Too Poor for Pets

OC Transpo is re-visiting the idea of allowing pets on buses. Again. Lots of other cities allow this. Dogs have to be on leashes and cats have to be in carriers, but the drivers can use their discretion in certain cases – if the bus is too crowded for a big dog or if a pet seems too agitated or disruptive to be on board, for instance.

People in Ottawa have been very opposed to pets on the transit system for some reason. They worry about other people’s pet allergies and vicious animals and being squeezed out of their seats by packs of giant dogs.

If you ever ride transit systems in cities that allow pets, however, you hardly ever see any on board.  People don’t normally take their pets on bus rides just for fun. Usually pets are taken on buses just when there is no other way to get them to the vet.

Some people have pets, but don’t have cars and can’t afford a taxi and a vet on the same day. Ottawa has “pet taxis“, but, in my experience they’re a disaster.  Most of the time they just don’t show up — they say they’re too swamped with calls – but they don’t tell you that when you book them. And, they cost as much, if not more than regular cabs.

Regular cabs don’t like taking pets either. You have to give them a pound-by-pound account of the animal you intend to bring when you book the cab and then you get scowled at a lot by the driver when your pet makes a noise. Pet noises seem to disrupt the drivers’ cell phone conversations.

The pets-on-Ottawa-transit issue seems to come up annually. It’s always defeated. Evidently in Ottawa, only people with cars can have a pet.

Many people believe that poor people shouldn’t even have a pet. In some countries you can’t get social assistance if you have a pet. Vets also seem to believe that unless you’re quite wealthy you shouldn’t have a pet. I know they have to make a living, too, but wow it’s expensive to give your pet all the shots, treatments, preventative procedures, tests, surgeries, therapies and medicines the vet thinks they should have. Sometimes I think vets try to guilt you into things that aren’t completely necessary.

Then there are all the other extras – licenses, insurance, toys, grooming and grooming aids, pet care when you’re away, specialized foods, leashes, carriers, clothes, etc., etc.

Are pets luxury items now? Accessories for the elite? We always had animals when I was a kid and they roamed around the farm, ate table scraps and whatever they could hunt down outside.  They were neutered or spayed, but that’s usually the only time they ever saw a vet. Surprisingly, all our animals were happy and loved, lived to a ripe old age and never got sick.

How do lower income people afford to keep pets today? People get very huffy when they see panhandlers with pets, for instance.

Pets are good for people though. They provide companionship and unconditional love. They teach children responsibility and how to care for other living creatures. They provide protection for the vulnerable. 

There are a lot of animals in shelters. More than half of them will be euthanized. Meanwhile, there are probably people out there who would love to adopt one of them, but can’t afford the high price of pet ownership. And, of course, some of the pets are in the shelters in the first place because their people could no longer afford to care for them. Is there a solution?


14 responses to “Too Poor for Pets

  1. I’m not sure that I have a solution, but I certainly think OC Transpo should allow pets – at least ones that are in carriers. That’s a very interesting point, about pets as a luxury possession of the wealthy – the thought had never occurred to me. As both a dog-owner and person who just gave up her car, I don’t know how I’d get by without having family in the area…

    I wonder what makes Ottawa-ans so much more uptight on the matter than inhabitants of other cities?

  2. There’s pet insurance which like a lottery can pay off. As a kid pets were not entitled to health care but then the parents didn’t do the necessary health care of chiro, or dentist or “extras” either.

    solution? dunno.

  3. Tania – I think it must the preponderance of bureaucrats in Ottawa or something. They even allow small pets in carriers on WestJet – right there with the passengers, though you have to squish the carrier under the seat in front of you.

    Pearl – Pet insurance is quite expensive and there’s only one plan that covers all the preventative stuff and the annual fees for that are astronomical. Most pet insurance just covers things that are very unlikely to happen. There used to be places that would provide pet health care for free or for a nominal fee for those who couldn’t afford a vet. Do those still exist?

  4. This is an interesting problem. I have never thought about how people who normally use public transit would get their pets from Point A to Point B. Personally, I wouldn’t mind sharing a bus or train with an animal but I’m sure there are those owners who would not be responsible enough to make sure the animal was well behaved or clean up after it, if need be, and that would ruin it for everyone. Having to sit where a dog just had an accident wouldn’t be very appealing.

    Come to think of it…given the choice between sharing a confined space with a noisy dog or a sticky toddler, I would always choose the former. At least he would be on a leash. 🙂

    I wonder what animals think of riding public transportation? They probably wonder what they did wrong to wind up caged up with so many strange humans. lol.

  5. This frustrates me so much. I really want a dog, but I don’t drive. On of my major issues is, if my dog gets sick, how do I get it to the vet.
    A. drives, but I don’t want to always depend on him. I want to be able to take care of this dog myself.
    I can afford the dog, the insurance, food, etc.. it’s just the transportation of the dog.
    IF Oc Transpo put dog size retrictions for example, I would consider this before choosing a dog.
    I would really like a golden doodle (or a great dane), but if I could only bring a small terrier on the bus, I would consider buying a terrier, just so that I would be able to transport it to and from the vet.

  6. Good post. I agree with what you said, there’s so much to take into account when one is looking at Fluffy through the window. Our lifestyle has changed, pets are exposed to far more harmful stuff than before. Think of a dog/cat in a house/apartment of a smoker. Many will get cancer but nobody will ever know about it because they don’t get tested. Then there’s the food we give them, full of processed “by-products”, fillers and many will overfeed and not exercise their pets. So there will be a price to pay eventually.

    In the downtown area, there are many vetenarian clinics within walking distance. However, if Fluffy injured her leg and had to be transported then yes, it would be different but even then, there are some places that make house calls. Of course, you pay extra for that.

    I don’t think there are lots of people taking their pets on transit. I don’t take it enough to know but I do know that pets are not usually welcome during rush hour. And yet they won’t say no to someone with a very unruly baby or toddler…

  7. As a graduate student on a very fixed income and a pet owner, I can relate to a lot in this post.
    I’ve recently been getting my cat ready to export to the UK (I’m hopefully moving when I finish my MA) and it’s cost a fortune with the rabies tests and other things to avoid the quarantine regulations there. A lot of people think this is ridiculous, but I really have to take her with me. I’d feel horrible leaving her here in Canada.

    Anyhow, I’ve had so much trouble with taxis in this city. It’s to the point that I don’t mention I have a cat. I’ve never been refused when I’ve done that, but I’ve been late for vet appointments TWICE when I tell them I have a cat and the taxi company “has no drivers who will take cats”.

    Very frustrating. Letting pets, especially cats in carriers, on the OCTranspo would solve a lot of problems. Every argument against them, the allergies, the potential mess, etc, can be argued the same way against many other transit riders the allow on. I’ve been on buses with people who wear so much perfume/aftershave that it makes me gag. I’ve seen a kid, a young boy, whip it out and piss on a bus seat. And if the size of the pet carrier is an issue, what about the people who insist on taking ridiculously sized baby prams on the bus? I think that’s a safety issue that should be addressed.

    Anyhow, I could rant about buses forever… but back to pets… I think a big part of the problem is that the pet-health industry in Canada is not regulated as much as it could be. It’s a business, an industry, and they’re out to make money from it and know that lots of people will pay because they love their pets. For example, vets can charge whatever they want for medications and don’t often give you the option of purchasing them elsewhere. In the UK, you can get vets to write you a script and you can get the medication where you want to. It’s brought the price of pet medications down significantly and made it more competitive. Even that would help a bit.

    But yeah – GREAT POST!

  8. Sometimes I think vets try to guilt you into things that aren’t completely necessary.

    They absolutely do guilt you. If humans had every test that animals get as soon as anything might perhaps be vaguely or remotely possibly a touch wrong, we’d all be sick all the time. Of course you’re gonna find something wrong if you really really look.

    And vets really really look.

  9. Interesting post. My cat has only been to the vet for that one visit and has never been back in 13 years. When I hear what some people spend in vet bills, I am always astounded.
    It would never have occurred to me that pets wouldn’t be allowed on public transit. My brother has the quietest, cutest little dog (I forget the name of breed), but there was never any problem getting him into any of the hospitals to visit various family members, and he brought a smile to so many people while there.

  10. Zoom -Ya, it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot since getting Bazel and especially since I’ve been thinking of getting Basel a canine friend.

    Debra – It’s such a non-issue compared to all the other stuff that happens on public transit. I’m almost always disgusted by something on the bus, but I put up with it because it’s public transit and that means one takes the risk of encountering the public. Otherwise it would be called a private limosine.

    A&J – And sometimes even if you do have a car, pets – especially sick ones – need all your attention, so it’s hard to drive and keep them calm at the same time.

    UA – Yes, that’s why the whole thing is so trivial, really. Not too many people take pets on public transit and/or you don’t see it very often because they choose times when there aren’t a lot of people in the buses/trains. It only makes sense.

    Em – Lots of great points. I can imagine how difficult it is shipping the cat to the UK – that’s a long trip for the poor little guy, but I’m sure he appreciates not being left behind. And the thing about the meds makes perfect sense. I never even thought about how odd it is that you have no choice but to get your pet meds from the vet. Something wrong there!

    Jazz- And they seem to make a really big deal about stuff that’s normal. Like tartar on the teeth. Getting that off is a big ticket item — up to $600 for a teeth cleaning sometimes because the have to knock them out and do a whole whack of tests beforehand and afterwards and keep them there to recover, etc., etc., Used to be the vet would just scrape the teeth a bit as he was doing the normal exam. And/or pets ate real food which naturally scraped the tartar.

    Violetsky – Wow – once in 13 years. You probably have no idea about all the potential costly illnesses your cat has. I’ll bet if you took him in right now, they’d find all sorts of things wrong. Nice story about the dog. Pets really do make people smile and feel better — which is exactly why they should be accessible to everyone. Thanks

  11. I am all for pets on public transit, especially since pretty much all the pets I have ever seen on public transit have been well under control, and I think you make a very interesting point about pets as luxury objects, as revolting as it is to think of animals being used like objects. Animals are awesome, and I think that everyone should have animals in their life, but I have to wonder about those teacup dogs you see in people’s purses, or bizarre dog breeds created for vanity. Weird.

    But I also think there’s also a huge rural/urban divide. Where I live, everyone in the country has pets, and most people in the country are of very low income. They feed their pets table scraps and get them altered, and they seem to do just fine without cashmere pet beds, diamond encrusted leashes, and constant vet visits.

    Sometimes, I suspect that a lot of people in the city have pets instead of children, and that creates a very strange, subverted dynamic in which it becomes necessary/expected to spend lots of money.

    Also, re:shelters. I can’t believe how expensive adoption fees are! Our local animal control adopts out cats for $25-$55 US, while the humane society demands a whopping $90! Way to make sure that poor people can’t even get pets.

  12. Meloukia – I’ve been pondering this blog post since we had a similar discussion on your blog. You’re very right. Our shelter fees are $200 and up — some as high as $500 depending on what they had to do to the animal to make it adoptable. And yes, Paris Hilton has done a lot of damage to chihuahuas. Everyone wanted one when they saw her purse dog. Now there are tons of them in shelters.

  13. People who have pets are not always very careful about them. Some people treat their pets like they are a family member. I think more and more people should start behaving like ‘human’s and start taking good care of their pets.