What’s your dog worth? Weimer calculates it, wins prize

Prof. Weimer's family dog, Ming

There’s no way to put a price on a dog’s love and loyalty. Or so we thought.

La Follette School Professor Dave Weimer conducted research to calculate the value of statistical dog life. In other words, how much Americans are willing to pay, on average, to reduce their pet’s risk of dying. The numbers tell us how owners implicitly value their dogs.

And it turns out that priceless companionship does, in fact, have a price—$10,000, to be exact.

Weimer and his colleagues published their findings in “Monetizing Bowser: A Contingent Valuation of the Statistical Value of Dog Life,” which the Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis selected as its best original article for 2020.

Weimer’s team included Deven Carlson (MPA ’07), an associate professor at the University of Oklahoma, and Simon Haeder, an assistant professor in the Penn State School of Public Policy who received his doctorate in political science from UW–Madison. They surveyed a national sample of dog owners about their willingness to pay for a vaccine that would reduce the risk of a potentially fatal canine influenza from 12 percent to 2 percent.

While the scientifically derived $10,000 figure delighted many dog  fans and intrigued national media, the study was no idle exercise. The value of statistical dog life has legal implications—for example, in setting tort awards for wrongful dog death and dividing property in divorce settlements.

Weimer’s research also has uses in the regulatory sphere.

“When agencies like the Food and Drug Administration decide to write a rule, they are required to consider costs and benefits in their regulatory impact analyses. They have to show that the benefits of a rule outweigh its costs,” he said. “Assigning a dollar value to a dog’s life helps them make decisions that can ultimately improve the lives of dogs and the people who love them.”