Don’t Give Up On Your Pet — Just Yet

By isak, May 4, 2009

By Katy Hansen

Bringing a pet home to your family can be one of the happiest days in your life. An animal companion, whether a dog a fish a cat or a rabbit can ring years of joy and become an integral part of the family. Over the past several months however, we have been hearing far too many stories about animals being surrendered by their owners in response to hard economic difficulties. The economic crisis of the past year has taken its toll on more than just people. Animal intake at local shelters has risen substantially as millions of laid off workers find themselves unable to care for their companion animals. Many pets that have lived their life in the company of a loving family now find themselves locked in small cages not knowing what will happen to them, not understanding why they aren’t at home sleeping by the window or wagging their tail from a nice belly rub.

Surrendering your pet to a shelter is not an easy decision to make and one that should not be entered into lightly. Oftentimes, crisis — whether financial or emotional — may cause us to make decisions in haste. Before you surrender your pet, please consider these five steps. Think of it as counting to 10 before you make a decision that will affect yourself and family for the rest of your life.

  1. Determine the actual annual cost of owning your pet and make a pet budget. Similar to writing down everything you spend money on so you can figure out where to cut costs—make a spreadsheet that tracks pet costs. The ASPCA has broken down pet costs as follows:
    • Food: $55 – $235 (cat to large dog)
    • Exercise/Walking: $1,300 ($50 per week)
    • Litter: $165 – $415 (cat to guinea pig/rabbit)
    • Toys/Treats: $25 – $75
    • Misc: $15 – $35
  2. Cut costs where you can. By making simple changes, you could cut back on costs and be more environmentally friendly at the same time.
  3. Switch from premium food to generic or national brand food. On average premium food costs from $25-$50 more than generic brands. Skip the extra treats for now.
  4. [Many people overfeed their dogs and cats. Read the package for the proper feeding amount and measure out the food you feed. Don’t just ‘eyeball’ it. Feeding the proper amount can save you a surprising amount of money.]
  5. Make your own kitty litter. This is a great project for you and your kids. It is easy and teaches the importance of recycling and taking care of our environment. You can also get free sawdust from your local sawmill to use as litter.
  6. Avoid trips to the groomer by bathing your pet at home. Brush your pet more often and recycle the hair. Did you know that dog hair around outdoor plants gets rid of slugs or that birds can use dog hair to make warmer nests?
  7. Research medication costs online. Many prescriptions are available at significant discount from superstores like Costco or from online pharmacies like 1-800 PET MEDS. [Note: I recommend you use the power of the internet to compare prices from various sites.]
  8. If you have a specific breed of dog, contact the National Club for that breed. (The American Kennel Club,, has a list of the national dog clubs.) In some cases, these clubs offer a veterinary financial assistance fund. Additionally, The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has a list of breed-specific assistance groups.
  9. Ask your veterinarian to submit an assistance request to the American Animal Hospital Association’s (AAHA) “Helping Pets Fund.” In order to qualify, your animal hospital must be AAHA accredited. To learn more about the program visit the AAHA web site. To find an AAHA accredited hospital in your area, search online at
  10. per the AAHA website on 5/4/2009:
    Due to depleted funds from the increased number of pets helped this fiscal year, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) Foundation is temporarily suspending grants from the AAHA Helping Pets Fund. The temporary suspension is effective immediately, but the Foundation expects to resume granting funds in July 2009.

    This announcement is bittersweet, as the AAHA Foundation is proud to have helped so many through difficult times; however, requests have nearly tripled since November 2008. The increased demand resulted in the disbursement of available funds much more quickly than anticipated.

    “By temporarily suspending the grants, we will help provide long term stability for the AAHA Helping Pets Fund,” says Dr. Kate Crumley, chair of the AAHA Foundation Board of Trustees. “We remain steadfast in our belief that thousands of pets will benefit in the future from this short term stoppage.”

  11. Create a “savings” jar for your pet. Enlist your entire family to cut back on luxury items and services. The money everyone saves can be put in the jar to be used to care of your family pet. It will reward sacrifices and actions that your entire family can make to keep the family together.
  12. Share, Barter & Trade. Get together with other pet owners in the neighborhood to see if you can share responsibilities and take turns with walking, shopping, vet visits, etc. Perhaps your neighbor works the night shift and can take care of your pup during the day while you do the same for her at night. Similar groups have been popping up all around the country for mothers and fathers of children who devise complete swapping services for babysitting to grocery shopping—why not do the same for your pets?

    Are you a skilled craftsman, artist or technical engineer? What about trading your services for the services of a veterinarian or dog walker? You may be surprised by how willing people are to barter for computer assistance, photography services and even web design. Perhaps you could offer to build an online presence for your favorite pet food store or veterinarian.

  13. Finally, re-think your decision. The choice to abandon your pet should never be taken lightly and should only be used as a last resort, when every other option has disappeared. Even then, there are ramifications to this decision that transcend economic boundaries. People choose pets and pets count on us to provide them with a loving home. They are part of the family and deserve to be treated with care and respect. Abandoning them in hard times sends the wrong message to your family and to others that pets are disposable.
  14. Don’t forget, you are not alone in facing this crisis. With 6 million unemployed and millions more facing other financial hardships, there are organizations that are set up to help you and your animals. I have included a list of the larger organizations that can offer help. Please exhaust this list before giving up on your beloved pet. Remember, recessions don’t last forever but a pet’s love always will.

    Here is a list, by state, of agencies that will help you and your pets:

    Maybe there is a foster shelter in your area or closeby. This list may not be complete, so check with area shelters and vets, too.

    Here is another national organization that can be of help during foreclosures: ?

    If you have no other options, please consider surrendering your pet to a “no-kill” shelter. To find a list of no-kill shelters, please visit

    reprinted from Global Alerts website.
    Further things you can do:

    Check for a pet food bank in your area. More and more of them are opening up across the US. While several websites are trying to compile a complete database of these, you might check with your local ASPCA or various rescue groups and the vets in your area.

    Meals on Wheels has included pet assistance in some areas.

    Another link about pet financial aid.

    More ideas.

    Good luck and stay strong. This too shall pass. Believe.


    1. Peg says:

      nice article, I think you outline some points to ponder for those who feel they must give up their pets. I pray we don’t have to do something like that.

      We have 2 small dogs. We used to feed them a premium brand. I’d say we would spend approx $17/week between splitting a can per day and dry. The main driver to switch was their health. Now I make their food. I buy whole roasted chicken from Costco, chop and mix with steamed carrots/green beans, and spend approx $12/week. They’ve lost weight, have more energy, shinier coats, better breath, no body odor, and their poo is regular. Overall, we’ve managed to save some money and the dogs have benefited.

    2. troy says:

      Good article and very informative. However I would caution against using generic or national brand foods.

      Studies have shown that by using these nutrition poor substitutes, actually contributes to pet illnesses which in turn results in high vet bills.

      The most cost effective and healthy choice is to make your own pet food.

      • isak says:

        Pet food is a controversial mess right now with several maladies being associated with cheaper pet foods. And there are cases where pets have lived very long lives after being fed the cheapest foods on the market. It’s the food and the environment and genetics.

        But in these tough economic times, the change in dog food brands can make the difference between keeping your companion and surrendering him/her to an uncertain future. I vote for keeping your companion.

        I fed my dogs Purina One and Purina Pro Plan for over 15 years. I am feeding 31 rescued dogs without financial support from anyone. The price of those brands has just skyrocketed in the past couple years. The rise in price coupled with my current unemployment has forced me to buy a cheaper version of Purina. I don’t particularly like it — there is more stool volume and more body odor — but the price difference is about $250 per month. I buy 1,000 pounds of dog food each month. You do the math.

        Make my own pet food? Not necessarily a viable option for people struggling with finances. The point to this post is to offer options where people with financial hardships can KEEP their pets while we ride out these hard times.

        Perhaps you have the knowledge to suggest affordable, high quality options for pet food? Something in line with the price of the lower-priced pet foods that is of a higher-quality and can be easily accomplished?

    What do you think?

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