Shelters fill up as cost of living drives struggling owners to give up pets

ITV News Consumer Editor Chris Choi reports on how the cost of living crisis is now affecting pets too.

There’s been a dramatic rise in people seeking to part with their pets, as the cost of living spirals.

Research for ITV’s Tonight programme in conjunction with Dogs Trust shows just over 42,000 re-homing enquiries so far this year, a 48% rise.

An investigation for the programme shows animal shelters are struggling to cope as pet owners face heartbreaking choices due to rising prices.

One of the latest dogs to come to the Dogs Trust in Leeds is Millie, once a much loved family pet.

"She has clearly come from a wonderful home. She's confident, she's happy and she's in fantastic condition. For a family to have got to a position where they can no longer look after her, it must have been absolutely heartbreaking for them," Amanda Sands told me.

Dogs Trust Leeds manager Amanda Sands says Millie the dog's financially struggling owners found themselves making the 'heartbreaking' decision to give her up

“We’ve seen a massive increase in the demand to take dogs in…to have to say goodbye to your friend, it’s just unbearable”.

Many animal shelters are already full and waiting-lists are getting longer as owners struggle.

Rocketing prices are also affecting cats, with Battersea Dogs and Cats Home telling the Tonight programme its waiting lists have more than doubled from 100 cats to 240. It’s getting harder to find new homes for these pets, as potential animal adopters feel the financial squeeze.

Bridie Williams, cattery team leader at the charity says: “It always used to be that, particularly at the weekends, we could re-home 30 or 40 cats. We are now really pleased if we manage to re-home 20”.

One cat shelter told ITV News its rehoming waiting list had more than doubled. Credit: ITV News

The rising cost of energy is causing a re-homing crisis for reptiles too, because they often require high temperatures.

The National Centre for Reptile Welfare has taken in 1,800 pets in 2022 so far. These include everything from giant African tortoises to corn snakes, pythons and terrapins.

Its chief executive, Chris Newman, says: “If I doubled the size of this place we still wouldn’t have enough space. The phone never stops ringing …what we are seeing now is the energy crisis really starting to bite and we are only seeing the beginning of that”.

Pet reptiles' fluorescent lights can be turned off to save money - but owners should always check with the experts. Credit: ITV News

A major problem is pet food costs have risen by record amounts, with some brands up by more than a third in the last few months.

Lucy, in Bedfordshire, estimates it’s now going to cost her an extra £500 a year to feed her dog, two cats and three bearded dragons. She told me her family are making sacrifices to make sure they can pay their bills.

“We don't go out as much as we did with the kids, we used to do lots more eating out. I've put a budget in place for the food now, which I hadn't done before and I probably should have done years ago, but now I'm very, 'if it's not in the account, then we can't have it'.”

'We scrimp where we have to scrimp:' Lucy tells Chris Choi her family is budgeting to ensure they can afford to feed their pets

New findings for Tonight show that dozens of new food banks are now being planned to help feed pets.

Sixty animal shelters were surveyed, all members of the Association of Dogs and Cats homes, showing more than half intend to supply pet food.

Already Blue Cross Charity has 29 pet food banks and the RSPCA supplies another 60 outlets around the country.

'We'd sooner go without ourselves': Pet food bank user Mark is moved to emotion as he swears he could never give up his beloved dog

Cristina Pool, a veterinary nurse at the Blue Cross pet food bank in Grimsby, told us: “We had one lady come to us (to say) that her and the dog were eating Rice Krispies because that was all they had left in the house that week”.

The facility in Grimsby opened in June and is helping around 75 households each week.

“The food bank was supposed to be a temporary stop-gap for people when they are really struggling... but we are seeing people coming back week on week because they are struggling,” says Cristina.

Blue Cross pet food bank, in Grimsby, is one of 29 the charity operates across the country. Credit: ITV News

Without this food bank, pet owners would be making tough choices.

"She's part of the family, you know, we'd sooner go without ourselves then give Roxy up, you know, she's my baby... sorry," said Mark, who has been using the food bank for several months.

Susan has also been cutting back. "Sometimes I do feel ashamed to come," she told the Tonight programme.

Veterinary nurse, Cristina Pool, running the Blue Cross Pet Food Bank in Grimsby. Credit: ITV News

"I really do. But just something I have to do at this moment, I wouldn’t be able to do my bills, with everything going up and everything, now.

"Every little bit now at this moment helps tremendously, you know."

Chris Choi shares money-saving tips for pet owners

As costs rise at the highest level in forty years, the “Tonight” programme’s research reveals worrying new evidence of how severely pets are feeling the pinch.

People are increasingly giving up their companions - not through a lack of love, but through a lack of money.

  • Tonight - Pets: The Cost of Loving airs on ITV at 8.30pm Thursday 17 November, and will be available on ITV Hub after broadcast.

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