Two animal charities are doing all they can to help people keep their pets as fears grow of a potential tsunami of abandoned cats and dogs due to the cost of living crisis.
The USPCA and the Assisi Animal Sanctuary say they are concerned that rising food and heating costs could force people to make heartbreaking decisions about their animals.
But they say they are taking action through money-saving programs to try to ensure that cats, dogs and other pets stay where they are happiest – in the homes of their owners.
Charities across the UK are reporting a massive increase in the number of beloved pets being handed over to animal shelters by people struggling to feed their own families, let alone find the money to pet food and vet bills.
The problem is believed to have been compounded by the fact that so many people have adopted a new pet during the Covid lockdowns.
But the two charities say the help is there and people should only have to give up a pet as a ‘last resort’.
Anna Morton, from the Assisi Animal Sanctuary in Bangor, says these are “very worrying times”, but pet owners should only hand over their pets to a shelter as a last resort.
“At the moment we are doing well, but we have seen a massive impact of the cost of living crisis on people who may be struggling financially and there is great fear for the future,” says Anna .
“We offer an outreach program that helps people with food costs and vet bills and we’ve seen a big increase in people contacting us for help. We can provide food parcels to people with low income.
“It’s a very worrying time for people who have pets as the cost of everything has gone up. We’re trying to help those who are struggling to not have to give up their pets. We’re hearing a lot of stories on social media of people being forced to give up their pets.
“Owners don’t want to give up on their pets. Many people see their pets as a lifeline. It would be extremely damaging to their mental health to have to give up what in many cases is their best friend, but it is the concern that many pet owners face.
“The best place for a beloved pet is in their own home. They do better at home than in a shelter, so we’re doing everything we can to help people so the worst-case scenario doesn’t happen. “
In April, a charity in Wales reported it had already received more than 300 abandoned dogs – double pre-pandemic levels – while another dog shelter in Birmingham reported a 53% increase compared to the previous year in the number of abandoned dogs.
The USPCA also runs a program to help pet owners struggling with the rising cost of living.
USPCA Development Officer Colleen Tinnelly told The Sunday World they have seen a worrying increase in the number of people reaching out and asking for help.
“The current cost of living crisis presents many challenges for people in Northern Ireland. As well as rising food and energy bills, people are struggling to cope with the costs associated with owning pets, especially pet food and vet bills,” Colleen tells us.
“The decision to give up an animal is incredibly difficult and heartbreaking, and while we have yet to see any such incidents due to current financial difficulties, we fear it could be a very different story in the months coming.
“Unfortunately, we are seeing an increase in the number of cases where owners are struggling to cover veterinary bills, as well as others who have sought our advice regarding their pet’s diet.”
And she said she fears the animals’ health could be damaged if the conditions are left untreated due to rising vet bills.
“The USPCA offers a charitable discount program for low-income pet owners – this provides financial assistance of up to 50% on veterinary treatments such as consultations, neutering, neutering and operations.
“We can also offer payment plans to customers and encourage pet owners to check if this is an option with their local veterinary practice. We are concerned that this deteriorating economic situation could seriously affect the health and well -to be long-term pets in Northern Ireland if conditions are not treated.”
She says food banks can also help with pet food and said the USPCA works with a number of them.
Colleen added: “The USPCA is currently working with over 45 food banks to provide much-needed pet food packages – this service can provide extra support and help your pet stay happy, healthy and at home. If anyone would like any further information or advice, please get in touch with our team on 028 3025 1000.”
Assisi Animal Sanctuary says that although they face difficult times, they have maintained great support from the local community.
“We fear that the demand will exceed what we are able to supply,” says Anna Morton.
“We have to take care of our own animals in the sanctuary first, but we will help as many people in the community as possible.
“Our goal is to ensure animals that are in a home stay home. Fortunately, we have great community support.
“We have lots of local shops supplying and supporting us and Sainsbury’s have been particularly generous and helpful.”
Donations to both charities are welcome.
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