By David F. Kramer
There’s a lot of love and joy that go hand in hand with pet ownership, but also a lot of responsibility—and much of it is financial.
Despite our best intentions, life happens. Through no fault of their own, people lose their jobs, their homes, and their financial means and security. Though any of these situations make us take a long hard look at striving to take care of ourselves and the people who rely on us, many pet owners also view their animals as priority number one. The prospect of having to abandon them when money gets tight is unthinkable.
Fortunately, many organizations are available to help families and their pets get through tough financial times and stay together in the process.
Animal Lifeline – Help for Individuals, Families, and Shelters in Need
Denise Bash is the founder of Animal Lifeline in Warrington, PA, an organization that provides pet food and other necessary care for low-income families. They also sponsor fundraising events, educational programs, and community outreach for pet owners, shelters, and the general public.
“Animal Lifeline started in 2006 with the goal of not just being a rescue, but being a resource to the people who wanted to save these animals,” says Bash. “In other words, our goal was to help rescues and shelters not just by touching the animals themselves but by helping them become stronger organizations so they could help more of them.”
For Bash, the mission of Animal Lifeline became clear when she witnessed the behavior of needy people when they received food and other donations. “Even with groups like ‘Meals on Wheels’ for shut-ins, the fear is that if you bring an old lady a tuna sandwich, well, she feeds it to her cat,” says Bash.
“So, if we don’t take care of a whole family with children and animals, sadly, an adult might go hungry because they’re more worried about their dependents. We certainly don’t want to see an animal end up in a shelter for those reasons if they’re with a loving family.”
People seeking assistance in getting pet food and other supplies need only fill out a short application online or show up in person and be able to provide proof of income. The pantry is closed on Sunday and Monday but otherwise has varied hours to fit around an owner’s schedule.
Animal Lifeline maintains permanent pet food collection bins and coordinates with local schools, hospitals, churches, and area businesses. They also welcome donations of leashes, flea and tick products, kitten and puppy formula, toys, and other sundries. “No one needs to let their pet starve in Bucks County (PA),” says Bash.
Animal Lifeline also provides donations of food directly to area shelters. “The reality is that there are many shelters out there that don’t have a food budget,” she said.
“If I can give a shelter $3,000 in pet food, then that’s $3,000 they can put towards pet care. There are probably pounds and shelters throughout the United States where you can find hungry animals. The need is unbelievable,” says Bash.
Philadoptables – Connecting Pet Owners and Shelters with the Resources They Need
Another such organization in the Philadelphia, PA, metro area is Philadoptables. Like Animal Lifeline, the group works closely with area shelters as well as with needy pet owners in the local community.
“Philadoptables was started as a foundation and ‘friends of’ organization whose main goal was to assist ACCT Philly (Animal Care and Control Team) with advocacy, promote adoption, and purchase much needed medical supplies that the city budget does not allow for,” says Board Member Diana Bauer.
“Philadoptables’ mission is to talk to owners about having a plan for your animal. If anything would happen to me, who would be responsible to care for the pet? That is a question that we continually ask people to consider and [are] important discussions to have with family and friends before you decide to open your home to a pet.”
“We are also an asset for citizens to reach out to that can assist with connecting people to other groups and other resources that may be able to help. While we do not provide monetary assistance directly to citizens, we have a wide range of contacts and can direct them to where they can obtain help to keep their animal in their home with them,” says Bauer.
“Philadoptables has a working partnership with ACCT Philly and local rescue partners that save the lives of the animals within its walls on a daily basis,” says Bauer. Philadoptables has also sponsored low-cost vaccination and microchip clinics, and holds a volunteer-run pet-food pantry twice a month on Saturdays for area residents. As with Animal Lifeline, potential clients will need to provide income information and demonstrate their need.
How Much Does it Cost to Care for a Pet? The Expected, and Unexpected, Costs
So, how much does it really cost to own a pet? According to the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), the bare minimum of care and maintenance for a pet is around $1,500 per year for dogs and $1,000 for cats. Getting a new puppy or kitten is just the beginning of these expenses, with spaying or neutering, vaccinations, and extra vet visits. Obviously, food, toys, leashes, grooming, and any number of other things can also add up. Once your dog or cat reaches adulthood, these costs tend to level off.
What often brings financial troubles are the large, unexpected veterinary expenses. “But,” asks Dr. Jennifer Coates, a veterinarian in Fort Collins, CO, “Should medical expenses really be unexpected? Isn’t it just denying reality to think that your pet will not become injured or develop a significant illness over the course of its life?” Pet owners need a financial plan, and socking away a bit of money for this scenario is a good idea. Coates recommends either purchasing pet insurance or setting up a dedicated savings account for veterinary expenses. “Putting just a few dollars aside every month can go a long way,” she says.
Some of the ancillary costs that may be involved with pet ownership can also come as a surprise. Among these are carpet cleaning; replacing grass or fixing landscaping issues where your dog might have done some digging (either your own property of someone else’s); water damage from a leaking fish tank; replacing furniture that has been damaged by chewing or other accidents; and travel-associated costs, such as pet sitters or boarding.
Unforeseen financial hardships don’t necessarily mean that you’ll have to abandon a beloved pet. However, even the most altruistic groups and organizations do have their critics.
Should Poor and Low Income People Have Pets?
According to Animal Lifeline’s Denise Bash, one of the great hurdles is overcoming the stigma that many people have about needing assistance to care for a pet when they might not be able to financially support themselves.
“A lot of people say, ‘well, these people shouldn’t have a pet.’ That’s moronic. Our pets are already dying of overpopulation, so if we can just help people through a rough period—to be honest, most of our clients are with us for six months and then they get back on their feet,” says Bash.
“You do have some people who are never going to provide for themselves and their pets adequately—but they also have the right to have a pet, and many of them are, in fact, good pet owners overall. My goal is to keep the pet in the home. The last things our pet shelters need is to inundate them with more animals.”
Where to Go if You Really Have to Surrender Your Pet
“ACCT is the only open intake shelter in the city of Philadelphia,” said Bauer, adding that it is important to be aware of this because if a pet owner does have to surrender a pet, this is the only location that has to accept the animal as required by their city contract. “No animal can be turned away if the owner brings it to ACCT. As you can imagine, this is a daunting task and creates lack of space issues very often.”
Most cities also have independent no-kill shelters that will take a surrendered pet and rehome it, but they are often underfunded and overflowing, so there is no guarantee that they will have space to take your pet. Your other option is a municipal or taxpayer funded animal control shelter that will take a surrendered pet. You can learn more about different types of shelters here.
Where to Find Help
The following is a list of national organizations and their websites that can provide help for pet owners in financial need—be that in the form of financial aid for upkeep or for veterinary services. Each independent organization has its own guidelines for qualifications, so you will need to investigate each group to find the one that is suitable for you. The Humane Society of the United States also maintains a list of national and state resources for pet owners in need on their website.
Cats in Crisis (U.K.)