Justin Miller, 33, loves Stella so much that he got her face tattooed on his forearm and made sure she had health insurance.
Stella isn't his girlfriend.
She's his 8-year-old bulldog boxer mutt.
"She's one of the most photogenic dogs in terms of just ridiculous faces," Miller, who founded a web-based wedding photography service, gushed to ABCNews.com. "She has an inch-and-a-half underbite."
Miller, who lives in Raleigh, N.C., is among a growing number of dog owners in North America who have bought pet insurance, according to the American Pet Products Association. About 5 percent of dog owner -- and about 3 percent of cat owners -- now have insurance for their pets.
According to VPI, the first and largest pet insurance company in the United States, those mostly likely to get insurance for their animals are single people. A VPI survey also showed that people with pet insurance are likely to be between the ages of 18 and 44.
Bob Vetere, president and CEO of American Pet Products Association, said his research agrees that pet insurance policy holders are likely to be single people, but he believes they are generally older folks, baby boomers.
They both agree it shows how pets have become more central to families' dynamics.
"It shows you people are really bonding with their pets," VPI spokesman Adam Fell said. "Dogs have gone from the backyard to the porch and, now, they're sleeping with their parents."
Vetere says, "In a lot of cases, it is people who have turned to their pets as family members, whether their kids have moved out of the house or the kids are grown up or they didn't have kids in the first place."
Miller adopted Stella seven years ago, and it was his own medical crisis that made him consider getting insurance for the dog.
|"They're outside being maniacs during the day. Who knows what can happen when they're out there?" - Justin Miller|
In 2008, he was changing Stella's water bowl when a copperhead snake lurking beneath it lurched up and bit his hand. He knew the snake was poisonous, but had no idea the bite would land him in the hospital for five days followed by six weeks of rehab just to use the hand again.
The bill was more than $60,000.
"At the time, I had really good health insurance," he said, adding that he only had to pay about $3,000 out of pocket. "If I had to have to come up with $60,000, I don't know what I would have done."
Not long after that, he started researching pet insurance for Stella. One day she wouldn't put any weight on her leg after playing outside. A vet immediately said that she'd torn her ACL and needed surgery and rehab. Even worse, she had a good chance of tearing the other one.
"I had to fork up about $2,000 or $3,500 for that surgery," he said, adding that this was around the same time he left his corporate job to become an entrepreneur. "My account was 30 percent depleted."
So he got insurance for Stella and his other dog, a rescued Boston terrier named Tank who he's pretty sure is bulletproof.
He said insurance was a big help because it helped pay for the second ACL surgery Stella needed a year after the first one and is helping pay for the medication she now takes for a heart condition.
"It's just one less thing to worry about or save up for," he said. "They're outside being maniacs during the day. Who knows what can happen when they're out there?"
Still, critics say pet insurance isn't necessarily a good bang for your buck because most policies don't cover preexisting conditions or anything hereditary or congenital.
The policy holder also foots the bill and then gets reimbursed later, which isn't ideal for a lot of people.
In a Consumer Reports look at several different pet insurance policies, they found that people could actually stand to lose up to $5,000 on a pet that had no major health problems in its lifetime. And if the pet did have major problems, the consumer could either get a net benefit of about $1,700 or lose up to about $1,900, depending on the plan.