The cost of living crisis is taking a heavy toll on pets in Scotland as rescue centers see staggering rises in families forced to abandon their animals.
In an effort to stave off a full-blown ‘pet care crisis’, Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home (EDCH) provided more than 35 tons of pet food to its owners in need and food banks from January to September this year – but fears it can’t keep up with the growing demand it is keeping. The CEO is up at night.
The charity, known as the ‘home’ among the team, started collaborating with food banks at the end of 2019 and now supports 66 of them stretching from Stirling to Edinburgh and Lothian but also to Borders.
“Food banks are the reason we avoided the pet care crisis here at home,” CEO Lindsay Fifi Jardine said.
“Our home and center would be completely filled if we didn’t have the show of support we could give people.
“We see pets as part of our family and in fact we struggle to keep those families together.”
The alternative to this massive business of collecting and distributing pet food, which has been worth more than £82,000 this year alone, is a grim reality for many families.
Huge spikes in pets handed over to rescues
EDCH has seen a 20% increase in the number of pets it takes care of since spring. On one day in October, the charity received 30 requests from owners looking to hand over their pet – while this time last year they were expecting four or five calls.
In the past three months, they’ve received 165 applications from families at the end of their rope and they’re not the only ones who have seen a spike.
The Scottish SPCA took 194 dogs into their care in the whole of 2021, but in the first six months of this year, they took in 700 dogs – a 261 per cent increase in just the middle of the year.
The number of their cats rose from 140 last year to 432 in the first six months of this year. The number of rabbits that came into their care also increased from 39 in 2021 to 201 rabbits from January to June of 2022.
The surge in pet deliveries comes before many people are faced with choices “between food and fuel” with energy prices affecting many people’s ability to heat their homes this winter.
Ms Fyffe-Jardine added: “It really is the most heart-breaking situation we have seen. Some of these dogs and cats experience levels of grief that should never have been experienced.
“To watch that person walk out the door, find out what they gave up, see that shock show in their faces, and they leave on their own knowing what they’ve lost — it’s a horrific experience.
“Now, we have two coles, Tess and Blaise. They are eleven years old and have lived their whole lives with their families.
Their families have already been pushed to breaking point by the current cost of living crisis and they had to be abandoned to us.
“It was a very painful situation for the team to support that family through.”
While the two dogs will eventually go to a new home, she fears the family will feel the effect of being abandoned for “many years, if not forever”.
Trying to be part of the solution
Working with food banks, which EDCH started in 2019, is one way the charity is trying to have a “positive preventative” effect on the troubling trend.
As of September 2022, working with food banks has helped 2,645 pets stay in their loving homes across central eastern Scotland.
“We try to be part of the solution while also being part of the safety net,” said Ms Jardine-Fyffe.
A volunteer at a food bank based at Bristow Memorial Church in Craigler, Edinburgh described the “amazing” effect the house had on people using the services.
“It has made a huge difference to people,” said Betty Forest. “When people can’t afford food for themselves, they certainly can’t always afford food for the animals.”
Every two weeks when the EDCH team visits the food bank, people bring their pets.
“It can get a little messy sometimes, but it’s just so awesome,” Forrest said.
“They bring their animals, they get a little food for them, they have a cup of tea with the food bank employees and we learn about their problems. It works both ways for us.”
The volunteer added that talking about their animals brings an “instant smile” to the face of food bank users.
“People like to talk about their animals and that is different from talking about how you feel about not having any money or food. It is a very positive thing.”
Ensuring that food banks stock pet food not only helps keep the number of pets delivered in check, but also ensures that owners are not given the necessary food.
Ms Fyffe-Jardine said: “They feed their children, they feed their pets and they don’t always feed themselves.
“This person takes away from their allotment of food to their pets, which means that this person is not actually eating as much as they should.
“Nothing good can come of that.”
Can we continue with this?
More food banks are reaching out to the center, but there are concerns that their supplies may not be able to keep up with demand.
The CEO added, “This is a concern for us. Can we continue with it? It’s something that keeps me awake at night. It’s on my mind, it’s on my team’s mind.”
“This is something that now affects what you would consider the average person or your normal family who might be comfortable enough to do charity every month.
“Now they’re the ones who go to the food banks, now they’re the ones who reach out to the likes of us and say, ‘I don’t think I can keep my pet with me.'”
The SSPCA has also launched a program that provides pet food to 16 food banks across the country called Pet Aid.
Senior Superintendent Mike Flynn said: “This year, our inspectors have had to support pet owners in some horrific situations.
“We help people who are not buying food for themselves so they can feed their pets, who are calling the Animal Helpline in floods of tears because they feel they have let their animals down.
“Helping pets is part of our broader commitment to early intervention when it comes to protecting animals. Wherever possible, we will work to prevent anyone from feeling they have no choice but to give up their pet.”
Ms Jardine-Fyffe said: “We are already seeing donations go down both to the home as well as to our food banks.
“The truth is we know we have an increase in pets entering our care before people make choices between food and fuel.
“This is clearly our biggest concern in the coming months – what that means for people and for insulting the choices they will have to make for themselves.”
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