Worries about pet costs rise with surge in adoptions during coronavirus pandemic
At the start of the coronavirus crisis, a Facebook post circulated showing an exhausted dog slumped to the floor, asking: “What is a corona? I got six walks today!”
During the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people who were stuck at home during shelter-in-place orders or because of job loss adopted pets in record numbers. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reported a 70% rise in animals adopted in its foster home programs since March in just two cities alone — New York and Los Angeles.
In Sonoma County, the two Humane Society facilities in Healdsburg and Santa Rosa are seeing a dramatic increase in pet adoptions during this time. In July alone, 193 pets were adopted — 27 more than 2019.
“In 12 and a half years, I’ve never seen so many adoptions. Our caseload has increased seven-fold. The need is so great,” Napa Valley Veterinarian Hospital Manager Lisa McWilliams told the Business Journal, referencing new clients coming in with newly adopted pets.
Although it’s a noble gesture to take in a pet to love, she said there remains a concern that diminishing household finances will lead to many well-intended pet lovers to discover they cost too much to continue caring for.
“Yes, I think probably people would be surprised. There are the basic needs of food, shelter and all that. Then, there are vaccines, heartworm (treatments) and testing,” she said. “It’s challenging.”
Having a pet can run an owner between $2,000 and $9,000 a year. But if the owner loses a job or experiences other hard times, keeping the pet may be a challenge.
The ASPCA estimated 4.2 million U.S. pets are likely to find themselves in a household with owners suffering financial hardship as a result of this ongoing crisis within the next six months. That’s a 21% increase compared to pre-COVID-19 figures in February.
With that, the ASPCA launched a $5 million COVID-19 Relief & Recovery Initiative to provide information to local agencies to help pet owners in need.
While owners giving up pets or abandoning them has not become a problem yet, it’s still on the agency’s radar, an ASPCA spokesman told the Business Journal.
“During any disaster situation, there’s always a risk that pet owners will not be able to provide adequate care for their pets,” the organization explained.
The Humane Society is working with the Veterinary Medical Association to provide resources such as discounted vet services to the animal sheltering community to help keep pets with their families. Eviction is a real concern to the advocacy groups, as the pandemic is prolonged and joblessness continues.
“One extremely disturbing estimate is that 30 to 40 million renters are at risk of being evicted by the end of 2020, and with 72% of renters owning pets, the number of animals displaced with their people could be catastrophic,” the Humane Society’s VMA Executive Director Pam Runquist said.
The Society has issued an “eviction toolkit” that includes suggestions on assembling a support package for families with pets. Services may range from discounts to counseling.
This toolkit comes with a variety of services including a support package with items ranging from leashes to dog houses.
In the North Bay, the concern has sent pet advocates scrambling to protect animal services with donations and grant funding they anticipate will help pet owners struggling to make ends meet.
“We all started to think about this at the beginning of the pandemic,” said Meagan Dallas, the Santa Rosa shelter manager of the Humane Society of Sonoma County. “The nice thing is if someone loses a job, we’ve figured out a way to keep helping the animal.”
While working in conjunction with the Healdsburg center, the Santa Rosa facility initiated a low-cost clinic located at the shelter’s Highway 12 location for pet owners who meet an income threshold and find themselves drowning in pet bills. One-person households making under $37,800 may qualify, while homes with two people earning a combined $43,200 also meet the threshold. There’s also a way to qualify if pet owners can show they already receive a government subsidy such as Cal Fresh or Medicare.
The idea is to keep the pets healthy and happy at home, without owners having to give them back to the shelter or worse.
“Care is so expensive,” Dallas said.
Indeed, the expenses don’t end there, as the list is long. The American Pet Products Association, a national trade group, anticipates 2020 will result in pet owners spending $99 billion in supplies and other expenditures. In 2019, actual sales totaled $95.7 billion — a jump of more than $5 billion from the previous year. The breakdown includes $36.9 billion for pet food and treats and $29.3 billion for vet care.
In particular, estimates provided by the Rover.com report on caring for a dog go as high as $9,000 a year. Part of the dent in the budget comes with the unexpected expenses, which can average between $1,645 and $4,315 at a time, according to the Seattle-based online pet sitting service.
“During these uncertain financial times, we wanted to publish an accurate report of the true costs of pet ownership in 2020, with a range of expenses,” said Kate Jaffe, pet trends expert with Rover.com.
As it turns out, Rover.com’s survey of what is spent on a pet during the pandemic shows a generational divide. Thirty-three percent of millennials claim they’ve spent more on their pets during the pandemic, compared to 10% of baby boomers insisting they have.
The spending starts right away and quickly adds up.
Adoption fees can range from $50 to $500. Puppy vaccinations may run $75 to $100, while potty pads cost can add up to $50 upon bringing Fido home.
How important is a furry friend?
A Rover.com survey discovered that nine out of 10 dog owners insist that since the pandemic began, their dog has played an active, positive role in the family’s mental health.
Many pet owners and advocates would argue humankind’s best friend is worth every penny. After all, money isn’t everything to those with a heart to give.
“If adding a new family member is feasible both short-term and in the future, that added companionship can be a major factor in mental well-being,” Jaffe said. “Welcoming a new dog to your family is a financial and emotional commitment that shouldn’t be taken lightly. But ask any pet parent, and they’ll tell you the love and joy they bring to your life is priceless.”