“I’d rather eat less than animals who lack something,” says Jacqueline Van Beek, 56, over the phone. In better financial times, I took two dachshunds and a cat. The past year has been tight. She has to live on disability benefits, but it doesn’t work, and then there’s the energy crisis and staggering inflation. She’s been going to the food bank in Amersfoort for seven months for her two dogs and a cat – and now the dogs also need extra medical care. “People then say I should get rid of them, but those who have pets know that’s not an option.”
Many people are in the same position as Jacqueline Van Beek. They can afford their pets, but due to the ongoing crisis it is getting more severe. What if their animal suddenly gets sick and needs urgent medical attention?
Minimalists are the first to experience the crisis, says Lillian Van Dorn, founder and CEO of the Fostering Pet Care (SBH) Foundation. “Based in part on Central Statistical Bureau numbers on poverty, we calculated that there are about 450,000 to 550,000 cats and dogs living in minimalist homes, roughly two animals per household. That’s a wise calculation.”
Pet owners who are just above the lower limit are also affected, they also “don’t have more fat in their bones,” she says. “If we also include state retirees and self-employed people who have had or will have problems, there could be another hundred thousand animals.” What do these people do when their pet urgently needs expensive surgery? Or a drug they can’t tolerate?
The Pet Care Enhancement Foundation will, under certain circumstances, assist people on the lowest income for nine years if their pet has severe medical problems. Van Dorn and her small team of volunteers are there 24 hours a day for veterinarians who can get animal owners to the counter without money. Owners can also submit a digital request for assistance themselves. Because of the increasing poverty, Van Dorn says, the number is “growing like crazy.” We have already seen a 40 percent increase and we fear it will only get worse. In the past 24 hours alone, 41 applications have been received. While the donations we depend on are also under pressure.”
The type of application has also changed. “We see that the animals are already at a more critical stage. The owners have waited too long to take action.”
In 2008, during the financial crisis, research showed the same picture. The Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at Utrecht University conducted a survey of 541 people about the benefits of social assistance. Almost 60 percent of them indicated that they sometimes do not go to the vet when necessary – due to a lack of financial resources. And 38 percent also indicated that they sometimes forego treatment due to lack of money.
Josephine Witt, an employee of the National Pet Information Center (LICG) recognizes her, and it worries her. “Animal welfare can, of course, be jeopardized as a result,” she says. People often notice that their animals are not drinking or eating well, but they don’t go to the vet for fear of the costs. They hope they can look at it for a while and it will get better on its own.”
Other foods are brought into the house, so we hope the animal eats – which then turns out not to help. “By the time they reported to the vet, the animal was getting worse, and it became an emergency report. Then it no longer resolved with pills, but an IV and additional examinations and medication were needed.” In the end, not only was this a difficult period for the animal, but it was also more expensive for the owner.
It is therefore important for owners to contact their vet immediately, even if they feel embarrassed about not having the money, if they notice that something is wrong with their animal. “Be honest about the fact that you don’t have any money. There is usually something to discuss about an installment plan,” Wallet says.
Veterinarians can also contribute ideas about the type of operation and treatment. “Normally, when an animal comes in, the doctor quickly suspects what is wrong with the animal, but several tests must be performed for a complete diagnosis.” It can be agreed to skip those checks, which must be paid for separately, and treat directly the most likely case. Then, of course, any risks must be taken into account.
When one of Kathleen Van de Ven’s (47) private sponsors injured his leg, he began walking lame. “It couldn’t have happened at a worse time. Earlier this year, my husband and I turned off the gas and heated it with our tea lights, simply because we couldn’t afford it.” Finally, after some asking and comparing prices, I found a vet who was willing to examine her for €250, on credit. “It’s a lot of money, but that’s what I thought.” Fortunately, her dog was walking well again the next morning. “But I talked to my husband about whether we could keep them at all. It would be a disaster if we had to get rid of them, but if we could no longer care for them, we might not have a choice.”
Saskia Thigessen, an animal protection spokeswoman, asked animal shelters if they were getting more requests from people who wanted to donate their animals, and if they had seen an increase in the number of animals dumped in the past six months. “With, so to speak, overdue dental maintenance, hooding, neglected otitis media, and things like that.” Tejsen says the answer to both questions was “no.” But over a longer period of time, we see that lack of money leads to animal abandonment or delayed care. We’re worried about how that will develop now. The problem may be too big.”
You see the role of municipalities, among other things, in terms of subsidies. For example, Amsterdam has the ADAM scheme, in which residents with a city entry pass are reimbursed for visiting a vet once a year. Other cities also offer different discounts through city passes. “We warmly support these initiatives,” says Tegesen. “We want to prevent animals from having to leave their owners as much as possible.”
However, this is often the solution told to minimum wage earners: Then you just have to get rid of your animal, right? But it’s not that simple at all, says Van Dorn. “This animal is often the only thing that gives them something to hold on to, fight loneliness, and give love without judgment.” People regularly tell her that if they have to live without their pet, they “don’t have to anymore.”
Nienke Endenburg, a GZ psychologist and expert in the field of human-animal relations, understands this feeling. “The good thing about pets is that they are free of judgment, and they don’t look at you any differently when you are stuck financially. An animal always accepts you, loves you unconditionally.”
It’s indisputable that people who spend little, and therefore spend a lot of time in and around the house, get the most out of their animals. “But besides the interest of the owner, there is also the social interest of the pet.” They provide mental stability and rhythm in the day, even if a person is not working or cannot work. “In the case of dogs, they also ensure continued contact with others.” An animal, be it a dog, cat, rabbit or hamster, that provides support.
“I would fall into a hole if I didn’t have my animals anymore,” says Jacqueline van Beek. And for that she is more than grateful to the animal food bank in Amersfoort. “They call town and country in search of the special food that Steve, an eight-year-old dachshund, needs because of an allergy.” He also needs medicine: you pay €262.50 for 100 pills. “He needs a pill a day.” Her other dachshund, Nala, 11, is on epilepsy medication.
I only managed to hook it up in the round. “But I honestly admit that if they needed surgery, I wouldn’t know how to pay for it.” She would sell things if she had to. “I just put my car up for sale, so I have room to breathe again.” She says it’s always the owner’s responsibility to take care of the animal, even if it needs more care. “he deserves it.” Because of the costs, did not dare to turn on the heating. When she is lying on the sofa in a cold house in the evening, Nala and Steve come to lie down with her. “Then I feel these warm bodies and then I know: This is wealth.”