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What Is Pet Poverty?

If there’s anything that the past 18months have shown us, it is that we are creatures who crave companionship and love. I realise that the amount varies from person to person but it’s a universally held human need. We need to feel the comfort of touch, to feel loved and important. What people have worked out during the periods of loneliness and isolation that lockdowns and regulations have created, is that our pets and the need for a pet and its unwavering devotion to us is a core element to a happy life. How many times have you turned to your dog, cat, hamster or parrot for company during those tough days? Their immediate presence making us feel less lonely and just a little bit more whole. But they also have needs and they are dependent on us, for the most part, for what they require to be healthy and happy. You only have to look to the purchasing of pets in record numbers, with pet ownership at an all-time high, to demonstrate this collective understanding.

The UK has always been a land of animal lovers, but we have taken that love during lockdown and made it core to our daily life and wellbeing. So, while I recognise, I am painting this rose-tinted image of animal ownership, I will also counter that with the responsibilities we have to them. These are real and at times expensive responsibilities. As the crisis has sharpened so has the challenges of taking care of them and their basic needs. As such the reality of pet poverty, which has always been there, has become an ever-present part of the daily challenges of peoples’ lives.

You may well not have heard the term ‘pet poverty’ before, but the reality of what this is and what it means can be seen in everyday life. So, what is it you may wonder? In simple terms it is the inability for a pet owner to be able to afford to provide sufficient food and/or veterinary care for their pet. Pet poverty is another indicator of how our community across the country and beyond are struggling to cope with daily life costs, made all the harder by year upon year of austerity policies and now COVID.

Can you imagine the heartbreak of having to share what limited food you have for yourself with your pet because you don’t have enough money to stretch to their own food? To know that you haven’t been able to take them for a health check-up and living in fear of something going wrong because you couldn’t afford the emergency call out costs for the vets? For many of us we don’t live with this reality but for so many others they do, this means that they make sacrifices of themselves and their wellbeing to be to provide that care for their pet. I’ve heard this reality direct from people who are struggling just to get by but their love for their pet supersedes that of their own challenges, most of the time.

There’s no stereotypical image of someone experiencing pet poverty. There are more people around you than you will realise who are struggling to meet these needs, despite being fantastic and loving pet owners. In fact, because someone is experiencing pet poverty doesn’t make them any less of good pet owner, it is the person’s circumstances and not their behaviours or actions that have led to the challenges they and their pet face. I would argue that the indignity that a person feels needing to access support, whether that be benefits or a foodbank referral, is only heightened if there is a child or a pet involved.

In the next part to this blog, I will talk openly about why I believe everyone who wishes to take good care of their pet deserves to have one in their life. While I will also explore the circumstances that lead to pet poverty and how it goes much deeper into our societies wellbeing than you will expect.

Lindsay Fyffe-Jardine


Lindsay is CEO at Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home, having previously held the role of Director of Operations and Deputy to the CEO. She has extensive past experience in the humanitarian and animal welfare sectors, working across security, international disaster management and operations.

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