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Pets and Financial Distress

posted by Pamela Foohey

Last weekend, The New York Times published an opinion piece about animal shelters, Are We Loving Shelter Dogs to Death? It highlighted the sad reality that nationwide shelters are horribly overcrowded. According to the piece, a "big part" of shelters' overcrowding "is poverty: An estimated one-quarter of shelter animals are there after their owners have surrendered them because of family dysfunction or financial pressure." For instance, a family might not have enough money for vet bills. Or a family must relocate to less expensive housing that does not accept pets. The example in the piece that stood out to me most was families' inability to pay fees and fines related to their pets being picked up by animal control.

Reading the piece -- particularly the parts about fines -- led me to wonder more about pets and financial distress and bankruptcy. And to a broad question for Credit Slips readers. What have been your experiences regarding pets and financial distress, both pre-bankruptcy and in bankruptcy?


In my community over the last few years, we have come across far too many homeless FRIENDLY cats on the street. We believe these cats were once in somebody's home. They probably moved and left the animals outside. I have found homes for quite a few. The ones that were timid, I trapped and took them to the shelter. Our local shelter takes non-adoptable cats to a big country farm to live out their lives. A couple are now with me. I still feed about 7 in my back yard every day.

I think it is awful that the shelters charge so much to drop off an animal that a family can't keep. I also understand about the vet bills. It costs me more to have my cats examined than for me to be examined.

I don't know what the solution is. Wish I could save them all. If I were wealthy, I would give it a shot.

Most Ch. 7 Trustees would not administer any but the most expensive breed pets, but some Ch. 13 Trustees do object to expenses for pets in CH. 13.

Of course it's anecdotal, but I have seen more than a handful of (nonfarm) Chapter 13 cases in which the original budget shows monthly vet/pet expenses rivaling the family food allowance. When confronted by the trustee, the pet expenses magically reduce or disappear but not because any debtor is going to "surrender" Fido (not even sure how that would work). Pet expenses considered excessive by the trustee end up buried in "recreation" or "miscellaneous" or just float invisibly in the budget ether, along with "cigarette" expenses and the like. The impact of pet expenses in Chapter 13 would be tough to study. kml

My “free” shelter pet has so far cost me $4,000+ in vet bills. $3,500 for fixing his punctured salivary gland after he was hurt playing with a stick. Now, a $500 vet bill after some ignorant kid who threw a rock at my free shelter dog and broke his lower canine tooth that now needs to be pulled. Plus, all the initial shots and neutering. Not that I complain, because I can’t imagine life without him, but a pet is a luxury anymore for the average person/family.

Even though maintaining a pet can be a financial burden, the psychological benefits of pets can be significant for individuals experiencing the isolation of things like job loss or a negative health event.

Doorways for Women and Families where I've volunteered in Arlington, Virginia is one of many shelters for survivors of intimate partner violence that also has a kennel for pets, because fear of leaving a beloved pet behind can stop abuse victims from fleeing their partners.

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