As I review my monthly credit card statements, once again I must explain to my wife why dog shows are a bargain hobby. I know, I know, it seems like the dogs are living the life of luxury you dreamed about when you were younger and you have been relegated to a kind of serfdom to provide for your doggy master, but what are your neighbors spending for their weekend recreation?

First, to eliminate redundancies, let’s stipulate that every hobbyist is going to have to pay for transportation, lodging, & meals. Now some of you out there are lucky enough to live in areas where these costs can be minimized. If you are a golfer and you live in Southern California or Arizona, you probably live close to an acceptable course. If you live in Denver, you have easy access to the Broncos’ football games and the ski slopes. If you live in New York, you’re a cab ride away from Broadway or Lincoln Center. If you live in Orlando and have kids, you can explore every nook and cranny of Disney World a weekend at a time. If you live in the Mid-Atlantic states, you are no more than a couple of hours from a dog show most weekends.

However, I’m going to assume that many of you are in my shoes and have to either pack up the family SUV or brave your local airport to get to a weekend of resort golf, football, skiing, Broadway or major amusement-park madness. So what are the real costs? Since most American families own a dog, I am not going to include the cost of pet ownership, e.g., food, vet care, dog toys, crates or beds. Let’s look at up-front investment costs. While attending a Broadway show, an NFL football game, or visiting Disney World requires no up-front investment, owning a show dog, playing golf or hitting the slopes requires a substantial investment. All of these hobbies can be pursued at a number of levels. Since I am interested in what the owner/handler spends, I’m looking at no handling fees. To level the playing field, I will also look at the golfer without a country club membership and the skier who doesn’t own a timeshare in Telluride.

In most breeds, a very credible show prospect can be had for $1,500 more than an AKC-registered pet. Throw in a medium-priced grooming table, exercise pen, grooming equipment & supplies, special show leads and a dolly to move all that stuff around, and you have spent another $400 easy. Your neighbor, Don, meanwhile sprung for a quality set of golf clubs and bag for $800, a really spiffy pair of shoes for $150 & a golf glove for $25. Spencer, from down the street, is planning a big ski weekend, spending $800 for skis, bindings, boots & poles; $900 for ski pants, jacket, gloves, helmet & goggles. Spencer already has a warm & stylish wardrobe for apres ski activities. So far you have invested $1,900 in your hobby, while Spencer has spent $1,700 and Don has only spent half that amount at $975.

Well, a holiday weekend is approaching, and you and your neighbors are all off for a weekend of fun. You are heading to a three-day cluster 250 miles from home. Don is going to Myrtle Beach to play golf. Spencer is off to Aspen for three days on the slopes. Jack and his brother are off to New Orleans for a weekend of partying and cheering on the Saints. Beth and her best friend are heading for New York to shop & take in the an opera, a concert & a Tony-winning musical. Final Nathan and his wife, still kids at heart, will head for Orlando and the Magic Kingdom. You and a fellow exhibitor are sharing expenses and have invested $90 each in entry fees. Don and his posse are spending that much a day in greens fees. Spencer and company are spending $65 a day for lift tickets. Jack scored two Saints tickets for $150 a piece. Beth’s three tickets cost her $400 (yep, $400). Nathan & wife laid out $235 each for three-day passes to the Disney parks.

Now, I and my wife no longer spend every weekend at a dog show. We haven’t done that since BC (before children). I try to adhere to my one show weekend a month, about 35 shows a year routine. I suspect Don will be on the links more than that. Spencer will only make it to the ski resorts about six times this winter. Jack got to NFL games about once a month this season, but will augment that with some college games that are nearly as pricey. Beth will visit the City for a show & shopping weekend two or three times this year. Nathan and spouse will renew their childhood about four times a year at a variety of amusement parks.

The bottom line for dog fanciers is no more than for a lot of generally accepted hobbies. It’s all about the level of involvement. Most of us can’t afford season tickets at Lincoln Center or the Meadowlands, golf at Pebble Beach, or a jet-setting dog & professional handler. Whenever my wife looks at those credit card statements, I just say, “Remember when we owned the boat?” And that’s today’s Back Story.