Pandemic Pets

My blogging friend David Miller from sent me this article from America. He thought that I might be interested in it, and I was.

That got me thinking about the recent issue of ‘Pandemic Pets’ here in Britain. From the Spring of 2020 until the end of 2021, pet ownership exploded in the UK. People forced to stay at home because of lockdowns, or working from home permanently due to changes in working practices decided that what they needed in their lives was a pet.

But they didn’t think it through.

Pets need a lot of attention.
Dogs need regular exercise.
All pets need food, beds, leads, collars, toys, and some need cages and straw.
They also need to have innoculations, worming, regular health checks, and in some cases, medication or surgery.

The bills start to mount up, and even if you have Pet Insurance, that doesn’t cover everything. The weather puts people off of walking dogs. They make a mess in the house before they are trained, leave fur all over the place, chew things up, and generally impart their odours into the once clean and fragrant house.

Even a non-pedigree animal has to have a lot of money spent on it on a monthly basis. Some need grooming regularly too.

Meanwhile, the once-excited new pet owners are busy on Zoom calls, or have been summoned back to their former office or workplace once the Pandemic restrictions ceased to operate. That cuddly pup, cute cat, or fluffy rabbit has become a money pit that has to be left to its own devices for eight to ten hours a day, and those new owners begin to resent their new pet, wondering why the hell they thought it was a good idea to get one.

Then comes the war in Ukraine, the global financial crisis, increased fuel bills, rampant inflation, and huge hikes in the price of petrol and diesel. Mortgage rates are set to increase, and money is tight even for those with well-paid jobs.

What happens next is that animal shelters and rescue centres are inundated with unwanted dogs, cats, rabbits, and other animals. The Pandemic Pet owners are even resorting to giving away their supposedly beloved pets via Facebook, or selling them cheap to anyone with the cash who will collect them. Some owners are crowdfunding to cover the cost of operations on their pets, or in the worse case scenario having perfectly healthy animals put to sleep because they can’t be bothered with them any longer.

I know this doesn’t apply to everyone who bought a pet during this period, but you only have to look at animal shelter websites to realise there is a huge issue to deal with.

Let’s hope if we have another pandemic, people who didn’t want a pet before don’t go rushing into thinking having one will change their lives.

Because ultimately, it is the poor animals who will suffer.

Captain Tom: A Tainted Legacy?

Many readers will have heard about Sir Tom Moore, the WW2 veteran who raised £39,000,000 for NHS charities while walking around his own garden during the pandemic. He was feted and adored all over the world. I wrote about him on this blog, I signed a petition for him to be knighted, and my wife donated money to his charity. He sadly died in February 2021.

Since then, disturbing facts have emerged about the whereabouts of some of the money donated. It is currently managed by a charitable foundation, run by his daughter Hannah Ingram. Here she is with her father.

Hannah is a business recruitment officer, managing her own company, Maytrix, which has a focus on recruitment, brand development and training for companies.
She was the one who floated the idea that her father walk round the garden to celebrate his 100th birthday.
Following his death, his daughter set up her own charitable foundation, with the aim of continuing to receive funds and hoping to keep his legacy alive.

In its first year, running from 5 May 2020 to 31 May 2021, the foundation, which was set up to continue the national fundraising hero’s legacy, accumulated almost £1.1m in donations.

However, its audited accounts show just £160,000 was given away in charitable grants while £240,000 was spent on management and fundraising costs.
Of the costs, £126,424 was spent on “fundraising consultancy fees” and £20,884 was used in “advertising and marketing expenditure”.
Organisations that received the grants included the Royal British Legion, Mind, Willen Hospice, and Helen and Douglas House.
During the 12-month period, a combined total of more than £54,000 was also reimbursed to two companies controlled by Sir Captain Tom Moore’s daughter Hannah Ingram-Moore and her husband Colin, called Club Nook Limited and Maytrix Group Limited.

The documents state the payments were for “accommodation, security and transport” while the veteran travelled. They also included “website costs (£5,030), photography costs (£550), office rental (£4,500), telephone costs (£656) and third-party consultancy costs (£27,205)”.

By the end of May 2021, the charity had £695,889 in unrestricted funds and trustees said that maintaining reserves of around £500,000 would be “sufficient to ensure its ongoing commitments can be met”. “The foundation’s work is entirely reliant on donations. During this period our total income amounted to £1,096,526,” part of the document reads.”As a newly established charity, expenditure has been incurred in building the team, which for some months worked on a voluntary basis until funds were forthcoming.”During this period, we also incurred costs in appointing The Philanthropy Company who provided expert support on governance and fundraising initiatives as well as working with our charity partners to identify initiatives that the foundation could support and which would drive value and public benefit.”

Chair of trustees at The Captain Tom Foundation, Stephen Jones said: “Captain Sir Tom Moore was a beacon of hope around the world. Our mission as The Captain Tom Foundation is to continue his legacy of kindness and determination to create positive social change. “As a young charity, we have been working closely with The Charity Commission since we launched, and we welcome their input following the publication of our recent audited annual accounts.”

The Captain Tom Foundation, set up by the family of the war veteran in the wake of his record-breaking fundraising efforts, has only paid out more than £162,000 in management costs in its first year but has only given out four £40,000 grants. Set up in May 2020 after Sir Tom’s NHS fundraising drive, it has raised more than £1million in its first year.

Some £700,000 remains unspent.

Now I don’t know about you, and you can call me cynical, but I don’t like the sound of that at all.

Private Dogcare

If you have a pet, you will already be aware of the spiralling costs of making sure it is healthy and free of pain.

In the UK, with the benefit of our NHS, we are sometimes reminded of the cost of private healthcare in countries like America. If you have a pet, especially a dog with various ongoing medical conditions, the reality of how much that costs can be sobering indeed.

Ollie has to have a painkiller every day, because of arthritis in his front leg joints. If he doesn't have the tablet, you will soon notice him walking stiff-legged, and reluctant to walk at all on any hard surfaces, like pavements. Then when he wakes up the next morning, it takes some time for him to 'get going'.

So we pay for the tablets. Of course we do.

For some time now, the cost of a 30day supply has been £38. That works out to £456 a year, close to £8.80 a week. I have just been to Swaffham to collect his repeat prescription, only to find that the tablet has now 'increased in dose to make it more effective'. Along with that increase in efficacy has come an increase in price.

A 30-day supply now costs just over £46, an £8 increase in just one month. That's an extra £96 a year we have to find, without warning, and with no viable altenative to a painkiller that we know works well for Ollie, and makes him comfortable in his old age. An annual cost now of £552, or £10.62 a week. That is without the possibility of Ollie needing treatment for ear or skin infections, dental treatment, or anything else that may befall our beloved dog in his twilight years.

Naturally, we will pay. But what about people who cannot afford it? These constantly increasing Vet fees will only have one outcome. More pets will be left in pain, and other pets will be abandoned, or given up to rescue centres.

A Premium Upgrade

For a few years now, I have paid an annual fee to have a ‘Personal’ Plan with WordPress. That gave me no advertisements, easier access to tech help, and extra storage space for photos. Considering my blog is my main hobby, I didn’t think the fee was excessive, and for the first year, it included my ‘dotcom’ blog name too. (I now pay a little extra for that)

Then along came the Block Editor.

Regular readers will remember my long campaign against this being forced on users, without the option of retaining my preferred ‘Classic Option’. So I seriously considered giving up blogging, once the Block Editor became the only choice.

I am currently still using the old Classic Editor though (not the Classic Block offered on the new version) and that was supposed to have disappeared by March 2021. No doubt it will go at some stage, and meanwhile I have experimented with some posts using the Block Editor, eventually discovering that I am able to manage my very basic blogging using that. But only when it comes to it of course.

(I don’t intend to start another for and against Block Editor debate with this post. That ship has sailed.)

As I want to stay blogging for as long as I am able, I recently upgraded my payment plan to ‘Premium’. The main benefit of this over the Personal Plan is to greatly increase the space allowance. If you have a free WP blog, the space allowance of 3GB can soon be eaten up by adding photos and images. Moving up to the Personal Plan at £36 a year doubles your storage allowance to 6GB, and after a few years I have still not reached that limit.

The Premium Plan costs £84 a year, and boosts that space allowance to 13GB, which should last me a long time. And I think that £1.61 a week is a small price to pay to be able to relax and enjoy my hobby without worrying about running out of available storage space. I am hoping it will be many years before I have to think about the next option, the Business Plan, which currently costs £20 a month.

(Note that all plan upgrades include the storage already used, and do not start from scratch. So if you have already used 3GB and upgrade to 13GB, you will in effect have 10 GB available)

Television Licensing

From 1952, Detector vans like the one shown above were once used to detect TV signals being received in the homes of people who had not bought a licence. The operators were not allowed to force entry to your home, but if you refused to open the door, they were allowed to apply for a search warrant.

If you live in Britain, and want to watch TV, you need a licence to do that. To fund the running costs of the BBC, TV licences were introduced as long ago as 1946, when they cost £2 a year. Current charges are £157.50 per year. However, you can reduce this to £53 for a Black and White only licence. I find it hard to imagine that anyone still only has a B&W TV, but many thousands of B&W licences are still purchased every year.

There are currently some concessions, though there is talk of those being scrapped in the near future.

If you are aged 75 or over, you can apply for a free TV licence, but only if your income is so low that you receive the benefit known as ‘Pension Credit’.

If you are a ‘Registered blind’ person, you can apply for a 50% discount on the cost of the full licence.

If you are a resident of a care home, you can apply for a reduced cost licence of just £7.50 a year.

This rather outdated system looks set to change. Streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime are not covered by the legislation, as they are transmitted over the Internet. Detector vans may no longer roam the streets looking for TV signals coming from your home, but enforcement still exists.

When you buy a television set, your details are supplied to the Licensing Authority. Failure to apply for a licence, or to already have one, will result in a letter being sent. Ignore the letter, and there is a chance that investigators may visit your home to see evidence of TV watching. This might be the presence of a TV aerial or Satellite dish on your roof, or remote controls spotted through a window.

Once this ‘evdence’ has been logged, then you could receive a visit from enforcement officers armed with a warrant to search your home for a compatible TV set. If you have been avoiding paying for a licence, you will be fined up to £1,000, plus administration costs.

On the plus side, this means we get at least three television channels from the BBC that carry no advertising whatsoever. (Except for them advertising their own forthcoming programmes.) But a generation of people who watch mainly streamed content on phones, laptops, and tablets is unlikely to concern itself with that.

Perhaps the TV Licence has had its day? Time will tell.

The Real Cost Of Private Medicine

After my post about going to see the doctor yesterday, my dear blogging friend Kim sent me a link to a very interesting video. This may be of great interest to British readers.

Few of us here know much about private health care, although a percentage of people do pay into a scheme to get preferential, or faster treatment. Having a pet might make you realise just how expensive treatment and drugs can be these days, as I have found out with Ollie’s trips to the Vet.

In this short film, random people on a British street are asked to guess the cost of medical treatments and drugs in America, for example an asthma inhaler.

Their answers are very interesting.

Given the recent publicity about government ministers considering significant changes to the NHS and overall healthcare provision in this country, this is something we all need to be aware of.

In the UK, an ambulance callout costs you £0 in medical bills. The birth of your child costs you £0 in medical bills. In the USA, it’s a different story.

Vaping v Smoking: My conclusions

I have been asked to write an update about using electronic smoking products, as opposed to smoking ‘real’ cigarettes. So, Madelyn, this is for you. (And anyone else who is remotely interested.)

In 2012, Julie and I both gave up smoking. That’s not strictly true, as we actually gave up smoking real cigarettes, and switched to the electronic alternatives instead. Less chemicals, no carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide. Few (if any) cancerous by-products, and absolutely no odour on our clothes, or in our house. Our main reason was financial, we make no secret of that. The cost of tobacco cigarettes was getting out of proportion, and exceeding our ability to justify spending such a large part of our income on them.

After a couple of years, we switched from the electronic cigarette ‘lookalikes’ to vaping machines that use separate fluid. The main reason for this was because the smaller batteries were unreliable, and there was a lack of choice in the range of flavours. However, this also brought an unexpected reduction in costs too, making it even cheaper to keep away from ‘real’ smoking.

So just how much do we save? Is it worth switching to vaping, purely in monetary terms? To show just how much you could save, (and without going on about the additional health benefits) I will give an example of one typical year. Of course, you have to allow for the setup costs of buying the vaping devices. But once they are out of the way, daily costs are minimal, compared to the equivalent for cigarettes. Here is one year, broken down purely in financial terms. I am allowing for two of us using vaping devices here. If you are one person, you can halve these figures.

Conventional cigarettes. (UK prices for Marlboro Red/ Lucky Strike.)

Approx £9 per packet. ($11.27 US) This is the lowest estimate, at current prices.

Me. Ten packets weekly.
Julie, Six packets weekly.
Weekly cost. £129 ($161.62 US)
Annual cost. £6,708 ($8,404 US)

Vaping. Prices based on buying online, from Amazon, and other online retailers.

Kangertech Evod Mega devices X 6 units (Three each, so we have spare batteries)

Cost £19-£26 each, depending on retailer. Say £22 ($27.50 US) each for the sake of this post.
Total. £132 ($165.37 US)
Fluid to fill devices at around £1.50 a bottle.
Me. Three bottles weekly.
Julie. two bottles weekly.
Weekly cost. £7.50 ($9.40 US)
Annual cost. £390 ($488.51 US)
Replacement heating coils for vaping devices.
We use around four each week, between us. They cost £1.20 ($1.50 US) each.
Weekly cost. £4.80 ($6 US)
Annual cost. £249.60 ($312.65 US)

Total cost for vaping in one year, for two people. £804.97 ($1009 US)
Divide by two for one user. £403 ($505 US)
Second and subsequent years. Remove the initial cost of vaping devices by deducting the £132, and annual costs come down to an average of £673 ($843 US) for two people. So, the saving is easy to work out.

First year saving. £5,903 ($7,394 US) For two people
Second and subsequent years savings. £6,035 ($7,560 US) for two people.

I think that the sums are right, but feel free to tell me if I have made an error. Even if I am out by a little, you can see that the cost differences are immense. If nothing else, you will have a great deal more money in your pocket. You may still have to face being addicted to nicotine, but you will not be inhaling hundreds of other poisonous cocktails present in the normal cigarette smoke. You will also have something to hold, something to put into your mouth, and a device that fulfills the secondary desires of most smokers, as well as the primary one. That of inhaling nicotine in vapour.

For my wife and I, it has been a success story. We have not had a cigarette since September, 2012, and see no reason why we would ever go back to them. It is not, ‘Not Smoking’, I make no claim for that. But it is without doubt safer smoking, and incredibly cheaper too.
There are hundreds of devices available, in many styles and sizes. I only mention the brand we chose for cost estimation purposes.

A Right Royal Accounting

This is a slightly angry post, and not the usual sort of thing found on this blog. I apologise in advance if it upsets anyone, but there you are…

I have just seen the BBC News. They report that the financial accounts for the Royal Family have been published. Palace figures show that it cost the taxpayer around £36 million to have a Royal Family last year. This figure will have to rise to over £40 million next year, to take into account refurbishments at Buckingham Palace, and other royal residences. The palace asserts that this means a cost of around 1p a day for each person in the British Isles. This despite public knowledge that The Queen is one of the richest individuals in the UK.

Republican groups have been quick to counter these figures, as they do not include the considerable costs of providing security for the assorted royals, and their ever-growing tribe of hangers-on. The alternative cost is estimated to be closer to £300 million, if everything is taken into account. This means that I pay either 1p a day, or about 10p a day, depending on who you believe. Whatever the true figure, I would like my money back please. I don’t see why I should have to pay for the upkeep of an organisation that I want no part of. After all, I wouldn’t be expected to pay for say, a gym membership, if I never asked to belong to one.

The report also told us that £4 million was spent on refurbishing the substantial apartments in Kensington Palace, to provide a London home for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (an assumed name by the way). They were quick to add that the couple paid for their own domestic furniture, and for new kitchen units. This palatial residence was described as ‘a normal home, but with larger rooms’. If they wanted to live like a normal couple in London, why didn’t they just rent a flat on a local estate?

An old saying springs to mind. Please forgive the crude expression, but I consider it fitting.

‘Don’t piss in my face and tell me that it’s raining.’

Ollie’s Tail: A tale.

As I know (from comments and e mails) that many of you are interested, here is a short update on the condition of my poorly dog, Ollie. I felt it was necessary to take him to the Vet this morning, even though my dealings with any Vet in the past have always left me uneasy. I cannot justify the huge costs, for what is often a very short visit, and for what is sometimes the most minor treatment. I understand that to be a Vet, is an expensive proposition. Years of study, post-graduate qualifications, and acceptance into a busy practice, often for a large fee. It all adds up. They probably don’t start earning a decent salary (by Vet standards, of course, not by normal ones) until they are into their late twenties. This leaves them with a fair bit of catching up to do, at our expense.

Don’t get me wrong, I want the best care for my dog, and I don’t want him to suffer, or to be in any discomfort. But this is probably the closest we ever get, to seeing private healthcare as it really is, in countries where it is often the only decent option. As we only have the Vet’s word for what is wrong, we pay up, listen to the necessary medications prescribed, and return as instructed, for follow-up treatments. I just have a niggling doubt that a lot of it is unnecessary, and done to increase the bill at the end. If you question the charges, they rattle off the cost of all the tests and anaesthetics, making you feel guilty about not wanting the best for your pet. In extreme circumstances, they invite you to take your pet off their books, and start all over with a different Vet. Same prices though. Maybe it is just me, but I would like to see them looking a bit more worried about the dog, and less worried that I have the means to pay. Of course, I don’t expect them to work for free, just for a little less.

I digress. Ollie was kept in, to have a general anaesthetic. He was unlikely to sit still for a proper examination and treatment, even if muzzled. Even before she agreed this, the Vet immediately began to estimate future costs, should her initial treatment prove to be unsuccessful. With only a cursory glance at the dog, she began to quote me hundreds of pounds for future surgery, that might be needed, to create a proper stump on his tail. After three hours had passed, I went to collect him. I had to pay before even seeing him, and it was a hefty bill, for treatment lasting less than an hour, then letting him sleep somewhere, for two more. He has a huge bandage on his tail, which was shaved and cleaned. Antibiotics have been administered, and I had to buy more, as well as pain killers, to take home. He has slept all the rest of the time, feeling most sorry for himself.

We have to go back on Wednesday, to have the dressing changed, and to see if more surgery will be needed. I hope that I am proved wrong, I really do, but I have the feeling that he will be requiring that extra surgery, after all.

If you have a child, bright and studious, but unsure of the path to take in life, recommend being a Vet.