Pet Power: Dogs & Cats In The UK

There’s a cat in my street that has at least three families. She decides where to eat & sleep and when. All three families think she’s their cat.  According to a survey just published by Halifax Pet Insurance,the daily routine in many British homes is based on the needs of the domestic pet,not the family’s. There are about 9 million cats and 7 million dogs in the UK. Rabbits are the third most popular (statistically,there are more goldfish but you can’t play with them or take them for a walk). 16%  of owners allow their cat/dog to share their bed,7% prepare fresh meals for them and 4% cook more frequently for them than for their partner or children. Some give more priority to insuring their pet’s health than their own. Taking out a policy in case your animal gets sick certainly makes economic sense. The average veterinary bill is £300 but this can become £3000 for complicated problems such as arthritis. Over 350,000 dogs and cats are covered by Tesco Pet Insurance (which includes 12 months’ free membership of the ‘Missing Pets Bureau’) but that leaves many who are not.

The Halifax figures indicate that 59% of new owners didn’t check first what having a pet would cost them. Since 2002,£2.6 billion has been spent in the UK on buying a dog (price:about £282) or a cat ( about £92).  These days there’s another potential expenditure. ‘Dognapping’ is one of the fastest growing crimes in Britain. An estimated 50,000 dogs are stolen each year,usually from gardens,cars and parks,then held to ransom. The owners are contacted and told they must pay up or never see their pet again. Initially the demands were for £500 or less,but can now be for £2500 or more depending on the breed and the family’s budget. There are rumours of someone having paid out £20,000 to get their dog back. Labradors are a favourite target. ‘Celebrity model’ Liz Hurley had hers taken by dog thieves. A political lobbying group – ‘Dog Theft Action’ – has been set up to pressure the Government to deal with the situation.

Its not just dogs who are affected. Around 3000 UK cats (especially Burmese,Persian and Siamese) ‘go missing’ every week. Many have been kidnapped,some have got lost or run over,and others have simply decided to change home. The animal charity ‘Cats Protection’ re-unites 4,500 cats with their owners every year. Fitting dogs & cats with microchips provides one way of tracking them down if they disappear. Ironically,in many cases,they are not wanted back – particularly cats. They are 50% more likely to be abandoned than dogs. In 2006,the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) took in 9,506 pets who had become an ‘inconvenience’ – 44% up on the previous year. The new Animal Welfare Act aims to make owners legally obliged to care for their pets. As we are reminded every December: ‘A Dog (or Cat) is not just for Christmas’.

Filed under: Society | Posted on September 1st, 2007 by Colin D Gordon

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