Deathly slump

• Ross Tanner and his unlucky pup Tina, who had to be put down. Photo by Steve Grant

PUPS like Tina are the hidden victims of a poverty crisis gripping Western Australia.

Her owner Ross Tanner, who is on a disability pension, couldn’t afford to pay for a $2000 operation to amputate her chronically painful leg, and she ended up having to be put down after suffering a bad fall.

It’s a sad scenario becoming increasingly common in WA as owners struggle to pay for adequate medical treatment for their pets.

Sue Campbell founded Safe Perth, which takes in animals facing euthanasia and adopts them out.


Ms Campbell says the health burden on pets is a worrying trend which isn’t just confined to pensioners, but also families on low incomes. It’s putting a strain on her organisation’s resources.

“We look after many pets where the owners have been taken to hospital or into care, but inevitably most of these animals need veterinary treatment, which often means large bills,” Ms Campbell told the Herald.

Getting the owners to honour those bills is getting harder.

“Ultimately we have to fund that treatment ourselves, because we will not have an animal in our care and have it suffer.”

Ms Campbell is sad WA doesn’t have a charity like the UK’s Blue Cross, which provides free or heavily discounted vet care for people on low incomes.

“They are very big in the UK,” Ms Campbell said.

Locally there is Perth Vet Bill Assistance, a charity founded by Tammy Rodrigues, and the state-funded Pets in Crisis which is operated by the RSPCA, but Ms Campbell says that’s restricted to households where domestic violence in an issue.

She says unscrupulous vets are also taking advantage of vulnerable people’s deep attachment to their pets to order unnecessary tests and perform spurious treatments.

Ms Campbell says there are thankfully many honest vets, including those who look after Safe Perth’s animals with heavy discounts, and encourages people to shop around before deciding the bills are too much to justify keeping an animal.

For Mr Tanner, it was clear Tina needed her operation, as she hobbled along on three legs.

“Tina had a hip ball joint operation before, which cost $2300, and I’m paying that off.” Mr Tanner said.

But she also had two bones rubbing in her leg and the vet said it would need to come off to ease her pain, but wouldn’t let Mr Tanner roll the two bills together in a payment plan.

Mr Tanner says on a disability pension it’s hard enough keeping a meal on the table, particularly with ever-rising utility bills.

He’s not alone: The WA Council of Social Services’ annual cost of living report found that the number of Western Australians living in poverty had risen from 240,000 in 2016 to 360,000 in 2018.

“150,000 more are at risk of poverty in the event of a crisis, such as a loss of work income, interest rate rise or serious accident,” the council said.

• Mr Tanner’s still looking for help to pay his last bill, and needs someone with net savvy to help him either apply for Perth Vet Bill Assistance or set up a crowd-sourcing account for him. If you’ve got the savvy and a big heart, contact the Herald and we’ll put you in touch.


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