When money is tight, Kris will go without food before letting her dog’s bowl go empty

When money is tight, Kris will go without food before letting her dog’s bowl go empty

Kris McMillan was left devastated when her husband and daughter died in a tragic car accident in rural Victoria in 2017.

Key points:

  • The Australian Vets Association says it has seen a 10 per cent decline in presentations nationally
  • In Victoria, the number of abandoned or seized pets has increased by 20 per cent
  • The state’s Council of the Ageing says the financial pressure faced by older people with pets is unacceptable

For the first time in a very long time, Mrs McMillan was alone on an expansive western Victorian farm. 

The 71-year-old was forced to de-stock the working farm and send away the countless working dogs, whose barks had provided the soundtrack to the rural life her family had built together. 

She was left alone, without a reliable income and an expansive and empty property to roam. 

The only thing that remained was her old, four-legged companion Max. 

“He’s my best mate because I’m basically living alone — it’s just me and the dog,” Ms McMillan said. 

Max is a 16-year-old Labrador-Kelpie cross with a bad heart. 

It means he’s an expensive animal to look after, not that Ms McMillan minds. 

Kris McMillan says Max is her only companion.(ABC Wimmera: Angus Mackintosh)

“When I lost my husband and daughter, my son gave Max to me and he’s been such a wonderful companion,” she said. 

She said she sometimes went without food herself to ensure she had enough money to pay her vet bills and feed Max. 

“I have to keep him healthy because he’s my only companion,” she said.

“And at times, with the veterinary costs in particular, money can be quite short.”

Kris McMillan lives on a farm in Bulgana, near Ararat, in regional Victoria.(ABC Wimmera: Angus Mackintosh)

National decline in vet presentations

Mrs McMillian is not alone in feeling the pinch when it comes to a furry friend. 

The Australian Veterinary Association has seen about a 10 per cent decline in vet visitations nationally as the cost-of-living crunch hits. 

Diana Barker runs a veterinary practice in inner Melbourne.(Supplied: Australia Veterinary Association)

The association’s president, Diana Barker, said rising costs meant some people were going without important preventative care for their pets.

“What we’re seeing is that people are making that decision to not spend the money today, and potentially do the necessary care later down the track,” Dr Barker said. 

“The problem that we see with that is that, in the meantime, the pets’ health can deteriorate and can result in worse outcomes.”

The latest RSPCA data shows there has been almost a 20 per cent increase in the number of animals being surrendered or seized in Victoria. 

RSPCA Victoria chief inspector Michael Stagg said it was a worrying trend.

“Financial constraints are one of multiple factors impacting people’s ability to care for their pets, from providing suitable food to paying for necessary veterinary care,” Mr Stagg said.

Older people with pets at risk

The cost-of-living crisis has hit a broad range of people, including older Australians on fixed incomes. 

Chris Potaris says the financial pressure on older people is unacceptable.(Supplied: COTA Victoria)

The latest survey by Victoria’s Council of the Ageing (COTA) found 18 per cent of older Victorians had overdue bills as a result of payment difficulties. 

COTA chief executive Chris Potaris said older Victorians were having to choose to either heat or cool their homes, or have a meal.

“The same risks carry over to our furry friends,” he said.

“Rising costs associated with caring for a cherished pet — a valued family member — only compound pressing financial issues facing older Victorians.

“This is unacceptable.”

Mrs McMillan agreed wholeheartedly. 

Despite having a limited income and little help, she said she was always willing to put Max first. 

Ms McMillan says Max’s wellbeing is a top priority.(ABC Wimmera: Angus Mackintosh)

“If you can’t look after them, you really shouldn’t have a pet,” she said. 

“For either families or people that live alone, you can’t do better than having a dog as a companion.

“But you have to make sure that they’re healthy and happy.”

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