every airline’s in-cabin weight limit,” DeLisa says. “Normally they don’t ask, but the one time they weighed my puppy they made me buy a crate and fly it in cargo.” Allouche once imported a puppy from Eastern Europe. “The fee was $700, mainly for the paperwork and landing documents, then the crate, vet certificates and transit fees and so on.”
Of course, you could always buy your own jet. Or troop transport plane. 

Home Big Home

Owners have come up with a number of innovations to make their home their Molosser’s castle. Jane Lee Cooper sums up the attitude of many owners: “My house is a kennel!”
Cooper adds that she’s added extra fencing around the property, along with large kennels “that they won’t use! They’d rather sit on the doorstep and get wet!” Several owners pointed out the need for ample running room and strong fences – but agreed that Molossers like their creature comforts indoors. But sharing a home with a behemoth can be challenging. Some solutions? 
Some start from the ground up. Margo Lauritsen built a 4,000-square-foot home with huge rooms and all-tile floors for her dogs. On the walls, she used a special custom semi-gloss paint that she explains “doesn’t shine but is very strong for wiping off slobber.”
Others build kennels to help house their dogs. Dan Nechemias and Lois Claus have a kennel situated right off of their home. “It was built as a modified horse barn,” they say. “Our guillotine doors in the kennel were custom-made to accommodate our big guys and built strong enough that they would not get torn apart.”
More often, owners modify existing homes, some more than others. 
DeLisa is one example of the “more than others.” She says: “We’ve had to remodel our entire house since we got Mastiffs. The flooring and wall color have all been based on having Mastiffs. We now have hardwood floors on our first floor as the smell of dog would not get out of our carpet after only three years with the newest carpet, and we plan now to do the second floor next year. All our walls have now been painted a tan to help hid the dog slobber that makes its way to the wall.”
Tracey Pintabona changed out doors to ones the dogs can’t open, mounted steel baby gates to the walls, and added air conditioning to keep the dogs cool on really hot days. She also replaced the shower fixture to one she could use for bathing dogs. 
Mitzi Walters installed a special watering system outside so the dogs have constant fresh water.Mastiffs do not drink water with drool in it,” she explains. She also installed six gates inside her home to keep doggie drool under control and off of guests when needed. And she installed screen protectors on doors to keep the dogs from going through them. 
Jenna Bowers put Plexiglass over the window in the kitchen door to keep a head or paw from going through it “when a chipmunk gets too close.” She adds, “And like any pet parent, baby gates are our friends.”
Monique Stuart suggests getting an indestructible dog pool with built-in  drain for keeping the dogs cool and happy. “These pools are tough and easy to drain,” she says, adding that before she got the tough pools (which cost about $450) she’d go through about four regular kiddie pools a season.
More heavy necking: Mitzi Walters' Mastiff George — all 265 pounds of him — models his 34-inch choke collar, which was custom-welded to fit him.
Allouche cautions to be ready for home repairs. “Molossers are not dainty dogs, and sooner or later, you will need to fix, replace or redo something in your home. Too many people do not realize how much cleaning is involved with a breed that drools and loves to get dirty when they play.”
Almost all Molosser owners pointed out the intangible value of time and work. As Mary Schaller says, “The most expensive item really is time. Big messes, lots of grooming.  Leonberger are just not fastidious, so mud, hair – they love to slop around in the water. So cleaning is what most takes my time. Which, I guess translates into money.”
The bottom line? Big dogs have big bills when it comes to feeding, vetting, grooming, transporting, boarding, housing, entertaining and reproducing them, as well as cleaning up after them. If ending up in the red makes you see red, just do as many Molosser owners suggest: Close your eyes and write the check. Because while they may not agree on exactly how much it costs to own a Molosser, the one thing all our respondents agreed on was that they’re worth every penny.


© Modern Molosser Magazine. This article may not be reposted, reprinted, rewritten, excerpted or otherwise duplicated in any medium without the express written permission of the publisher.