‘Had to Tell a White Lie to My Daughter’: When Aussie Pet Parents Face a Tough Decision

Jamie Roberts By Jamie Roberts Jun10,2024
Key Points
  • Pet owners in food-insecure households have reported cutting down on their own food to protect their pets’ welfare.
  • About a quarter of food-insecure pet owners polled in a survey reported skipping meals so their animals could eat.
  • Animal shelters are struggling to keep up with the number of pets being surrendered amid the rising cost of living.
Some Australians are facing the heartbreaking choice of feeding themselves or their pets amid concerns over .
That’s according to a report by the charity Foodbank, released on Thursday. It found almost a quarter of 909 respondents in food-insecure households, who had a pet in the past 12 months, had skipped meals so their animal could eat.
“I struggled a lot, and I didn’t eat some nights, but my dog is my life. I’ll do anything for him,” one respondent said, according to the report.
Others said they’d changed or reduced their diet. Some 42 per cent of respondents said they had bought cheaper food options for themselves, and 34 per cent had reduced their intake to afford their pet.
Some, however, had to make the tragic decision to give up their pet — about 14 per cent of those polled.

“I had to lie to my daughter and say our frogs and fish died so I could sell the tanks and save on energy costs,” another respondent to the report, which was supported by Mars Petcare Australia, said.

Infographic showing how food insecure households are protecting their pets.

According to Foodbank’s Pet Hunger Report, nearly a quarter of food-insecure households have skipped meals so their pets can eat. Source: SBS News

Pets are an important part of many households, particularly during difficult times, said Brianna Casey, CEO of Foodbank Australia.

“They are treated like family and seen as family, and having to re-home an animal is a path of last resort … so (owners) are making incredible sacrifices in order to hang on to those pets,” Casey said.
According to , 3.7 million Australian households experienced food insecurity in the past 12 months.

Of those households, 60 per cent were employed, and 77 per cent were experiencing food insecurity for the first time.

Casey said the latest findings made her think about her own dog, whom she adopted several years ago, and its previous family.
“It’s made me really think about the reason sitting behind her being re-homed, and the decisions that people have had to make about whether or not they’re better off finding a new home for their pet,” she said.

“Or being faced with this really confronting decision, an impossible decision, about whether or not they should compromise on their own nutrition or their animal’s.”

A woman sitting on the floor giving food to a dog

Foodbank CEO Brianna Casey said pets can offer companionship, emotional support, routine, and a wide variety of other benefits for people doing it tough. Source: Supplied / Foodbank

Animal shelters overwhelmed and at capacity

While surrendering a pet is an “absolute last resort”, according to the report, it is a step some appear to be taking.
Animal shelters nationwide are overflowing, with many calling for support and adoptions as they hit capacity.
Nationally, the RSPCA alone received more than 18,000 dogs and more than 33,000 kittens in the 2023 financial year, with more than 9,000 of the animals ultimately put down.
The number of puppies arriving at The Lost Dogs Home’s North Melbourne and Cranbourne shelters jumped by more than 115 per cent in two years to 509 in 2023, with a further 142 handed over in the year to date.

The number of kittens surrendered has increased almost 40 per cent over the same period to a staggering 5056 in 2023, plus 1,740 this year so far.

Graphic showing the costs of owning a pet

The rising cost of living has left many Australians struggling to afford their pets. Source: SBS News

In addition to rising pet care costs, Lost Dogs Home spokeswoman Suzana Talevski said cost-of-living pressures meant fewer owners were desexing their pets, leading to extra litters and more surrenders.

“There is also an over-supply versus demand issue where breeders aren’t seeing the same uptake as during the COVID lockdown era and are now surrendering puppies in large numbers.”
Casey said she believes households struggling with food insecurity likely have difficulty affording their pets.
“Food-insecure households are more likely to be placed in that really difficult position of having to choose between keeping their pets or being able to make the family budget stretch to the most basic of needs like feeding themselves,” she said.
“It is a really concerning situation.”

– With the Australian Associated Press

Jamie Roberts

By Jamie Roberts

Jamie is an award-winning investigative journalist with a focus on uncovering corruption and advocating for social justice. With over a decade of experience in the field, Jamie's work has been instrumental in bringing about positive change in various communities.

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2 thoughts on “‘Had to Tell a White Lie to My Daughter’: When Aussie Pet Parents Face a Tough Decision”
  1. How heartbreaking! Is there enough support available for pet owners in these tough situations?

    1. It is indeed a heart-wrenching situation. More support and resources should be provided to pet owners facing such difficult choices. Our furry friends are family too, and no one should have to choose between feeding themselves and feeding their pets.

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