By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 21 January 2009)
The sagging economy has forced many families to give up their pets, but there are organizations that assist cash-strapped families with pet food and veterinary care.
The economic downturn has caused thousands of foreclosures, and families that lose their houses are not always able to find pet-friendly homes. The apartment complexes to which they are often forced to relocate often don’t allow pets, so large numbers of cats and dogs have been surrendered to shelters or abandoned.
Animal Shelters Have Been Overwhelmed Since the Economic Downturn Began
Animal shelters are taking more calls than ever, as distraught pet owners are forced to give up their beloved animal companions, and neighbours report homeless pets that less-responsible owners have simply left behind. Economists believe that the worst is yet to come, as the interest rates on another 1.5 million sub-prime mortgages are scheduled to increase in the coming year. This will likely cause more foreclosures and more pets being left out in the cold. Shelters and rescue organizations will bear the burden of caring for a massive influx of abandoned pets, causing overcrowding and other dangers for the animals.
Many Owners Can’t Afford Pet Food or Veterinary Care
In addition to animals that are surrendered outright, many families are so financially stretched that they can’t afford to pay for pet food or veterinary care. It costs an average of $1,000 U.S. per year to care for a cat and $1,400 for a dog. This has forced many pet owners to make awful choices. In Malvern, PA, a man had to give up his dogs in order to cover the expensive cancer treatments his mother needed, and in New York, a woman had her pet cat euthanized because it required expensive medications to stay alive.
The Sagging Economy Has Reduced the Number of Adopters and Donations
There are fewer potential adopters due to the weak economy, and governments have correspondingly reduced funding. Cash-strapped animal lovers are also less able to make charitable donations to shelters and other animal rescue organizations. As a result, shelters have had to euthanize more animals than they would otherwise, and those seeking to place their pets in shelters have been turned away in some cases. The majority of these animals will be abandoned to fend for themselves, and will probably die of exposure, trauma, or starvation.
There are Programs That Help Owners Pay for Pet Food and Veterinary Care
The Virginia Beach, VA, SPCA has implemented a Help Our Pets Everywhere (HOPE) program that helps with veterinary care, food, and even temporary lodging for the pets of families in dire financial straits, and many other organizations have started programs as well. Resources for pet owners include:
- Pet food assistance programs
- Charities that help pay the vet bills
- Animal Compassion Network assistance programs
Pet owners who are suffering financial difficulties should check with local animal welfare and rescue organizations to ask about additional programs that might be available.
How to Help
Compassionate animal lovers who are not suffering financial difficulties can help families keep their pets and provide assistance to abandoned animals in a number of ways:
- Make a donation to a local animal shelter or rescue organization.
- Make a donation to a pet food bank or other organization that helps financially devastated owners feed their pets and provide them with veterinary care.
- Volunteer at a local shelter or animal rescue organization.
- Start an animal shelter.
- Adopt or foster an adult pet from a local shelter (see Reasons to Adopt an Adult Cat for information on the benefits of adopting an older pet).
- CBC.ca. (22 December 2008). “Weak Economy Forces Many North Americans to Give up Pets.”
- Parker, John. (19 April 2008). “Part I: Pets Caught in Wake of a Nation’s Recession.” ZooToo.com.