Was it inevitable?
During the pandemic, people went shopping in record numbers – for pets.
Many of these purchases were by new owners adopting a pet for the first time, presumably to soothe their boredom and loneliness as government measures to help stop the spread and work-from-home took hold.
According to a June 2021 survey commissioned by Purina, nearly 3.7 million Canadians adopted, purchased or fostered a cat or a dog during the pandemic.
Now the pendulum has swung and surrenders to animal shelters are on the rise.
The last two years have seen huge societal shifts. Now that we’re adapting to the “new” normal, you may find yourself returning to the office and not being home to properly care for your pet. You’re definitely experiencing high inflation, making it more difficult to keep up with rising costs. You may be facing a potential job loss. All these factors are putting a strain on pet parents, veterinarians and animal shelters. Animal shelters are now in crisis-mode because of staffing shortages, higher operating costs and access to veterinary care.
According to Toronto Animal Services, in the first half of 2022, 709 pets were given to city shelters, compared to 404 during the same time period last year. That is up 75% compared to the first half of 2021.
Unfortunately, this number is expected to rise.
In this post, we will offer 5 ways to help keep your pet out of the shelter system.
Why are pet parents surrendering their cherished pets?
1. Pet Ownership Costs
Most new pet owners are now past the start-up costs associated with their pandemic pet purchase. According to rover.com, initial costs for Canadian pet parents during the pandemic ranged from $700 to $1,800 for cats and $1,300 to $3,300 for dogs.
This includes all pet parent start up obligations such as bowls, leashes, crates, microchipping, nail trimmers, poop bags or litter boxes, flea and tick prevention, food, bedding, adoption fees, vaccinations and spaying or neutering.
However, it’s the ongoing costs that pet parents new to the ownership game may struggle to reconcile, especially for financially strapped pet owners amidst surging inflation. Some costs are up 30% or more from January 2021. This includes food, grooming, vaccines, toys and flea and tick prevention, among others.
2. Spay and Neuter Deferrals
Another reason for the increase in unwanted pets – the postponement of spay and neuter early in the pandemic. Some clinics – Cabbagetown Pet Clinic excluded – were forced to pause spay and neuter surgery for a short period of time because of PPE availability concerns. We’re now approaching the fourth generation of unwanted litters that arose from that period.
3. Staffing: Veterinary Care Access
Yes, it’s affecting every business, not just veterinary care. However, veterinarians and veterinary technicians – at the best of times – tend to have higher rates of depression, burnout and suicidal thoughts. The study linked above was completed in February 2020, right at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic pet syndrome has only exacerbated these results since then, leading many to leave the industry completely.
Where have they gone?
Some veterinarians have sold their practices and retired, while others have just left the industry entirely to pursue other interests. Unfortunately, veterinary schools in Canada and the United States are not even close to replacing them, creating a giant hole in veterinary access for pet parents when they need it most. There are open positions in almost every animal hospital and filling them is an ongoing struggle that appears will not end soon.
4. Veterinary Operations Costs
We could go into all the reasons why veterinary costs are what they are, but for some clients that would never be satisfactory. We get it – pet ownership comes with significant financial commitments that new pet parents may not have carefully thought through when they stepped into the pandemic pet ownership arena.
Although the standard exams fees have barely budged, clinic supply chains are creating limitations for the basics – particularly vaccines and medications – and prices have increased accordingly with the world-wide rise of runaway inflation. Couple that with higher wages and incentives for recruiting employees and the cost of veterinary care has risen appreciably.
In basic Economics 101 language, demand is high and supply is low.
Surrender and adoption feel-good story. Tear trigger alert!
5 ways to save money and keep your pet out of the shelter system.
I’m committed to keeping my pet out of the shelter system. How can I save money and keep my pet?
If your financial position has become precarious for whatever reason (job loss, moving into pet-free apartment, medical condition) and you think that you can’t swing the ongoing expense of pet parenting, we can offer 5 ways to help address your unique situation – and avoid surrendering your pet to an animal shelter.
1. Known knowns – be completely transparent about all the costs associated with your pet.
This is an easy first step. Take a few minutes with a pad and paper and list every expense for your pet. It would include annual vaccines, food, pet supplies, etc. If you’re unsure about future expenses, review your transactions from the previous month, or even year.
Put the cost beside each item and arrive at a total. If the total is worrying, take a deep breath. This is an important first step – seeing where you currently stand allows you to chart a path forward.
2. Identify all the ways to save on day-to-day expenses – implement them today.
There are lots of ways to save on pet expenses.
- Bulk-buy food and supplies (Costco)
- Use digital coupons for pet food (ie. Hill’s Diet, Purina)
- Make diet adjustments of to reduce food costs (consult with your veterinarian first!)
- Cashback / Loyalty credit cards for pet products
- Homemade treats
- Food banks with pet food reserves
- Score pet supply bargains at Winners or Marshalls
If you are currently (over)spending in some areas (restaurants, vacations), can you reduce some of those discretionary costs in your lifestyle? And is it worth to you? We’re not here to preach, but if the answer is ‘no’, then it’s likely that you’re not prepared to make the sacrifices necessary to keep your pet happy and healthy.
3. Delay the non-necessities; save up instead.
This does NOT mean delaying medical treatment for your pet. However, there are many things that can be put on the back burner.
- Hold off on adopting playmates for your pet
- Need a new crate? Check the second-hand market for gently-used pet products (ie. Facebook Marketplace, Kijiji)
- Specialty pet shampoos and grooming items
- Wash an old dog collar, don’t replace it.
- Skip expensive training classes; DIY
- Reserve funds: If you have flexibility in your budget, start a reserve fund for yourself and your pet. Having emergency reserve funds can help pay for unplanned vet bills or even cover the basics – like food – if your circumstances change.
4. Raise money and/or look for financial pet support.
Most people would rather “keep up appearances” or poke themselves with a sharp object in the eye than ask for financial assistance. It’s a blow to our ego, but this shouldn’t deter you in the face of losing your cherished companion.
- Can you upgrade your job and salary in the midst of the Great Resignation? Keeping your beloved pet is always extra motivation to make a move.
- Is there additional work available, such as a second job or extra shifts? Weigh the financial benefits of extra work against how much time you have available – your pet still needs you!
- Sell your unwanted items on Kijiji or Facebook Marketplace – ie. clothing, guitars, bicycles – then use this money to cover pet expenses.
- It’s completely acceptable to ask friends and family for help with practical pet essentials, provided they care about you and your pet.
- Assistance Programs: The Farley Foundation assists those who are struggling financially to pay for veterinary care. You can find program details here. The Cabbagetown Pet Clinic is a dedicated partner of the Farley Foundation – the diverse Cabbagetown community is the beneficiary.
5. Consider Pet Insurance
It’s folly to say, “it would never happen to my pet”. It is almost a certainty that every pet during its lifetime will have a major veterinary bill.
Pet insurance means that you have to imagine the possibility of an unforeseen medical, worst-case scenario involving your beloved pet’s well-being. You shouldn’t have to worry about how to pay for the best veterinary medicine available when the unexpected arrives at your doorstep.
Some pet owners incorporate pet insurance in their monthly budget. The prices for coverage vary widely, so shop around. If you choose not purchase pet insurance, then be prepared allocate the same amount of money (premium) into an emergency reserve fund – this could range anywhere from $50-$70 per month.
Trupanion Canada is our preferred pet insurance partner and just happens to be one of the largest providers in Canada. They keep pet insurance simple by offering a single (and excellent) pet insurance plan that will cover the needs of most pet parents.
Ask us how to receive 30 days of FREE coverage at your next appointment.
*costs reflect procedures in major metropolitan areas based on Trupanion’s research and experience in 2019.
In addition to shelter surrenders, who knows how many pets are being abandoned by the side of the road in remote, rural parts of Canada? We can’t even imagine what goes through a pet’s mind when their owner drives away leaving them to fend for themselves. Heartbreaking…
That said, the ‘perfect storm’ for animal shelters is ongoing. With supply chain issues and staffing, shelters in most municipalities lack the necessary resources to accommodate this current surge, resulting in them being understaffed and turning away pets. It’s incumbent upon pet parents to look for any means possible – without causing their pet undo harm – before giving up the responsibility of pet ownership.