National Unwanted Pet Week
Wood Green, one of the country’s leading animal organisations has launched National Unwanted Pet Week. Now in its second year, the initiative aims to raise awareness of the massive numbers of pets that are abandoned or mistreated. The numbers are startling: a whopping 250,000, yes, that’s a quarter of a million pets find themselves unwanted each year. This flabbergasting figure reflects an attitude to pet buying and commitment that’s quite frankly scandalous.
Part of the root cause can be seen by another gobsmacking statistic: in their survey, Wood Green found that almost half (44.1per cent) of UK pet owners take no advice before getting a pet. It appears that the nation’s consumers think about pet purchasing with as much thought as buying the weekly spuds. Maybe less. Is it any wonder that when the reality of what living with, and being responsible for another totally reliant creature entails hits home, that the once wanted animal, finds itself unwanted? How sad it is that these unwanted pets, a good number of them dogs, who are living, sentient beings with feelings of attachment, trust and loyalty find that trust misplaced as they’re abandoned, or handed into rescues by their humans. For many, getting themselves a new home will be the best thing that could happen to them, but the harsh reality for others is that they will languish in shelters, waiting for a non-existent new home for them to be found.
Rescues are being forced to make some hard decisions these days as they struggle, and in some cases fail to cope with the huge numbers of pets that are being handed over to them. Hard on the heels of me reading the horrible statistics from Wood Green this weekend, I heard that Oldies Club, a charity helping to find new homes for senior dogs has temporarily halted intake due to unprecedented demands on their limited funds.
Last week, Hope Rescue put a heartfelt post on their Facebook page illustrating the reality for them:
“This is the 3rd dog in just a month that we have taken in as the owner could not afford the vet costs. This is on top of the other dogs with broken legs that were abandoned and came in via the pounds recently. Responsible ownership DOES NOT stop when you buy or adopt your dog – it is a lifetime commitment and vet bills and insurance costs are part and parcel of that responsibility. There may be some very genuine cases where owners fall on hard times – but that does not negate the fact that someone else has to pick up these costs”.
This is the tough reality that rescues face in an age where pets are bought by people neither seeking, nor getting advice; in a society where it’s too often seen as acceptable not to want the pet anymore. People will make, and others will listen sympathetically to all kinds of reasons why someone is giving up their pet, while snapping at those of us who dare to question why it’s acceptable to do so. The current vogue for not speaking out against those who surrender their pets to rescue, is allowing it to go on unchecked and without challenge.
It’s a highly emotive topic and I don’t expect those who work on the front-line of rescue to voice their opinions. I know that the chance of pet abandonment, rather than surrendering them to rehoming centres is likely to increase if people are forced to face up to what their choices mean to the animals they dump on others. But, I won’t stay silent on it. Not when I hear stories of owners ditching one pet, to soon afterwards getting another. Or taking a perfectly healthy older dog to the vet to be euthanised as they want to get a “playful puppy for the children”. Or on Christmas Eve, asking a vet to put to sleep – a comforting euphemism for killing – a healthy dog, as they just “don’t like her any more”. Or an owner adopting a dog from rescue, finding it doesn’t fit their lifestyle within six months, having it euthanised only to return to the same rescue for a different ‘model’ and brazenly saying all of that. All these are true stories from the world of rescue. And they represent a fraction of the stories heard daily up and down the country.
While I understand there can be genuine reasons for pets being in rescue – I have many friends in the sector – I do not believe that many of the quarter of a million pets who become unwanted each year are down to these. Not when we put that figure together with the fact almost half of those who buy a pet don’t do their research first. We’ve been told for some years that economic pressures are leading to people being forced to give up their pets and while I accept this might be the sad reality for a few, it cannot be ignored that the puppy business is booming and thousands of puppies are being bought each year at considerable cost.
As the good people at Hope Rescue say, the responsibility for meeting the life time costs of the dog, not just the initial purchasing cost, lie with the person buying the dog. Or at least that’s where it should lie.
There are some small scale studies which have looked into reasons for owners relinquishing pets. Findings in the main aren’t surprising, especially when we remember Wood Green’s survey highlighting the lack of advice people take before buying a pet. Take this small study of dog owners for example, which identified behavioural issues as the top reason for giving up a dog, but, that the “issues” are all normal behaviours; it’s the lack of knowledge of dogs that’s the problem, not the dogs. Or, this study which identified that older dogs were the ones most likely to be given up and unsurprisingly, feelings of attachment to the dogs were low. Oh dear, it all gets rather depressing.
Spend any time with people who work in rescue and you soon realise that while genuine cases of pets needing the safety net provided by the rescue movement exist, they are far, far outweighed by the casual and often callous handing over of an unwanted pet. One who has now become a nuisance, one that takes up too much time, or costs money to keep alive, or is just plain boring these days.
When buying pets is as easy as it is today, and there’s a mass reluctance to speak up against the casual attitude shown by many in society on this subject, the problem isn’t going away. Although it’s not popular, I feel it’s time we all started thinking a little less about hurting the feelings of those making the choice to give up their pets and a lot more about what we can all do to stop the cycle.
If you’d like to help Oldies Club please visit them here. They are in desperate need of fundraising, so even the smallest donation will make a difference.