Dogs ‘victims of hard times’
THE UK’s economic problems are forcing people to abandon their pets in great numbers as desperate families struggle to cut costs by any means possible and pets are seen as a luxury.
According to a report by Jerome Tyler in The Independent newspaper earlier this week, animal sanctuaries say they have been overwhelmed by the number of animals delivered to them in recent months as the credit crunch continues to bite and the cost of living rises sharply. The sanctuaries have expressed fear that the situation could become unmanageable if the downturn continues.
According to the RSPCA’s most recent annual report - published recently in OUR DOGS - the number of pets abandoned by their owners in 2007 was 23 per cent higher than the previous year. As the possibility of deeper recession looms, the charity’s figures for the first quarter of this year suggest that the number of abandoned animals is continuing to rise. Last year, the RSPCA rescued 7,346 animals abandoned by their owners. In the first four months of 2008, a further 2,621 animals have been picked up. Almost half of all the animals abandoned were cats, the charity said.
The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Scottish SPCA) said cases of unwanted cats in the first three months of this year were 18 per cent higher than the same period last year, while cases of unwanted dogs jumped by more than 90 per cent.
There has also been a significant increase in the number of abandoned exotic pets.
Last year, the RSPCA rescued 20 per cent more exotic animals than the previous year.
With the average cost of keeping a dog for its lifetime approaching £10,000, charities are most concerned about the fates of cats and dogs, Britain's two most popular pets. Owners are increasingly cutting back on additional expenses such as insurance and veterinary bills, leading to an increase in abandoned injured animals as well as unwanted litters.
Tyler’s report cites the experience of Gillian Stewart, 27, who runs the Capricorn Sanctuary in North Wales alongside her mother, Sheila. She also believes the economic downturn is leading to more and more families deciding it is time to abandon their pets. ‘I think that's appalling because animals don't have the luxury of being able to choose their homes, but they're often the first to suffer,’ she says. ‘We've seen a constant flow of abandoned animals over the past 12 months; dogs tied to lampposts, litters of kittens abandoned at the side of the road, you name it, we've had them.’
Mrs Stewart says that an increase in property repossessions may also have a knock-on effect on the sanctuaries. ‘There's been a noticeable increase in the number of people saying that their house is being repossessed by the bank,’ she says. ‘Rental accommodation often doesn't allow pets, so the animals are either handed in to sanctuaries or simply just abandoned.’ In the United States, which has been hit particularly hard by the global credit crunch, animal charities say they have also noticed a significant increase in abandoned animals.
Henry Macaulay, an RSPCA spokesman, urged owners to take out insurance to help them pay for unexpected costs. ‘We would urge people to take out pet insurance to help them cover the cost of having their pet treated by a vet when it becomes ill,’ he said. ‘Vet bills can be expensive and insurance helps to cover the cost.’
Doreen Graham, spokeswoman for the Scottish SPCA, said: ‘People abandon animals for all sorts of reasons; sometimes it's out of sheer cruelty, and sometimes because of circumstances. We often find a spike in the number of abandoned puppies around, or after, Easter time. These puppies are often bought at Christmas time when owners often use their hearts over their heads to make the original purchase of the dog but have failed to take into account whether they can actually afford to keep it. The cute little puppy soon grows up into a boisterous young dog and the owner finds they can no longer afford the time or the money to look after their pet.’