Some owners struggle to keep their pets during period of economic uncertainty

March 5, 2009

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The economic crisis isn’t affecting P.E.I. pet owners – yet – says an Island animal shelter employee.

P.E.I. Humane Society development coordinator Kelly Mullaly said there has been a 20 per cent increase in the number of dogs left at the shelter compared to this time last year.

“We’re not 100 per cent sure why and we’re not sure if that would go necessarily back to people having some economic problems now. It’s possible, since it is more expensive to take care of a dog than to take care of a cat.”

But the number of pets being dropped off at the shelter has increased by a huge percentage in the past few months, she said.

“We’re kind of taking a watch and wait position right now. It hasn’t been very dramatic for us but we don’t know what this year is going to hold and the next year after that. It almost feels like the worst is still to come.”

Over the past couple of years, people have left their pets because the owners are leaving the Island to work in more prosperous provinces, particularly Alberta, Mullaly said.

“That has slowed down, obviously, because not so many people are going out west.”

The shelter has received more calls recently about litters of puppies or kittens and owners not being able to afford to feed them, Mullaly said.

“So, we have felt it a little bit. But maybe not as dramatically as some of the other parts of Canada have.”

People may have to start making some decisions about their priorities on where they are spending their money, she added.

“They may be changing the food or the cost of the food they buy for their pet. The extras, like toys and treats may have fallen off the list. Hard to say for sure.”

But the actual animals weren’t the only thing that Humane Society staff have to worry about in these uncertain times. Fundraising is also a major issue.

“We were very concerned that that was probably going to take a big dip because peoples’ priorities have to change a little bit. But thank goodness, we’ve been holding steady in that regard, too.”

Volunteers haven’t been in short suppy at the shelter recently either, Mullaly said.

“Maybe because some folks are having trouble finding work or as much work as they want to and they want to keep their résumé well-rounded by doing that kind of work with us.”

The Tack Store in Charlottetown sells gear for horseback riding. Employee Jenifer Dyment said horses are a bit different than other pets in concerns of economic issues, as they are usually non-negotiable.

An owner might move their horse to a cheaper location, but for most horse owners, they are pets, like your cat or dog. When cash gets tight, you don’t sell. You adapt.

Nova Scotia Agricultural College student and animal lover Nicole Hawkes worked at a veterinary clinic in Sackville, N.B. during the summer of 2008.

She said grooming prices have gone up and vet charges have generally stayed the same, but the economic crisis definitely is taking a toll on pets.

There are lots of people who need to give there pets up because they can’t afford it.”

Animal control officers often times have to collect pets from homes when families can’t afford to care of them, Hawkes said.

“This one lady told us all about how people can’t afford to look after them or that people just don’t admit it and have there pets taken away from them.”

According to the British Columbia SPCA, the economy is affecting the health of animals.

Because of financial troubles, many families are not able to fulfill the needs of their pets. People are buying lower quality pet food and taking their pet to the veterinarian less often.

Some cities have set up pet food banks in order to help struggling pet owners in their, and their furry companion’s, time of need.

(Published in the March 6 2009 edition of The Surveyor.)

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