Should Poor People Have Cats?

More on PawNation: Cats, Kittens, Lifestyle

We've all heard it before - perhaps even uttered it ourselves - "If you can't afford to purchase X brand of food or see a veterinarian every time your cat sneezes then you shouldn't have a cat."

This attitude hisses me off for lots of reasons, the first of which is that I know many people who could be described, in the banal jargon of the social service industry, as "inadequately resourced." I can guarantee you that a lack of money does not in any way equal a lack of love. Pets provide the same measure of love and emotional support to poor people as they do to those of us fortunate enough to be "adequately resourced." In fact, when you're struggling just to stay alive, your pets could well be your only comfort.

I don't know how I would have survived my childhood and adolescence if it hadn't been for the cats who shared my life. They provided unconditional love and snuggled with me when I cried. Through caring for them, I learned about caring for others. Through witnessing them as fellow travelers, I came to understand that cats are spiritual beings having a feline experience, just as we humans are spiritual beings having a human experience. In my family, our cats and dogs were viewed as full-fledged family members.

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And yes, we were poor. As in, food stamps and Aid to Families with Dependent Children, or AFDC (now known as TANF, for Temporary Aid to Needy Families). As in, we had enough to eat because my mother was a smart shopper but our house was always cold because heating oil and firewood were expensive. And as a poor kid, I was on the receiving end of a lot of the scorn heaped on the poor by those who didn't realize that they too were about one paycheck away from being in the welfare line at the Department of Health and Human Services.

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We fed our cats the cheap brand of kibble, and our poverty didn't allow us to take them to the vet every year - in fact, because there weren't any resources for low-cost spay and neuter back in the 1980s, our cats didn't get "fixed" before they could reproduce, either. But we loved them and did the very best we could to take care of them and keep them safe. And we certainly didn't love them any less because we were poor.

I guess you can't really know what it's like to be poor unless you've been there yourself. However, even if you're fortunate enough to have never experienced poverty, you can still try to have some compassion. Every religion on the planet preaches compassion. But it seems like the attitudes that have fermented in a toxic sludge of talk radio and online news comment forums have made a lot of people forget that they are one disaster away from getting a firsthand experience of poverty.

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Instead of griping about the problem, you can be a part of the solution. There are many things you can do to help people who love their pets but can't afford to get them the care they need.
How you can help:

--Donate to low-income spay/neuter funds. Also, donate to your local animal rescue group, because often your local shelter is the group that holds spay/neuter and vaccination clinics.

--If you can afford to help a needy friend or family member get a pet spayed or neutered, do so.

--For many poor and disabled people, transportation is a barrier to getting veterinary care for pets. Offer to give people a ride, or contribute to the cost of a bus or van to bring people and their pets to the clinic.

--And finally, challenge your assumptions about poverty and poor people. The vast majority of people love their pets, whether they live in million-dollar homes or in public housing - or even if they don't have a home at all.

What about you? Have you helped someone with pet care expenses or transportation? Has someone helped you? Do you have other ideas for helping ensure that all pets get their needs met? Let us know in the comments!

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