The dog ate the budget: The high cost of pets

Looking at the high cost of pets

Published: Monday, Feb. 6 2012 5:00 p.m. MST

Janita Coombs, head of the Community Animal Welfare Society, holds Ralley, a cat that is up for adoption, in North Salt Lake, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

Sometimes they are dropped off like a sack of dirty laundry.

But other times, they are left with weeping — as if a mother were giving up her toddler to a stranger.

The tearful partings are what get Carl Arky, director of communications at The Humane Society of Utah. "It is gut wrenching," he said.

But it happens every day at animal shelters across the United States. Pet owners giving up their animals — animals that lick their owners' hands for the last time as if to wash them with forgiveness.

The economy exposes just how expensive pets are. And when deciding about getting a dog or cat, unless a potential owner counts the cost, they may end up reluctantly bringing the animal to the shelter.

"People give a multitude of reasons for bringing in an animal," Arky said. And in a recovering economy, the underlying reason is often economic.

Some people will say the animal grew too large or someone in the family is allergic. But more and more Arky said the reason given is cost or moving.

Lose a job. Lose a house. Lose a pet that is not welcome in the new apartment."People are moving from a home of their own into an apartment because they lost their home," he said. "Hopefully that is going to stop."

Gail Buchwald, senior vice president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Adoption Center located on the upper east side of Manhattan, said the ASPCA does not have nationwide data on animals that are brought to shelters, the number one reason for pet relinquishment is moving. "Moving is often triggered by a number of other factors, many of which can be related to financial issues," she said.

The need to move can be related to the loss of employment and the inability to afford current housing. When the move is to a place that doesn't allow pets, that is also an issue of economics because it generally costs more to find pet-friendly housing.

The New York Housing Authority, which provides free and low cost housing, recently placed a ban on dogs over 25 pounds. "That did directly result in relinquishment," Buchwald said.

In California and Arizona, where home foreclosure rates were high, pet relinquishment skyrocketed as a result of a loss of a home. But people will tell a shelter they were giving up their pet because of a need to move but would naturally not offer information that they lost their home in a foreclosure. "When the economic recession hit the in the home forclosure market, we saw a direct correlation with that," Buchwald said.

Carol Moulton, an advisor to the American Humane Association on shelter issues, said that even though national statistics on animal shelters are not available, the economy had an impact. "There was a rash of relinquishments when all the big foreclosure started," she said. "As the economic crisis goes on, the cost of keeping a pet might be more of the issue than foreclosures."

Buchwald with the ASPCA said there has also been a tremendous drop in pet adoption in New York City. A drop of 10 percent in 2010 and a drop of 5 to 10 percent in 2011. Normally the percentage goes up each year — but Buchwald thinks some people are looking at their finances and are deciding it isn't the right time to get a pet. "People are thinking it through and they are not coming to adopt," she said.

On the other hand, Arky said The Humane Society of Utah's adoption rates stayed consistent over the last few years with about 7,500 animals being adopted out in 2010 and about 7,400 in 2011. "I find it encouraging," he said.

But Arky said people need to know a pet is a lifelong commitment. "It could live ten, twelve or fourteen years," he said.

And with those years the expenses rack up.

The ASCPA has a chart on its website, www.aspca.org/adoption/pet-care-costs.aspx aspca.org, showing the projected costs of different pets.

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