Opps, you got your classism all over my pet ownership

I don’t talk about classism a lot, but I should. I grew up working class poor, technically under the poverty line, but thanks to my parents, I have never gone hungry. I have always had a place to live, because my parents bought our current house from my mother’s parents. I am exceeding lucky, even without the benefits of being middle class or above. I grew up and currently live in a dying mill town and I know that people aren’t poor because they just don’t try hard enough.

I also know that poor people love their companion animals just as much as anyone else. Rehoming a pet “just” for moving often isn’t a sign of someone who just doesn’t care, it’s a sign of being unable to find affordable housing that even allows pets. Even them, when you’re living, month to month, week to week, day to day, where does one get the money for a pet deposit? It’s all well and good to get a deposit waived because of a CGC award or the pet being an emotional support animal, but how many people even aware of the CGC? Even if someone knows about it and can find the time, money and transportation to have their dog tested, there are plenty of dogs that make perfectly lovely pets that will never pass, even with the time investment of training. As for the ESA and service dog waivers, even if one has regular enough medical care to get one, plenty of landlords are fine with ignoring the Fair Housing Act. How much fun is it going to be to deal with landlord that’s pissed at you for calling the authorities on them? Yeah, some are reasonable after having things explained, but there is aways that risk. When you’re courting homelessness for not only your self, but maybe your kids too, it isn’t exactly a free choice. I’m not saying dropping pets off at shelters is a good thing, but painting these people as monsters does little to help shelter pets.

I know most people want what’s best for their pets, even if they aren’t aware of better. My parents fed Pedigree to our first dog because they were under the impression it was the best food out there. Plenty of people feeding Alpo and such don’t realize how substandard these foods are. I know I didn’t, not until I started researching dog care and training. Just as many, many people purchase pet store puppies thinking they are saving them, or that they come from local breeders, many people purchase substandard dog foods thinking they’re fine. Even so, someone may know the dog food isn’t that great, but as they’re eating substandard food themselves, they aren’t in much of a position to do anything about it. I am exceeding lucky to be receiving enough money that Figaro[1] eats a rotation of some of the best foods available. However, if my parents weren’t willing to be paid only 30% of my income for rent,[2]along with paying the internet and the majority of my meals, along with transportation, things wouldn’t be so nice. Things are less nice for whole lot of people. I simply can’t imagine dealing with having children, a job I needed to travel to, no health insurance and/or more out of pocket expenses. Actually, I can imagine and things would be much more dire.

I’ve often heard it said that if you can’t afford vet care, you shouldn’t have a dog. While I would say getting a dog isn’t ideal, plenty of pets are living with people who can’t even afford healthcare for themselves. Carecredit is a wonderful thing, if you have the credit to get it, but it doesn’t cure all problems. Some of the numbers I’ve seen thrown out for what people should have saved up are more than I receive in a year. Another factor is that for many kinds of assistance, you can’t a lot of money saved up. I’ve managed to build a little nest egg, but I understand why having money saved up is actually an issue for many people, not just matter of buying coffee too often or whatever examples get brought up in conversations. Just as will more expensive dog food, actually finding that sum of money, even if it is cheaper in the long run is still an issue. As Terry Pratchett wrote in Men at Arms:

“The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.”

This was the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness.”

Now, to be clear, animal abuse and neglect are never okay, but they aren’t exclusive to the poor. Drive around in any nice suburb and you’ll find dogs as glorified lawn ornaments, locked in Landry and basements rooms for 12 hours a day and left in backyards with a lack of human interaction, training or anything to do. I understand it’s easier to look at the poor and scoff, especially while being surrounded by the welfare hatred and classism that is rampant in the US[3] , but I truly don’t believe it’s helping. I think it’s completely possible to support and work on animal welfare without reinforcing the kyriarchy. Not only is it unnecessary, and if the oppression angle isn’t enough for one to care, it’s alienating. I’m not saying one needs to leave animal welfare behind, just put a bit more thought into the dialog and work surrounding our goals. That’s all.

1. My service dog
2. The National Low Income Housing Coalition defines affordable housing in the US by a cost of less than 30% of the household income.
3. I can’t really speak on the climate in other countries.

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10 thoughts on “Opps, you got your classism all over my pet ownership

  1. Terrific post! I run into these attitudes all the time.

    I’m wondering if there was a specific incident, comment, or site that you’re responding to, or just reading/seeing/hearing these kinds of attitudes all over the place.

    • thetroubleis says:

      Thank you. It’s just a build up of comments on Dogster and in feminist spaces when pets come up. This attitude is so wide spread it’s ridiculous.

  2. a.b. says:

    My sister didn’t have health insurance for the longest time, but made sure her pet got care. That always made me so sad, because who would take care of her dog if she was hospitalized? (Well, I would, but I’m thinking in airplane oxygen-mask logic). But she needed that dog more than she needed check-ups, because she loved it.

    This seems similar to arguments that foodstamps shouldn’t be able to buy snack foods. Just because someone is poor doesn’t mean they need something that tastes good.

    • thetroubleis says:

      I really can’t stand the idea that poor people should only be eating gruel and working 16 hours days while looking shamefaced.

      I’m sorry about your sister’s past situation. I am “lucky” to have always been ill enough to get healthcare through my state, but I know many people stuck in the middle.

      If I had the money, I’d love to set up a low rate loan fund just for people below a certain income level who need help with pet deposits and vet care.

  3. Dana says:

    I’m certainly not denying there is a shit ton of classism inherent in these discussions, but the part about rehoming “just” because you’re moving… seriously, that is a *problem*.

    If you ever have had to put down hundreds and hundreds of animals because people don’t see a problem with buying a pet with no determination to do *whatever it takes* if they’re put in a shit position in 5, 10, 15 years then you would feel the same. There is a reason rescues and shelters try and talk about the vast responsibility that is getting an animal that can live 25 years (cats), when overpopulation is such a huge issue.

    Of course there are situations where people cannot, cannot keep their animal, but a vast majority of people who are rehoming an animal are not in that situation, because it is a tiny minority who believe that yes you should go without a couple of meals if it means you can pay a deposit so your animal can continue to live with you.

    It’s not like none of these people who feel this way do anything about it. The people working and volunteering at shelters, setting up and running low cost and free desexing clinics and other services are doing it because they want to make it possible for people to care for their pets if they’re struggling.

    Truly, if you know if you moved you couldn’t afford to bring your dog, either accept you might have to make hard choices in the future, or choose not to get a dog at this time. If you don’t have enough saved up to give your dog a life-saving operation there is no shame in having them put to sleep painlessly. But if you can’t afford to get the consultation, or to have them put to sleep, please don’t get an animal.

    I wish there were more resources for pet owners, but there aren’t, and it’s the animals that pay in the end and that is beyond unfair.

    Re: the pet food debate, that drives me crazy. I want to feed the best possible food but at the end of the day, if you can only afford supermarket food *that’s OK.* Because it’s still a complete meal that means your pet will have it’s dietary needs met – unlike in the “good old days” when people fed scraps.

    • thetroubleis says:

      Most of the pet depots around here don’t mean skipping a few meals, they are 4 times my food budget for the month. Just moving can mean a lot more for people on a limited budget, especially people with disabilities, which is correlated with poverty to quite an extent.

      It’s funny that you seem to think i don’t have any experience in this area, because I do. I’ve seen jerks come into the closest shelter and ask to have young dogs put down because they are moving. However, there are also people choosing between a place that isn’t a cesspit and you know, is at least a little bit safe for their kids or keeping their dog. There are people choosing between accessibility and keeping their cat.

      I also never said that no one was doing anything, so please don’t use straw men arguments. I’m just saying classist discussion is going to drive people away and it reinforces biases. We don’t have to marginalize people to save pets.

      If every person who couldn’t afford to pay a pet deposit got rid of their dogs, a lot more animals would be put down. Especially considering how many people are in danger of losing their homes right now.

      I think it’s beyond unfair that pet owners have to choose between food or heat and keeping a pet. Many existing pet owners can’t afford medical care for themselves. I’m not happy about seeing pets suffer either,but I also understand the deep wealth disparity in this country, which has only been getting worse.

      Also, please don’t use crazy as short hand for things that annoy you on my blog. I am crazy and I’d prefer it wasn’t equated with things people hate.

      • Andrea says:

        I also think it’s funny that people assume nothing unexpected ever happens. I’ve been in positions with my pets where things were all right, but if I’d lost my job unexpectedly? Been in a car accident or gotten sick and not been able to work for a while? Things would have gone to shit in a hurry.

        Should I not have had pets because like most USians, I was one hop from the brink? Somehow I don’t think so. If only people who could be totally sure that they will never have a financial crisis got pets, there’d be one hell of a lot bigger pet homelessness problem.

        • thetroubleis says:

          This.Shelter would be much worse off if everyone living month to month gave up on pet ownership. I’m not saying it’s a good idea to go out and get a new dog, but around here, it’s often a matter of taking in an animal either left in your yard or one that might be left in the woods. People dump their cats at the “horse hovel” on the edges of my town all the time. The ones that don’t get taken in as pets run the risk of being eaten by coyotes. I think a few good years with a less than wealthy but loving owner is better than that and better being dumped at the closest kill shelter.

  4. Julia says:

    I gave up two cats once “just” because I couldn’t take them when I moved. (home with my mother – and although it was ultimately my ex who had to take them to the pound when he started using again and lost his place I still feel responsible – it was a likely outcome of having to leave them with him) They were almost certainly put down. And to this day it breaks my heart. The experience was so devastating I’m not sure I’ll ever feel secure enough to get a pet of my own again (my roommate has two puppies I love to death).

    The world would be a lot less scary if I could believe that hard work and good decisions would give me immunity to poverty. I certainly grew up with enough privilege to make this a reasonable assumption; and as long as I’m blind to the role that privilege plays in my life it makes sense to treat poor people as less deserving.

    I’m sure there are plenty of people who give up pets when they could make moderately inconvenient choices that would allow them to keep their animal. But assuming that anyone who finds themselves in a situation where they have to move and can’t take their pet shouldn’t ever have gotten pets or just needs to try harder takes an incredible level of privilege and ignorance. I won’t wish first-hand experience of desperation on anyone. But I will say that if you aren’t one bad disaster away from some really tough decisions you are very lucky. The majority of responsible, loving pet owners are just doing their best, hoping disaster won’t strike and that someone will be able to help if it does.

    It is still indefensible to get a dog that you know you probably won’t be able to feed next month, but treating an animal like that isn’t about poverty. Given a ton of money that same asshole would still treat the animal as a disposable plaything.

    Beyond actual disregard for animals as living beings just keep in mind that your minimum standard for your pets isn’t a basis for what someone else must provide to be a loving and responsible owner. I have a good friend who couldn’t imagine not having gotten the two acl surgeries his dog needed; he’s also careful to express gratitude for being in the position to make that choice instead of judgment of people who can’t. Most people can agree that being able to pay for that kind of care is an absurdly high minimum standard for pet ownership – the pet owner who eats plenty of ramen noodles to make ends meet may find your choice of pet food just as impossibly unaffordable.

    Didn’t mean to write such a novel, this post just hit very close to home for me personally. Five years later and thinking about losing those kitties still makes me cry – but I don’t regret for a moment taking them home from the shelter.

    • thetroubleis says:

      I’m so sorry about your cats, truly.

      Your absolutely right about rich people being able to neglect their pets just as well. Around here, most pets don’t get great food, but they are definitely getting more attention than I see the pets of people who have upper middle class jobs. It should not have been necessary for the trainer of one of Figaro’s pet dog classes to explain that no, you can’t leave your dog in the yard 12 hours day and expect them to entertain themselves. I know people of a great range of incomes that treat their pets poorly.

      Don’t worry about writing too much, I really liked reading your comment.

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