Food banks for pets are a really bad sign

Dog’s dinner

If you can’t even feed your pet, are you really giving them the life they deserve?

27th October 2017

It’s clear that no matter how careful with money, nobody can 100% guarantee their financial security for the lifetime of a pet, especially one that can live up to 20 years.

According to Shelter, more than one in three families are only one month’s pay packet away from losing their homes. For most people it’s really not possible to mitigate against this kind of life event – but still, it can have a huge impact on your pet. No matter how secure your circumstances when you get a puppy, for example, there are no certainties that in eight or 10 years you won’t be made redundant, become seriously ill or have your relationship break down.

So food banks for pets, which are on the rise, seem like a sensible way of helping people who are struggling to feed their furry friends.

But are pets really safe with families who can’t even afford to feed them?

If we’d have worried about the cost it could have been fatal

If owners can’t cope with the cost of a £10 bag of food that would feed a dog for a few weeks, it seems unlikely that they’re going to be in a position to make sure their pet’s jabs and boosters are up to date to protect them from diseases. And this is before the emergency health care that’s often needed when our pets get themselves into scrapes.

From personal experience, I know how hard it is to make a judgement call on an ill pet. When our cat Maeby (yes, we’re Arrested Development fans) chewed a lily leaf, we were unsure whether that really warranted a vet visit – and money wasn’t even a consideration for us. If we’d have been worried about the cost, we might have delayed taking her which, in her case, could have been fatal.

It turns out it’s lucky that we erred on the side of caution. As we’d taken her immediately, she could be given activated charcoal treatment and was monitored for a couple of nights, which still set us back a brutal £1,500, though obviously we were just thankful she survived. Lilies are toxic to cats – often the advice is to remove the stamen of the flower so no pollen gets on the cat’s fur (which we had done) but actually the whole plant is poisonous and it’s best not to have lilies at all if you have a cat.

Hopefully there will never be a point where we have to worry about covering the cost of our cat’s needs but if that time comes, we know we have family members who might be in a better position to look after her.

Nobody should feel forced to give up a beloved family member because they’ve fallen on hard times

Being stuck in poverty or debt can be a tremendously isolating experience, so pets can provide much-needed comfort and support, and nobody should feel forced to give up a beloved family member because they’ve fallen on hard times. But pets are not a right, they’re a privilege. When we agree to take on a pet, we’re responsible for their welfare and need to make sure they don’t suffer unnecessarily – which means covering all the costs associated with looking after them, not just the cost of feeding them. If you’re routinely giving your cat Morrisons Value cat food from the food bank, money is likely interfering with their happiness and wellbeing in other ways.

Nosy cat
Maeby survived and continues to be nosy

Of course, there are charities which can cover veterinary treatment and they do a great job helping families who are desperate, but they can be a postcode lottery, are usually means-tested and usually only apply to one pet per family. Vets also have a professional duty not to leave animals suffering, but that can mean putting them out of their misery where owners can’t afford treatment. And they can’t do anything about people who delay bringing in seriously ill pets because they’re worried about the cost.

There are lots of people who would love to have a pet but know they’re not in the right place financially to do that. Perhaps due to austerity measures, falling homeownership levels and financial instability, the number of pets in the UK has been dropping and is now at 54 million, compared with a high of 71 million in 2013. It’s much better to borrow a furball from a friend or a service like Borrow My Doggy, if you’re not sure you can handle the commitment long term.

However, that message still doesn’t seem to be getting through to some thoughtless people, which means every year thousands of animals need to be rehomed or end up being put down because people underestimate how much care they need and how much they can cost.

Let’s hope pet food banks become a short-term lifeline for a few desperate pet owners, not an incentive for selfish people to take on an animal frivolously.

27th October 2017