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Feed my dog or children? Record high calls from owners who cannot afford their dogs

The Dogs Trust has received a record number of "handover" calls from distressed owners fearing they cannot afford their dogs, while the RSPCA has taken in more rabbits, cats and dogs than last year.

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Pet-owners are increasingly unable to afford their animals as the cost of living crisis bites, according to welfare charities.

The Dogs Trust has received 15,000 calls this year from owners asking about the process of giving up their dogs to be rehomed.

The figure is up 54% from this year, and the highest ever since the charity's contact centre opened in 2014.

In the first five months of 2022, the RSPCA took in 49% more rabbits, 14% more cats and 3% more dogs than the same period in 2021. Its research suggests cat-owners are the most impacted and concerned about cost of living pressures.

Dogs Trust CEO Owen Sharp said they were speaking to families "forced to make impossible choices because of their financial situations".

They had even received a call from a lady who was "distraught because she felt she had no choice but to give up the family dog; she was facing a decision between feeding him or her children," he said.

Costs of things like pet food have increased following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, which fuelled inflation in the UK that could rise to 13%.

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Veterinary charity The PDSA estimates the cost of keeping a dog at between £50 - £80 a month. But this adds up to £25-30,000 over the course of the dog's lifetime, including upfront costs like a bed and lead, extra items including toys and poo bags, as well as pet insurance.

The RSPCA warned the country is on the "brink of an animal welfare crisis" due to the rise in pet ownership during the pandemic and the subsequent cost of living crisis, especially for low-income households.

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"We're starting to see the knock-on effects of this as we, and other charities, predicted," Emma Slawinski, the RSPCA's director of advocacy and policy, said in a statement earlier this summer.

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Maxim Skripnik has stayed in Ukraine ever since intense Russian bombing started, to look after 600 dogs at his shelter.

"Tragically, we're starting to see an increase in the abandonment of pets and growing numbers of cats and rabbits being rescued and coming into our care," she added.

A YouGov survey of 4,000 people, commissioned by the RSPCA, suggested 78% of pet owners think the cost of living will impact their animals, almost seven out of 10 (68%) were concerned about rising cost of care, and a fifth (19%) worried whether they could afford to feed their pets.

The Dogs Trust urged pet owners to get in touch before reaching crisis point. Various forms of help from donors, volunteers, foster carers and adopters is available, said the charity, which houses dogs until it can find them new homes.