Brits struggle to cover costs as animals die as bills soar | Pets
Jhe cost of living crisis has not only triggered an increase in the number of people struggling to afford veterinary care, pet food and animal day care. It has also left many pet owners with a cruel and costly dilemma when their beloved pet dies.
The death of a pet can now be one of the costliest times for pet owners, especially if they live in an apartment or rental property with no garden.
When my beloved hamster Maisie died, I had to deal with the trauma of what to do with her body.
The experience was a harrowing charivari. Still, it’s definitely not the one I’m the only one facing. Online fundraising sites are full of grieving pet owners who rely on the kindness of strangers.
Freya Liberty from Manchester had her dog cremated and was able to receive his ashes after raising £600 on JustGiving.
Mabel was the oldest resident of Manchester and Cheshire Dogs Home when Freya decided to adopt her. She knew Mabel’s seniority would mean additional health costs, but it was something Freya had financially prepared for.
However, six months later, her pet insurance company canceled Mabel’s policy, saying it did not insure American Akitas. Other insurers have quoted Freya’s premiums at around £120 a month due to Mabel’s age. It was cheaper for Freya to pay Mabel’s medical bills out of her own pocket.
Yet Freya could not have foreseen the cost-of-living crisis coinciding with Mabel falling asleep. “We wouldn’t have done fundraising if it wasn’t for the increase in the energy bill in April,” she says.
Costs included a £250 cremation plus a £190 vet bill and some smaller fees for keepsakes such as paw prints.
Freya put as much as she could on a credit card, but was short £100. She decided to create a JustGiving page to see if her family and friends would contribute.
“Right before creating the page, I felt like I had personally let down my amazing dog, who had kept me going through the pandemic. She was my absolute comfort. It was awful to sitting there wondering if we could have her cremated,” she said.
The page ended up raising six times the expected amount. The £100 Freya used on the fundraiser enabled her to bring Mabel’s ashes home. This gave Freya time to properly mourn her pet before scattering her ashes on the Welsh coast – a place Mabel particularly enjoyed. The remaining £500 went to Manchester and Cheshire Dogs Home.
My Maisie hamster came into my life as an affordable pet. I bought her from a local pet shop in Hackney, East London, for £12.
The cost of its maintenance has never been a concern. Yet as she breathed her last at the end of last year, I was struck by the potential cost of eliminating her body. I lived in a rented one bedroom apartment in London with no garden.
A circle of local vets said it would cost upwards of £125 to cremate an animal weighing less than 1kg like Maisie. A burial in one of London’s dedicated pet cemeteries was another option, but came in at £320 and up. Taxidermy – not an option I wanted to consider – wasn’t cheaper, totaling £175 upwards.
Burying a dead pet in a public park or forest was a common finding among many people on internet forums faced with the same dilemma. However, this is illegal and carries the risk of a £5,000 fine.
A more heartbreaking option was to simply throw the body away, costing nothing but creating the cruel imagery of foxes mutilating the corpse of a beloved family member.
An inexpensive and urgent decision had to be made. Maisie was placed in an iPhone box next to her favorite old dressing gown sample. I said goodbye and put his coffin, wrapped in Sainsbury’s carrier bags, in my foodless freezer turned morgue. This gave me time to make cheaper arrangements.
Eventually, Maisie was transported to my mother’s house, where she was buried in a picturesque garden in Kent with around 30 rodents.
My freezer and delayed burial approach is a less convenient option for people with larger pets, forcing their hand to pay cremation costs.
Mabel’s story is one of the few fundraisers to have a positive outcome.
Many pet cremation donation pages have no contributions. Owners cannot collect the ashes, leaving them with the painful feeling of having let their pet down in the fallout of the current crisis.
“We’ve seen an increase in this recently,” says Diane James, Companion Animal Bereavement Support Manager at Blue Cross. The pet charity has set up several pet food banks and offers low-cost, free veterinary care at its animal hospitals, which includes cremation if the animal has been treated on square.
The veterinary world is also feeling the pressure. “A veterinary business is not particularly profitable and comes with a lot of stress, which is why big companies take over practices rather than run them independently,” says Anna Foreman, in-house vet at Everypaw Pet Insurance.
Amid this general industry price hike, there have been instances of abusive overpricing and negligence. Some owners report that after paying for cremations, they ended up with pets thrown into incinerators, and the ashes came back containing a concoction of remains.
However, even the majority of crematoria doing their best to minimize their profit margins to help poor customers have been forced to raise prices to stay afloat amid rising energy bills.
“My fuel prices have doubled,” says Sue Hemmings, funeral director at Pets At Rest on the Isle of Wight and a member of the Association of Private Pet Cemeteries and Crematoria. “Obviously our biggest expense is the cost of gas, because that’s how we cremate animals. All my suppliers at all levels have raised their prices, from flowers and cardboard boxes to tissues, caskets and delivery charges. Nothing stayed at the same price as this time last year.
Hemmings offers payment plans, which have seen people pay as little as £5 a week on their Universal Credit to pay for individual cremation. This allows them to bring their beloved pet home. Community cremation is a cheaper option, but fewer people opt for it because the ashes are not returned.
The reality is that many pet owners have been thrown into financial difficulties that could not have been foreseen at the start of their pets’ lives.
Demand for pet-friendly rental properties increased by 120% between July 2020 and July 2021, reflecting the sharp increase in pet ownership during the coronavirus pandemic, according to data on the Rightmove facility website.
The government responded to this by publishing rental agreement template, which discourages blanket pet bans. It is expected to be supported by stronger measures in the Tenant Reform Bill in the spring of 2023, which should mean more pets in rentals.
However, the combination of reduced access to affordable burial and cremation options and the rising cost of living means that the death of a pet can, for some, lead to increased debt and tough decisions.