The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have a big job at hand and recently began a program called Help Out Pets Everywhere (HOPE) to provide food, medical care and temporary homes for pets belonging to families with financial difficulties. They received about eighteen applications in the first week, some of those people have never experienced hardship until now, and therefore, neither have their pets.
A man who turned his two dogs over in order to help pay for his mother’s cancer treatments, to the New York woman who euthanized her cat rather than keeping it alive with expensive medications, rising economic anxieties make it increasingly difficult for some pet owners to justify spending $1,000 a year or more on pet food, veterinary services and other costs.
The population growth at animal shelters shows how the weak economy is also shrinking the pool of potential adopters. And it coincides with a drop-off in government funding and charitable donations.
The effect has been cramped quarters for dogs and cats, a faster rate of shelters euthanizing animals and some shelters turning away people looking to surrender pets, according to interviews with several shelters and animal advocates. Of the estimated 6 million to 8 million dogs and cats sent to animal shelters every year, half are euthanized and the rest adopted, according to the Humane Society of the United States.
It’s definitely discouraging, one major goal is to develop and celebrate the bond between people and animals. It’s so tragic when families reach a point when they can’t afford to care for their pets.
A 23-year-old Mel Bail of Worcester, Mass., had begun feeding leftovers from family meals to her three cats — before recently deciding to give them up. With two children, a husband on disability and a difficult job search of her own.
“When I couldn’t pay my gas bill, I knew I had to find another home for the cats,” Bail said, and it wasn’t easy to find a shelter for them and had to turn to online classified ads to find homes for them.
Although there is no nationwide data being collected on the reasons dogs and cats are being abandoned by their owners, but shelter managers and advocates for animals say the trend is undeniable.
“People are embarrassed to admit that’s why they’re giving up their pets,” said Betsy McFarland, the Humane Society’s director of communications for companion animals.
A recent poll found that one in seven owners nationwide reported reduced spending on their pets during the past year’s recession. Of those cutting back, more than a quarter said they have seriously considered giving up their pet.
The average annual cost of owning a dog is about $1,400, while the average annual cost of a cat is about $1,000, according to a survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association. The survey suggests there are some 231 million pets — excluding fish — in more than 71 million homes in America.
Humane Society spokesperson said the obedience-trained purebreds came into the shelter up-to-date on vaccinations and dental care and were well-groomed.
It is really sad, because for these people, it is not an excuse. They are absolutely stuck, and they need to downsize and there is no one to take the pets. You can tell these have been much-loved pets.
“When it came down to whether I was going to charge food for the month of September or give medicine to my cat, that was a clear decision for me,” Farrell-Talbot said. “It was horrible. It killed us.”
In response, one shelter began a program to open its emergency pet shelter — normally reserved for battered women needing a place to keep their pets for a while — to those suffering financially. So far this year 45 pets have been taken in through the emergency program, compared with eight the previous year.
“It’s been devastating,” said Amy McNally, a spokeswoman for the program. “For somebody to say ‘I can’t afford to feed my dog’ — it’s a humbling time.”