Pet priorities and the economy

Published 5:00 am Thursday, September 18, 2008

With the cost of groceries, energy and fuel going up, people arehaving to prioritize their spending, which sometimes means familypet needs go by the wayside.

“Ironically, during stressful economic times we do sometimes seea decline in vet care,” said Dr. William Kimble of the AnimalMedical Center. “For the most part what we provide is considered aluxury item for a lot of families. And while that doesn’t mean thepet’s importance to the family is any lower, gas and energy go up,and certainly families have to make sacrifices sometimes.”

Kimble said while people don’t completely abandon their pets,they do become more frugal with elective procedures like nailclipping, bathing or spay and neuter. Dr. Bob Watson of theBrookhaven Animal Hospital agreed that while there is a bit of adip in business, most dedicated pet owners are going to find a wayto make it work.

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“The clients that see their pets as their family, I don’t seeany decrease in the amount that goes into their care,” Watson said.”It goes across all economic groups, and the converse is true, too.Those that feel their pets are more of a property or that don’thave the same view of them as family, they’re the first ones tomake a few cutbacks.”

Watson said people are also inclined to choose low-cost optionson animal care when pets are not in their best health.

“Another place you might see a little bit of a change, when ananimal is brought in sick or injured and options are on the table,it’s more common for people to inquire about the lower-costoption,” he said.

And pet foods and flea treatments are also affected by economicdownturns, Kimble said.

“They may have to buy a more economic brand of dog food, orstretch the flea treatments,” he said. “If you have to makedecisions and you have to be more frugal, there are certain thingsyou want not to eliminate. Heartworm prevention for dogs isimperative, and I’d much rather see him miss a bath or a nail trimto insure he gets his monthly heartworm prevention.”

Both veterinarians said during the early fall every year, thereis usually a downturn in business because people are spending moneyon sending their children back to school.

“Because of school clothes, tuition and books, we’ll see adramatic drop in business,” Watson said. “August and September palein comparison to May, June and July. When people are forced todecide how to spend their money, discretionary income is oftentaken up by other things.”

But while most avid pet owners will postpone treatments andprocedures when money gets tight, it is usually only apostponement, Kimble said. Strangely enough, he said, sometimesfrightening situations will affect people’s priorities, too.

“People will postpone the elective-type procedures, likespay/neuter,” he said. “But ironically, here in our practice, we’veseen a lot of difference post-Gustav. I’ve seen a huge pickup inthe amount of elective procedures for those routine things sincethe storm.”

Meanwhile, bad economic conditions can affect the randomdo-gooders as well, Watson said.

“In the spay and neuter category, the decline I’ve seen there -if any – is when the economy is good and everyone’s happy, peopleseem to do more philanthropic-type things. They’ll pick up strayson side of road and bring them in to be spayed or neutered,” hesaid. “You don’t see as much of that with the decrease indiscretionary income,”

The vets said, too, that in both of their 20-plus years ofexperience, they’ve noticed that business begins to slack aroundthree months before economists announce the recession.

“Over the 21 years I’ve spent in the business, I’ve watched it,and the economy runs in cycles,” Kimble said. “It has its ups anddowns, certainly we’ve experienced a down in recent months. Usuallywe’ll know about three months prior to the economy being announcedas sluggish that there’s a recession on the way.”

Meanwhile, Brookhaven Animal Rescue League spokesperson andvolunteer Rusty Adcock said he’s relieved to say that very fewpeople look to find other homes for their pets during an economicdownturn.

“We hadn’t really had any increase in drop-offs or peopleturning in their pets, but we are down in adoptions,” he said,adding that things had been very slow in the last few months. “Wekind of attribute that to the economic situation. I don’t thinkit’s that they quit caring, they just have to prioritize theirspending.”

Adcock said the area where the belt needs the most tighteningfor BARL is the area of donations. Still, he said, animal loverswill take care of the animals.

“We are trying to tighten up some things due to the fact thatdonations are down, so we’re always conscious of funds because weare so dependant on the donations,” he said. “It seems like if weget in a need for food, we can put a blurb in the paper and thatusually brings people out.”

Adcock said between donations of damaged pet food bags from theWal-Mart Distribution Center and private citizens, the animals atBARL are taken care of.

“We always seem to get by with the food,” he said. “Sometimes wedo have to go out and buy some extra, but usually the public isgood to take care of us.”