Pet medical neglect cases on the rise in economically ailing Calgary

CALGARY — The Calgary Humane Society has seen a steady rise in medical neglect cases over the last five years and says the biggest reason is owners not being able to afford proper care.

There were 192 such files in 2014, which was about the time oil prices and the city's energy-centric economy started to tank.

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Earlier this month, there were 273 cases so far this year — a 40 per cent increase.

Peace officer Brad Nichols says more animals are being seized because their owners did not get them treatment for fractured limbs, infections, dental diseases and other ailments.

"In general, people tend to be a bit impulsive when they get animals. And I get it. It's a cute, fluffy thing in your house and it makes everything better," said Nichols.

"But there are certainly large bills that can hit you out of nowhere when you have an animal. And too many people aren't prepared for that."

Alberta's unemployment rate was 7.2 per cent in November compared with 4.4 per cent five years ago. There were more than 16,000 consumer insolvencies by Oct. 31 — about double from the same 2014 period.

Nichols said while cost has been the biggest reason for the increase in neglect cases, sometimes pet owners were in denial that their animal was sick or just weren't ready to say goodbye.

Many owners can't imagine their furry loved ones will ever get hurt or sick, he said.

"And that's a dangerous trap to get stuck in. Because as soon as you get an illness or an injury, you're looking at thousands of dollars in veterinary bills and not many of us can afford that at the drop of a hat."

Nichols recommends pet insurance so owners aren't caught off guard by hefty bills. Occasionally, veterinarians offer payment plans or charities can help.

The Calgary Humane Society has had more than 2,200 pets surrendered to to it so far this year. Since the downturn took hold, annual figures for surrenders have ranged from about 1,500 in 2017 to about 2,500 in 2015.

If people are willingly giving up their pets because they're squeezed financially, few are saying so, said Nichols.

"That's a bit of a sensitive subject and people would probably dance around that."

The City of Calgary's animal services department, which is in charge of strays, was so overrun with cats that it held a three-day, half-price adoption event in October.

Customer service representative Patti Smadis says the city has space for 78 cats and its wards were at or above capacity. Fifty-eight felines found new homes.

Most of the strays seemed previously cared for and were well-socialized. But many couldn't be identified because they weren't microchipped or tattooed.

There was also an unusually high number of kittens, which Smadis attributes to cats not being spayed or neutered.

She suspects the strays were pets that got out, and that their owners simply couldn't find them again.

"People let their cats out and they believe that the cats are outside kind of living the good life," said Smadis.

"But the cats really aren't... They're being hit by cars. They're not eating. They have disease. They get in catfights and they come to us with injuries."

Because animal services staff rarely interact with owners, it's impossible to tell whether there is any link between the surging number of homeless felines and the ailing economy, Smadis said.

"If people are financially stressed, give us a call and let us know your situation and we'll try to work with you," she said.

"Our goal is to get the animal back to its rightful owner."

This story by The Canadian Press was first published on Dec. 12, 2019.

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