It’s been a while since I climbed onto my soapbox, so lemme dust this thing off and climb on up here…
In 2013, I wrote a post asking should pet adoptions be free, and the discussion on the blog and on Facebook included varied opinions, but it seemed that the general consensus opposed my opinion that, yes, pet adoptions should sometimes be free.
Then, a year later, I wrote a post asking what should I feed my dog, and the discussion was largely in agreement that you just have to do the best you can do, anywhere on the spectrum of grocery store brands of kibble to a whole foods, organic, raw diet.
I find those opinions fascinating, and stick with me here, pretty please, because I’m going to circle around to that.
Over the weekend I volunteered for a mobile, low-cost vaccination clinic in our area. The idea is to take the mobile clinic to “resource deserts,” areas where pet owners can’t access veterinary care (if you rely on the city bus to get to and from work, you certainly can’t take your dog to and from the vet on the city bus) and to provide affordable basics. Anyone on government assistance qualifies for discounted services. This is basic stuff; we’re not talking blood chemistry or urinalysis, but rabies shots and nail trims. The 16-year-old cat in the pic above was getting her nails trimmed, her rabies shot, and the owner had some concerns about fleas that the vet discussed with her and provided some recommendations.
These are services that we–and by “we” I suppose I mean animal lovers–deem worthy. We understand the value of providing low-cost services to animals who need to be up-to-date on rabies. We attend fundraisers and donate our time to these services. But if anyone asks the question–“Should animal adopting be restricted by income?”–we recoil. That flies in the face of the American dream where anyone from any background can supposedly do and achieve anything, pet ownership not excluded. And yet…
And yet we judge.
It goes back to what Christie Keith over at Dogged said years ago: “There is almost always at least a hint of judgment that poor people will be bad pet owners in a myriad of other ways, too.” Like in the discussion about free adoptions, there was a resounding cry that people who can’t afford an adoption fee can’t afford to take care of their pet. Who defines the “take care of” standard? Is attending a low-cost clinic in your impoverished neighborhood to get the rabies shot not taking care of your pet? Yet, oddly, we’ve gotten into the cultural habit of sharing Buzzfeed photo roundups of how much the homeless love their animals, and we praise and cry over that, but we somehow judge the people in between socioeconomic strata.
Over the years, John and I have volunteered for similar clinics wherever we’ve lived, and we’ve seen the tremendous range of wealth disparity and pet ownership. I’d argue, too, that the range of love and dedication to pets has a wide gap that is completely unrestricted by income. There are lots of disadvantaged folks who love their pets and do every single thing they can for them (see: those Buzzfeed posts about the homeless and their pets), and there are lots of advantaged folks with dogs languishing, bored behind privacy fences.
So, how do you measure the cost of pet ownership? If you can’t afford or are unable to get your dog to the vet, does that mean you don’t deserve a dog? Does that mean that dog is better off stuck in the shelter waiting for a more affluent owner than with the person who doesn’t have transportation to affordable services?
I don’t think there’s one right or one wrong answer here, and I fully acknowledge that, yep, my heart bleeds. But I also think this is one pet-savvy, animal-loving, brilliant community, so I think the discussion is absolutely worth having–and if anyone can come up with some solid thoughts and ideas, I firmly believe it’s you guys. I’d love to know what your thoughts are on this cost of pet ownership issue.
Also, I’d strongly encourage everyone to spend an afternoon volunteering at a low-cost clinic. Most areas having something–check with your community shelter. It’s an eye-opening, humbling experience to see the depth of love that everyone at every socioeconomic level has for their pets.