Credit: Sarah Dalton

Owners forced to give up pets as soaring living costs hit Wales

One animal charity took 199 calls in a month from owners asking to surrender their dog

DURING the Covid-19 lockdowns, 3.2 million people in the UK bought a pet into their home, according to the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association.  

But pet owners around the UK are now facing the repercussions of this, as rising food and insurance prices have left some owners with no choice but to abandon their pets. 

For animal shelters in Wales, this has led to an 80% increase in calls asking for help, whilst animal adoptions have gone down by a third and the number of donations are at an all-time low.

What’s happening inside Wales’ high street pet shops?

‘Customers come in to buy a hamster and they ask ‘what’s the smallest, cheapest cage I can keep a hamster in?’

Paige McGinley, Pets at Home

Not only has the price of human food shot up, but high street pet stores have seen similar trends. 

“Pet food prices have gone up, that’s just a fact, and it’s a very repeated conversation at the till with customers these days,” said Paige McGinley, store assistant at Pets At Home, Llanishen.  

“We get sent price changes to put out every day and it’s almost always increases, often 20-50p at a time which doesn’t sound like much but it quickly adds up.”

But for Miss McGinley, this increase in food price is part of a much bigger concern for the welfare of in-store animals.  

“I personally find it so upsetting when customers come in to buy a hamster and they ask ‘what’s the smallest, cheapest cage I can keep a hamster in?’

“I try to gently explain that the small animals will spend their entire lives in that cage so it’s advised to go as big as the customers’ space will allow.”

She added that Pets At Home can refuse a sale if they’re concerned about the animal’s welfare. 

We’ve had a lot more small pets in the adoption cages over the past three months or so, we get phone calls every other day. People with animals are just struggling to keep the pets they love.” 

Paige McGinley, Pets At Home, Llanishen

On the other side of Cardiff, Richard O’Driscoll of Aquatic World in Cathays had a similar story to tell.  

“Business is down right now, for sure, and people’s finances have definitely played a big part because naturally we’re a luxury, we’re the last things on people’s list,” Mr O’Driscoll told The Cardiffian

“We’re still selling the basics like fish food, but our sales of livestock and equipment has seen a huge drop this year and so fish sit in tanks in the store for much longer.” 

When disaster hits home for family pets

Not only is money tight for people buying food and equipment for their pets, but when unexpected vet bills strike, owners are less likely to be able to support their pets during a cost-of-living crisis.  

This is exactly what happened to Heidi McCarthy when her dog Gladys caught her leg under the family fireplace and “severed her achilles clean off”. 

I would very much like to be able to pay for Gladys’ treatment without putting our family into debt.”

Heidi McCarthy

The Cardiff mother set up a GoFundMe page to raise enough money for Gladys’ surgery.  

“We knew right away it’d be expensive,” she said. “This was on a Sunday and there was no vet on call so we had to admit her to hospital. The next day we were referred to a specialist hospital in Langford, Bristol.”  

“By this time, half of the pet insurance had been spent,” said the dog owner.  

Langford hospital quoted the family a fixed price of £4,500, stating that Gladys would need a repair and an internal fixator, plus further surgery later on.  

“Even with pet insurance we still find ourselves £3,000 short,” Ms McCarthy went on to explain. 

“We’re definitely feeling the financial pressures of owning a pet at the moment. Pet food and insurance are already up and then vet bills like this strike and you just don’t know what to do.”

A new reality for animal shelters

Across Wales, lots of places trying to help struggling owners are also feeling the pressures of this crisis. 

Hope Rescue is a charity based in Llanharan that rescues and rehomes dogs from Merthyr Tydfil, Blaenau Gwent, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Bridgend and parts of the Vale of Glamorgan.  

The charity recently put out a plea for help after their demand reached new heights: 

“We are experiencing a crisis at Hope Rescue. The number of dogs being abandoned or surrendered as the cost of living crisis intensifies is increasing.”

Hope Rescue

In September 2022, the charity took 199 calls from owners asking to surrender their dog due to financial pressures. This was 80% more than in September 2021.  

Cheryl George, fundraising manager at Hope Rescue, told The Cardiffian:  “Every day we take calls asking for our help from owners in crisis, whilst also welcoming yet more strays into our care. You have to understand that people love their pets and many would go without just to feed them, so surrendering pets isn’t a decision that’s being taken lightly.” 

But for animal charities like this, the cost-of-living crisis has also created another problem, as the increase in demand has come at a time when their own monthly running costs are going up.

Ella the Dogue de Bordeaux was surrendered to Hope Rescue by her owners when they couldn’t afford to look after her anymore. 

She later gave birth to five puppies at Hope Rescue. 

The cost of using heat lamps to keep newborn puppies safe and healthy has skyrocketed. 

 Animal Rescue Cymru, who cover West Wales, are facing similar problems.  

“We find that our running costs are going up and we’re getting less donations this year because people can’t afford it so it’s hard for us to keep going,” said Yvonne Hazell from the charity.  

For animal rescue charities, not meeting the demand for help can mean euthanasia for many animals whose owners are unable to afford vet care.

Credit: Sarah Dalton

Where to find help in South Wales

As the weather gets colder and hardship for pets and their owners worsens, volunteers, businesses and organisations from around South Wales have come together to offer free support. 

Here are some of the places trying to keep Wales’ pets out of animal shelters.

Pet Food Bank Service set up in 2019 by Debi Emmett has 18 outlets across South Wales, offering pet food and items for vulnerable users and people in financial crisis. 

So far this year, they have provided 67,336 pet meals, an increase of 16,000 from the previous year. 

“The amount of people using our services in June doubled, then again in July. It used to be just me putting together 60,000 pet meals from a shipping container, but this year we’ve had to apply for more grants to allow us to take on more outlets,” said Ms Emmett.

I couldn’t give up my dog. I would go without just to feed her.”

Debi Emmett, Pet Food Bank Service

Allbreeds Grooming, based in Tonypandy, have also responded to Wales’ call for help. The business has teamed up with its local food bank and the Salvation Army to offer free welfare grooms to dogs that need them. 

“It’s something that isn’t publicly known as this is on a referral basis only but we have been offering this for a few months now,” said a spokesperson for the business. 

Here are some of the other organisations offering support across Wales this Christmas.