For many, pets are members of the family. They provide companionship and serve as protectors. They are also responsibilities that require food, love, and medical care.
For some low-income households, the financial responsibilities can add up and the costs can become unmanageable. Those animals can end up in shelters, rehomed, or released onto the streets to live as strays.
Last year, the Humane Society of Memphis and Shelby County launched a pilot program with area veterinarian clinics to make basic medical care more affordable for local low-income pet owners. That includes people on unemployment, seniors, and people with disabilities who are receiving assistance.
More information and online applications are available here
or call 901-937-3900.
“I think that the largest threats to animal welfare and homelessness are overpopulation and the challenges associated with access to veterinary care," said Dr. Mary Manspeaker, a veterinarian with the Humane Society.
Owners with limited funds may focus on necessities like food while forgoing medical care like spaying. Pregnant animals are at increased risk for displacement due to cost of care.
“It is all too common in underserved communities for puppies and kittens to be forced into homelessness, whether on the streets or in shelters. Spaying and neutering pets prevents unwanted litters,” said Manspeaker.
The Humane Society's new low-cost care program is funded by a grant from the Assisi Foundation and provides basic preventative care well below typical fees. Their partner All 4’s Rescue League is providing transportation support to get pets to and from the vet.
The program includes spaying or neutering, required vaccinations, and post-surgery pain medication for dogs at $70 and cats at $60. Dogs must be 12 weeks old; cats must be 10 weeks. A Humane Society spokesperson said the program has also added microchipping to bring lost pets home.
According to Manspeaker, the average annual costs for this basic veterinary care in Memphis runs $300.
“The program addresses our community-wide stray animal problem at its root by reducing the number of unwanted and uncared-for animals through spaying and neutering," said Manspeaker.
"It also keeps animals healthy and in the homes of their caring owners, providing health benefits to their owners and increasing happiness."
A state-issued drivers license or ID, as well as proof of public assistance like, food stamps or unemployment assistance, are required to qualify.
Animal abandonment and unwanted liters are not problems exclusive to people with limited incomes, but lack of resources is a main motivator for getting rid of a pet. The Human Society hopes improved access to care will keep pets at home.
In a written public relations statement, the Human Society said it "believes that animal companionship enriches the humane experience, and that socioeconomic status is not an indicator of a person's ability to forge a connection with a beloved pet. Access to affordable veterinary care empowers owners to pursue long-term animal companionship, which benefits all of Memphis and Shelby County."
Stray dogs walk the streets in The Heights. (Natalie Eddings)
Pets are Good, Strays are Not
Memphis and Shelby County have a severe stray animal problem. Numbers can increase exponentially through unwanted litters, birthed by both strays and pets with homes.
According to the Humane Society, their intake of strays has increased by 29%. Looking long-term, statistics from 2012 to 2020 reflect a 137% rise.
All of those loose animals pose a risk to themselves and others. They fall prey to vehicles and animal attacks. Gunshot wounds and intentional poisonings are not uncommon. They are often dehydrated, malnourished, and infested with pests and parasites. They can spread diseases to other animals and attack people.
"Access to low-cost veterinary care, from spay and neuter surgeries to basic vaccinations, is critical to overall public health in our community," said Manspeaker.
Sometimes lower-income pet owners face other barriers to veterinary care.
All 4’s Rescue League identifies animals in need of spaying and neutering and provides rides to and from the Humane Society’s brick-and-mortar clinic at 935 Farm Road in Memphis. The rescue also provides food, shelter, and other necessities to animals chained in backyards.
“For animals that do have homes, income and lack of transportation are often barriers to essential veterinary care, which means that many animals that are not spayed or neutered are also not vaccinated or protected from heartworms and other parasitic diseases,” said Manspeaker.
Their low-cost and low-income spay-neuter programs are one solution to the city's pet problem, but the Humane Society also urges anyone at any income level who's considering a new pet to do their homework and factor in surgery and shots as necessities before committing.
“It is essential for anyone thinking about adopting an animal to gather information about what being a responsible pet owner entails, the associated costs and what their budget will allow before adopting a pet,” said Manspeaker.