Two animal charities working to help people keep their pets as cost of living crisis bites
As the cost of living rises, animal charities are ready to help pet owners struggling with bills
Two animal charities are doing all they can to help people keep their pets as fears rise of a potential tsunami of abandoned cats and dogs because of the cost of living crisis.
Both the USPCA and Assisi Animal Sanctuary say they are concerned the rising costs of food and heating could see people having to make heartbreaking decisions about their animals.
But they say they are taking measures through money-saving schemes to try and ensure cats, dogs and other pets remain where they are happiest - in the homes of their owners.
Charities across the UK are reporting a massive rise in beloved pets being handed into animal shelters by people struggling to feed their own families, let alone finding cash for pet food and vet bills.
The issue is believed to have been made worse by the fact so many people took on a new pets over Covid lockdowns.
But both charities say help is out there and people should only have to give up a pet as a "last resort".
Anna Morton, from Assisi Animal Sanctuary in Bangor, says it's a "very worrying time" but says pet owners should only have to hand over their pets to a shelter as a last resort.
"At the minute we are coping alright, but we have seen a massive impact the cost of living crisis on people who might be struggling financially and there's a big fear for the future," says Anna.
"We offer an outreach programme which helps people with the costs of food and veterinary bills and we have seen a big rise in people contacting us looking for help. We can provide food packages for people on low incomes.
"It's a very worrying time for people with pets because the cost of everything has increased. We try to facilitate those who are finding it tough so they don't have to give their pets up. We are hearing a lot of stories on social media of people having to give up their pets.
"Owners don't want to give up their pets. Many people see their pets as a lifeline. It would be massively detrimental to their mental health to have to give up what in many cases is their best friend, but that's the concern that's facing many pet owners.
"The best place for a beloved pet is in their own home. They do better in their home rather than in a shelter, so we do all we can to help people so the worst-case scenario doesn't happen."
In April a charity in Wales reported it had already received more than 300 abandoned dogs - double pre-pandemic levels - while another dog home in Birmingham reported a 53 per cent increase over the previous year in dogs being given up.
The USPCA here also runs a scheme to help pet owners struggling with the rising cost of living.
USPCA Development Manager, Colleen Tinnelly, told the Sunday World they had seen a worrying increase in people reaching out and asking for help.
"The current cost of living crisis is presenting many hardships for the people of Northern Ireland. In addition to rising food and energy bills, people are struggling to keep up with the costs associated with pet ownership, particularly pet food and veterinary bills," Colleen told us.
"The decision to give up an animal is incredibly difficult and heartbreaking, and while we have not yet seen incidents of this due to current financial adversities, we are concerned that it could be a very different story in the months ahead.
"Unfortunately, we are seeing an increase in the number of cases where owners are finding it difficult to cover veterinary bills, as well as others who sought our guidance regarding the feeding of their pet."
And she said she feared damage could be done to the health of animals if conditions go untreated because of rising vet bills.
"The USPCA offers a charitable discount scheme for pet owners on low income - this provides financial assistance of up to 50 per cent on veterinary treatments such as consultations, neutering, spaying and operations.
"We also can offer payment plans to clients and encourage pet owners to check if this is an option with their local veterinary practice. We are concerned that this worsening economic situation could severely affect the long-term health and wellbeing of pets across Northern Ireland if conditions are left untreated."
She says food banks are also able to help out with pet food and said the USPCA was working with a number of them.
Colleen added: "The USPCA currently works with over 45 food banks to provide much-needed pet food parcels - this service can offer added support and help your pet remain happy, healthy and homed. If anyone would like further information or advice, please get in touch with our team on 028 3025 1000."
Assisi Animal Sanctuary says that while they are facing challenging times they have maintained great support from the local community.
"We worry demand might exceed what we are capable of providing," says Anna Morton.
"We still have to look after our own animals in the sanctuary first, but we will help as many people in the community as we possibly can.
"Our aim is to ensure animals who are in a home, stay at home. Luckily we have superb community support.
"We have a lot of local shops who supply and support us and Sainsbury's has been particularly generous and helpful."
Donations to both charities are greatly welcomed.
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