Should Poor People Have Cats?

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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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!

Photo: Girl with her cat by Shutterstock

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This post was written by JaneA Kelley, regular contributor to Catster Magazine.


Melania Padilla
Melania P4 years ago

I don´t know about this, I guess yes. Why I disagree on is poor people having kids.

Mary T.
Mary T4 years ago

Being poor shouldnt prevent people from owning cats

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson4 years ago

I still feel like affordability should come up when choosing to take in a pet, if you can't even feed your kids perhaps a pet isn't such a great idea at this time. But one doesn't have to be rich to be a good pet owner. I mean I have a toddler and was a single mom for some time, I worked my butt of third shift (security) so I could be with him during the day. Now i have my bf, and when I became pregnant I had to quit my security job (hours didn't coincide with healthcare, and the chemicals we guard are toxic and not acceptable for pregnant women) I saved and saved, and with tax returns was able to quit knowing i would be okay for at least 6 months after the baby. My bf is a pizza delivery guy, he does pretty well considering. Makes a killing in tips. Anyway, we chose to take in my kitty ONLY because we felt we could afford her. Being able to feed her well, give her a safe place, a warm place, and being able to have her healthy (check ups, vaccines ect) were a big priority, and should be. Each situation is different. "Poor" people who take in strays are heroes, but poor people who go out in search of obligations they can't meet are not

Camilla Vaga
Camilla Vaga4 years ago

I think the more expensive food is better yes, but if the poor people love cats and want them and will take care of them then buy cheaper food although spay and netering is important

miri s.
Miriam S5 years ago

poverty has nothing to do with the ability to care.

people who beat their animals, or torture or neglect them, THOSE are the ones who should be kept far far FAAR away from animals

Debbi Ryan
Deb Ryan5 years ago

I may not have excess money, but my "kids" have the best care I can afford!

Nelly Edgson
Nelly Edgson5 years ago

I have many pets, I love them all as they take care of me emotionally and physically :) great for any type of person, rich, medium or poor! When it comes to food my pets get better service then me :)

Celia Daniels
Celia Daniels5 years ago

I do agree and yet it is hard. What is neglect? I had friends with financial difficulties and a cat with diabetes. For a while, they found money to get insulin for the cat but then they couldn't. I guess the cat was better off in their loving care, but I hated seeing it not be treated for a treatable illness. I hope it didn't suffer any discomfort due to a lack of treatment.

I have paid for friends to get their cats fixed and thankfully my Vet gives a "stray cat" discount to people who have trouble paying. I hope and pray my community gets a low-cost spay/neuter clinic soon so there will be fewer unwanted, uncared for cats ending up hungry on my porch to break my heart.

Mary Beth M.
MaryBeth M5 years ago

There is nothing like the unconditional love of an animal. As long as the animal is not neglected, the bond between a human and a cat/dog is something to cherish, not judge. Many shelter cats and dogs, despondent on death row, would be grateful for that chance, even without the best kibble or yearly trips to the vet.

Barb Hansen
Ba H5 years ago

i wouldn't condone a low income family hoarding pets, but loving one shouldn't be too much of a burden.