As Economy Crashes, We’re Killing Our Pets

As Americans are being forced to choose between buying food for their children or keeping their pets, or between paying for pet food or for their utilities bills, the economic crisis means death for thousands — perhaps millions — of abandoned dogs and cats.

And as the foreclosure crisis spreads and homeowners are being forced to become renters, millions of pets are being left behind to fend for themselves.

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Most of them will die.

USA Today has reported that across the country, areas with high foreclosures are seeing increased rates of pet abandonment, and shelters are worried that even more could be coming as unemployment rates rise.

The Humane Society of the United States, which has initiated a program called the Foreclosure Pets Fund to help families keep their pets even in the event of financial hardship, points out that “Pets have been among the voiceless victims of the current economic downturn. Animals have been left behind in foreclosed homes, and shelters are reporting that families are struggling to keep and feed pets… Abandoned pets face a grim future. Many pets trapped inside abandoned homes aren’t found until they’re on the brink of starvation. Those lucky enough to reach a shelter have about a 50 percent chance of being adopted.”

A recent poll found that one in seven owners nationwide reported reduced spending on their pets and of those cutting back, more than a quarter said they 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.

Here in Orange County, California, the number of abandoned dogs and cats euthanized at the county animal shelter hit a five-year high in 2008. There were 31,492 dogs and cats taken in by the shelter last year – a 13 percent jump from 2007.  Of those, nearly half – 15,265 – were killed, a 31 percent increase.

These lethal numbers are going to increase dramatically in 2009.

The Orange County Register also reports that “The grim picture is not Orange County’s alone. ‘We believe that the increases we’re seeing are a result of the economic crisis, and many shelters across the nation are facing many of the same issues,’ said Ryan Drabek, spokesman for Orange County Animal Care Services. ‘It would be a very easy cop out for us to say it’s the economy if it didn’t seem to be effecting anyone else, but everyone in the animal care world is being affected by this.’”

The New York Times has reported that at New York City’s main animal shelter, for example, monthly calls to the volunteers who can help people keep their pets through tough financial times doubled between January and September 2008.

The Times also quotes the animal control officer in Bridgeport, Connecticut, saying “People are coming out and saying that they’re losing their homes and can’t keep the pet. It’s such a big problem now, they seem to feel able to tell you the exact reason, beyond a simple ‘I’m moving.’ ”

At the Henry County Animal Care and Control in McDonough, Georgia, the number of abandoned pets was up 71 percent for the first four months of 2008 compared with the same period in 2007.

Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of the Humane Society, told the Times that “In terms of relinquishment, I’d say this is the most serious circumstance that I can recall.  And as more pets are being turned in, he noted, cash donations to animal rescue groups have declined and fewer people are adopting pets. It’s a bit of a triple whammy.”

According to the Associated Press, “The population growth at animal shelters in Connecticut, Nebraska, Texas, Utah and other states 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 in the United States every year, half are now euthanized.

That number will increase drastically as the economic crisis forces more and more families to choose between feeding themselves and their children or feeding their pets.

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