Pet ownership rates have soared in the Australian Capital Territory in the past two years, but owners may be struggling to keep up with the rising pressures of pet care. Some are turning to euthanasia or surrender for treatable conditions, or even more alarmingly, simply ignoring their animal until welfare inspectors are forced to step in.
The RSPCA and Fyshwick’s Animal Referral Hospital say many factors could be to blame. The rising cost of living or issues with mental illness are possible causes, with owners reluctant to admit they are struggling.
In October last year, RSPCA ACT saw one severely underweight dog come through its doors per day for a week. Inspector Warrick Dunstan said, while this increase may be due to financial or mental health reasons, it is simply “too soon to articulate a definitive reason”.
“Unfortunately, animals in poor condition are placed out of sight and forgotten about … they (the owners) continue to provide no plausible reason for their animal’s suffering,” he said.
According to Animal Medicine Australia, rates of pet ownership in the ACT soared in the lockdown years. Pets provide comfort and companionship, but their care comes at a cost, and rising financial pressures could contribute to unaffordable care for animals.
Animal Medicine Australia says the average cat or dog owner paid more than $3000 per year to care for their pet in 2021. With ABS statistics showing a 7.3% rise in the consumer price index over the past 12 months, there is no doubt the cost of basic pet care items such as food, bedding, training and veterinary care has increased.
Animal Referral Hospital’s clinical director Jacob Michelson has seen it first hand. “There have been a few cases of clients electing for cheaper, less effective surgery. We do accept patients surrendered for economic reasons requiring major treatment, which we perform and then rehome (the animal)”.
Dunstan urges owners who might be struggling to care for their pet to be honest and simply “get help before it is too late”.
Michelson agrees. “People may feel stigma about lack of funds in many circumstances, but we make a point of never judging a client on their ability to pay for a treatment,” he said. “We offer alternative options, payment plans, discounts or euthanasia if needed, without prejudice. Not everyone can pay for everything and a pet’s treatment needs to take into account the owner’s circumstance as much as what the pet actually needs.”
For mental health support, go to https://www.beyondblue.org.au, or call Lifeline on 13 11 14.