As I looked on the website of one pet store I frequent, I realised the cat litter I use had trebled in price.
I also noticed that they no longer offered delivery on the heavy bags, which I can only assume is due to the rise in postage.
So, the other week, I had to take a taxi costing close to £60 to my closest pet store and bulk bought the stuff.
As a disabled woman, I rely heavily on delivery services for my food and other supplies, yet the rising cost-of-living is affecting how I look after my two sphynx cats, Lola and Bruno.
Not being able to provide as I once did for my pets can make me feel guilty and like a failure. But this burden shouldn’t be placed on disabled pet owners like me.
I’ve always had a strong affiliation and love of animals.
I guess I get this from my dad, who was exactly the same. In fact, he was a former jockey, so I would often be paraded round stables.
Growing up, we always seemed to gather a menagerie of sick or injured or unwanted pets, too. I remember one summer in Germany, we found a huge dragonfly that had sadly died.
My dad scooped it up and put it in a matchbox. We gave it a burial, and it was then I learned the true meaning of respecting all animals – great and small. Life is life.
Now as an adult, my enthusiasm for animals has only amplified.
I am an ambassador for Ferne Animal Sanctuary, I advocate for Cats Protection and have become a voice in raising awareness and petitioning to stop the barbaric use of animal testing in the UK. But by far, my most important role is cat mummy to my two hairless cats.
Yet, like many pet owners, I have become increasingly concerned about my own ability to be the best cat mum due to the cost-of-living crisis. This is because pets aren’t cheap at the best of times and having a disability already comes with a hefty price tag.
I am not alone.
According to Cats Protection, one in eight cat owners ‘have or would cut down on their cat’s daily food to make cost savings’ and 65% are worried they will not be able to feed their cats this winter.
Pets are wonderful additions to our lives, but with many animal and welfare charities experiencing a shocking rise in abandoned pets, is it really the best time for us to be getting that new puppy or kitten?
The main reason I got my first cat Lola was due to a mental health crisis in 2019. I felt incredibly low and alone because my career seemed on the up, but I still came home to an empty flat.
Having someone to wake up and care for gave me motivation, routine and that unconditional love I felt I lacked. She is my soulmate and she saved me in many ways.
Then Bruno came along during the pandemic because I felt guilty that Lola – who had been by my side and who also has separation anxiety – would be lonely. So I got her a companion, but they don’t really get along so my plan failed.
However, I love them both wholeheartedly. Pets aren’t bigots, racist or ableist. They respect and love us, even with our human flaws. They don’t care if you’re in a wheelchair or if you battle with mental health.
But should I have simply sought therapy instead of taking on a living sentient being? For me, I know I made the right choice because my babies make me smile and comfort me around the clock. They challenge me, as well as teach me gratitude and patience.
This is why I want more disabled and neurodivergent people to also have the experience of owning a pet.
I often feel as though we are deemed incapable of being good pet owners because we’re infantilised or deemed less intelligent by non-disabled people.
My internalised ableism had me doubting myself, but I smashed cat motherhood like a boss. I just had to think outside the box when it came to care.
Therefore, I would never want to discourage anyone from having this beautiful and rich experience, but I do want to share some of the lessons I’ve learned – all the highs and lows of being a pet owner with a disability.
Just like toddlers, cats have a tendency when they are bored or frustrated to eat inanimate objects – fluff, the odd Coco Pops that fall on the floor, hair bands or the squeak from a toy.
Interactive toys and food puzzle feeders can be a great way to offset the care and attention you give your pet, especially if you don’t have the physical or mental capacity from time to time. The good news is you don’t have to spend money on these things – you can go all Blue Peter and use loo rolls or ice cubes and get creative.
I’ve actually found that the more expensive, high tech toys I’ve bought my cats, the more disinterested they have been. This Christmas, they spent more time playing with a ribbon I attached to my mobility aid – my helping hand / grabber.
Also, you need to ask yourself if you can get your pet to the vet quickly. What’s your plan? This was a real concern for me. So I always have cat carriers where I can access them easily and a cat pram, which the cats love to jump into without me forcing them.
I’ve blocked access under my bed so they cannot hide away in an emergency, I also trained them to jump up onto surfaces because I cannot grab them from off the floor.
It’s important to find a vet that is accessible, too. Believe me, in London that is rather hard to find as most in my local area aren’t step-free. This may mean travelling further to get the right veterinary practice.
Owning any pet comes with sacrifice, so if you want to go on holiday, you have to think about their care. This is easy enough when we know when we’re going on holiday or if we’ll be out of town for Christmas.
But when you have a disability or chronic condition, life isn’t always so black and white. Ill health and hospital stints can come out of the blue more frequently than most, so you need to make sure that you have a contingency plan in case that happens.
My personal assistant is an animal lover, and this was a huge part of my selection process when hiring so that I feel comfortable knowing she can take over if I’m unwell.
If you don’t have this type of support, you can simply attach a keyring to your keys or wallet that states you have pets at home alone and identify a way to access them for the paramedics or medical staff. Perhaps you leave a spare key with a neighbour or have a key safe installed.
Smart tech can also help. I use automatic food dispensers that can be controlled from my mobile phone. They have absolutely been game changing when I’ve just not had the strength to get out of bed.
The same goes for water dispensers, which are relatively inexpensive but make sure water is always on hand. Download apps such as Olio – a platform for sharing free goods with people in your local area – because I often see people offering free pet food or toys there.
I’ve learned that there is no such thing as bad behaviour or a naughty pet, it’s just a case of understanding what they are trying to communicate with you.
A few months back, I really struggled with my younger cat, Bruno. He seemed in constant distress. He was incredibly loud and vocalising constantly.
This was, as you can imagine, really impractical. Not only because I predominately work from home and the noise was – to put it lightly – driving me round the bend. But also having an animal in distress impacted my own mental health.
I felt like I failed him and the guilt became all consuming. I would cry almost every day.
My frustration backfired on him, screaming at him and losing my temper. I kept quiet for a long time and I didn’t initially ask for help as I thought I’d be judged that people would think I couldn’t care for him due to my disability. I looked at cat behaviourists, but their fees were £250 to £500, which was not an option.
I eventually contacted Cats Protection, who put me in contact with their cat behaviourist for free, but also directed me to a lot of good resources that you can download as PDFs on their website.
I also confided in a close friend, who was so sympathetic and non-judgmental. She told me that when I felt like a failure, I should simply remind myself that my cats are safe, they are loved and they love me.
Once I let go of my own insecurities, he became much calmer. He felt my energy and felt safe again.
I’ve approached pet ownership as I approach a disabling world. Nothing is easy but that doesn’t mean I cannot make it work.
Anticipate the unexpected, get creative and think outside the box. Swallow that pride and silence the internalised ableism and ask for help if you need it.
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