Two studies show the effects of economic hardship on companion animals.
With the news yesterday that the UK is in a double-dip recession, and other world economies still struggling, the effect is likely to be felt by animals too. Over the last few years, there have been many reports in the media about animal rescue charities being inundated with cats and dogs due to the recession. These reports are illustrated with heart-breaking examples such as the sixteen year-old border collie surrendered to a rescue because her owner could no longer afford to look after her.
Although many rescues are bursting at the seams, actual data is hard to come by. Two recent studies address this by looking at the effect of the recession on animal relinquishment and adoption in the US.
A paper by Gregory Morris and Jennifer Steffler considered foreclosures and dog relinquishment in the Californian city of Turlock in 2008, which was the height of the foreclosure crisis. First, they tried to match the addresses of relinquished animals with the addresses of foreclosures, but this only found one match. However, they also looked at maps of neighbourhoods, comparing the rate of foreclosures in that neighbourhood with the level of dog relinquishments.
This spatial analysis painted a pattern in which neighbourhoods with higher levels of foreclosures also showed higher levels of dog relinquishments. Another finding is that dogs were less likely to be spayed/neutered in poorer areas; other studies have shown that dogs in rescue are more likely to be unaltered than the average pet, so in itself this is a risk for relinquishment.
Earlier this year, Hsin-Yi Weng and Lynette Hart published a paper comparing rates of animal relinquishment and adoption at a Chicago animal shelter in the years preceding and during the recession. They found that senior dogs were significantly more likely to be relinquished during the recession, and suggest this is probably due to the increased costs of caring for a senior dog.
They didn't find significant differences for younger dogs and puppies, or cats, but there was a significant difference in adoptions. It seems that during times of economic hardship, people are less likely to adopt new animals. This puts extra pressure on the rescue system since it makes it harder for them to find new homes for the animals.
Economic hardship can have an impact on pets in many ways, from owners being unable to afford veterinary care for their animals, having to move house, or having to work extra part-time jobs which means they no longer have the time to spend with their pet. Little things like help with vet bills, having someone else to walk the dog from time to time, and greater availability of pet-friendly rental housing could really help people to keep their animals.
Gregory D. Morris and Jennifer Steffler (2011) Was pet relinquishment linked to foreclosure? A spatial research note from California during the height of foreclosure. The Social Science Journal, 48, 739-745.
Hsin-Yi Weng and Lynette A. Hart (2012) Impact of the Economic Recession on Companion Animal Relinquishment, Adoption and Euthanasia: A Chicago Animal Shelter's Experience. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science, 15(1), 80-90.
Photo: Miroslava Levina (Shutterstock.com)