Monday, October 4, 2010

Class and Pet Ownership

As most of you aware, just under a month ago, my family adopted a beautiful Lab/Sheppard cross, who we named Sookie.  Ms Sookie has been a true delight, but she has already been expensive.  Her first vet visit cost us two hundred dollars and her food is estimated to cost us fifty dollars a month.  We are currently looking for pet insurance for her and I estimate that it will run between 500-700 per year.  We are looking for insurance because we do not believe that cost should influence the quality of her care.  The reality is that money very much comes into play when anyone has a pet.

Sookie's dog food costs us fifty dollars per month, because we have chosen to go with a premium brand. Most food sold in the grocery store is full of filler and is absolutely not the best choice for a large breed dog.  The issue I believe is the language chosen to sell premium food.   Many ads that I have seen apply guilt and in fact suggest neglect if an owner does not purchase these foods.  The following is from Freshpet Select.

Animals thrive when fed biologically appropriate diets.
Dogs and even more so cats are carnivores. Their natural diet consists primarily of meat. While we welcome them into our home as pets, we need to feed them as nature intended. (emphasis mine)

The keyword in the above sentence is need.  Dog food companies have taken to focusing on things like healthy or organic and the more trigger words you find in their advertising, the more the price goes up.  What happens if what an animal needs is beyond your ability to afford?  This is a very important question, because we know for instance that seniors living alone on a fixed income and homeless people in particular benefit from pet ownership.  An animal gives them someone to care about who will selflessly return the care. All owners have the responsibility to take the best care of their pet that they possibly can, but it should not necessarily come down to a case of neglect, if we cannot negotiate an unbalanced system.

A young woman in my neighborhood recently took her cat to the Humane Society to get fixed, because she had heard that they spay and neuter at a reduced price.  This woman is a single mother and lives on social assistance.  When she went to pick up her cat, she found that he had been adopted out, even though she had made it clear that she wanted her cat returned.  Since then, I have heard the same story from several people.  This may seem like helping an animal to find a better home, but what it actually does is discourage people from taking it to the vet for necessary care. The woman in question may not have been able to spay her cat, but that does not mean that she and her young daughter did not miss and love her.

Another acquaintance of mine recently got a new kitten.  When she called the vet to find out what the kitten would need and how much it would cost, it was heavily implied that if she even had to ask about cost, perhaps she should not have a cat.  Should one sacrifice paying rent for the pet?  What about paying utilities or buying food?  How far does sacrifice go? 

There are those that believe that pet ownership is a privilege, but if we construct it solely this way, a large percentage of the population will be unable to gain the positive aspects of having a cat or a dog in their life. This means by virtue of an unabalaced capitalist system, those who have already acquired the most, once again end up ahead.  We have been taught not to see class and to believe that most people are middle class, when in fact, the ranks of the working class and the under class grow daily as the gap rises between the top 1% and the bottom.

How do we balance the need of the animal versus the right of the owner? I do know that the constant implication that the poor do not love their pet is erroneous no matter how many times pet food companies and vets push this message.  We cannot universally care for human needs and so I am quite sure real care for animals is long way off, but in the meantime we need to blur the line between need and care as far as human owners go.