When the street cats of Chicago’s Hyde Park get out of control, Frances Spaltro’s neighbors know they can call her for help.
She shuttles the cats to foster homes, but there aren’t enough for all the strays, which often aren’t strays at all — just pets looking for their homes and the owners that turned them outside. During the worst days of the summer, when Chicago’s oppressive heat drove abandoned animals to court strangers for food, water and air conditioning, Spaltro’s rescue assisted 35 homeless cats from a neighborhood of fewer than 30,000 residents. One volunteer from Spaltro’s Hyde Park Cats rescue keeps foster homes for six felines.
That story has played out across the country. Not too long ago, Americans opened their homes to a historic number of pets, a development comparable to the post-World War II baby boom in terms of its size. More than 23 million U.S. households — nearly one in five nationwide — have adopted a pet during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. President Biden even adopted two pets: a dog, Major, and cat, Willow.
Thirty-five percent of pet owners in September said they were concerned about the expense of having a pet in the current economy, according to data from the American Pet Products Association trade group. Of those, half said they may have to give up their pet.
Veterinary and shelter officials say it is a troubling sign about the future of American pet ownership. Middle- and upper-class households are spoiling their companions with new toys, top-shelf foods and luxurious day care and boarding accommodations. Meanwhile, pet adoption for lower-income households is slipping out of reach.
The overwhelming majority of pet owners who have fewer animals now than three months ago say it’s because one of their pets died, APPA reported. But 14 percent said they could not afford to keep their pet, while 12 percent said their pet was re-homed and 9 percent said they could no longer take care of their pet for a variety of reasons.