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|Economic Woes Tricking Down To Pets, Sometimes Paying the Ultimate Price|
|Written by Steve Dale|
I’m no fiscal guru. As my wife will attest, I can barely balance our checkbook, let alone forecast economics. Yet, I know the U.S. economy is in dire straits. I know times are desperate because you’ve told me. And it’s our furry friends who are beginning to pay a price.
As one listener of my Chicago-based WGN Radio show explained on the air, “We really love our dog – but we also live with my mother-in-law. We can’t throw grandma out on the street. And our two children still desire things. Something has to give.” Sure, enough, family companion Chester – for no fault of his own – was delivered to a local animal shelter the next day. This listener – who called himself Vince – wasn’t an anomaly.
A listener named Paul said his job is foreclosing on 60 to over 100 homes weekly throughout suburbs northwest of Chicago, that’s often over 400 homes a month. He begged other listeners not to leave their animals behind in empty homes. “Not only are people leaving the pets to starve to death, but even worse local animal control isn’t always accepting responsibility when I report it,” he said.
Michele emailed from Ft. Lauderdale to tell me she switched from an expensive prescription kidney diet for her senior cat in renal failure to a less costly over the counter diet, which is also marketed for cats with kidney issues. While her veterinarian suggests the decision isn’t in the best interest of her cat, Michele says, “I’ve made compromises with my own life. I only go to matinee movies, I’m more aware of sales at the grocery store and I haven’t purchased any new clothes in over a month, and don’t expect I will, except as Christmas gifts for others.”
I began authoring my national pet column in the mid 1990’s, so I can’t comment on how the economic downturn in the late 1980s impacted pets. Interestingly, after 9/11, as our economy whimpered, pets had lots to bark about. Adoptions and spending actually increased. Heading into 2008,as an economic category, pets pulled ahead of jewelry and hardware to the tune of $41 million, according to Bob Vetere, president of the American Pet Product Manufacturer’s Association.
As for adoption numbers, lots of factors, such as Iams effective Home 4 the Holidays campaign as well as a mounting pro adoption culture, played a significant role in increasing adoptions since 9/11. But there was something else going on too. I could play armchair psychologist and add, that perhaps feeling threatened, and a little afraid, we needed the companionship and dependability of pets after 9/11. When the unpredictable lurked around the corner, we sought trustworthiness, which only our pets can give us. But that was then – and this is now.
Around America, some shelters are seeing a decided decline in adoptions. Worse are once loved pets being given up on because ‘we can’t afford the animal.’ In too many instances, either out of embarrassment to surrender at a potentially judgmental shelter, or maybe because pets are now the last thing on their minds – families are opening the door, just letting animals to go to fend for themselves. And as reported above, as a result of foreclosures, some animals are literally left behind.
A listener phoned in just this past Sunday, asking what to do about his failing 20-year old cat who has begun to have accidents, and bump into objects in the home. Through the course of talking, it turns out that whatever reason – he’s about to lose his apartment, and may be homeless. His only thought, to find temporary homes for his remaining cats. His voice cracking, he said, “This cat (the 20 years old) helped me to get to sobriety.”
I asked how a cat can do that. He paused, and answered, “Love, true unconditional love. And lots of purring. Now I feel I can’t afford to do right by this cat.”
Some people being hit the hardest are those who arguably need a pet the most. Nancy E. in Charlotte, NC wrote me to explain that she is now 86, and has outlived most of her family. Even her only daughter has passed on. She says in the past few years, due to medical expenses, she’s gone through more money than she ever dreamed she’d spend. While at the hospital, a neighbor has cared for Spike – her little terrier mix. However, quickly running out of money, she has no choice but to live under Medicaid in a nursing home. The only facility which will accept her will not accept her best friend. She writes, “I’m pleased my loving neighbor will care for Spike. He loves their family. I know the end is coming for me but, this is no way to have it happen. I’ve lost my dignity, and most of all – I’ve lost my best friend. I’ve done nothing to deserve this.”
©Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services