2008-11-06 / Features

Economic Troubles Trickle Down To Pet Owners

By ELLEN LYON THE (HARRISBURG) PATRIOT-NEWS

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Recently a woman walked nearly seven miles from her Cameron Street home to the Humane Society of Harrisburg Area shelter to give up the 7-year-old pit bull she had raised since it was 8 weeks old.

The distraught woman told shelter officials she was being evicted and couldn't keep the dog, Humane Society spokeswoman Kelly Hitz said.

The female pit bull has since found a new home. But animal rescue workers in the midstate say the economic crisis that started on Wall Street and spread to Main Street has now hit the backyard doghouse.

The Humane Society of Harrisburg Area and the York County SPCA report increases in pets surrendered because of their owners' financial hardship.

An average of 10 people a week contact the Humane Society to say they can't afford to keep their pets, Hitz said. About 20 percent end up surrendering their animals to the shelter.

The Humane Society refers the others to its free pet food bank, stocked with donations from the public, and its low-cost vaccination and spay/neuter clinics, she said.

The shelter is "very overcrowded" with 575 dogs, cats and other animal residents, Hitz said.

Since the beginning of September, the York County SPCA has taken in 17 animals because of home foreclosures or other financial problems, Executive Director Melissa Smith said.

"We've also seen an increase in cats being abandoned at the shelter," left by the door in cardboard boxes or cat carriers, Smith said. The shelter is at capacity with 425 cats, 108 dogs and seven rabbits, she said last week.

The York SPCA also has a free pet food bank, called Chows for Pals. "We've gotten more inquiries about that," Smith said.

PAWS, a foster care and adoption network for homeless dogs and cats in the midstate, has seen a three-fold increase since the beginning of summer in pets returned to it after adoption, PAWS President Kathy Smith said.

"We have had people more frequently tell us it is because they can't financially provide for the animals," Smith said.

The group's foster care homes are filled, and some volunteers can't give as much time because of having to work part-time jobs, she said.

PAWS offers low-cost vaccination clinics and reduced-fee vouchers for spay/neuter surgeries, she said.

Castaway Critters, another midstate foster home network, is receiving about 50 percent more calls from people who want to surrender their animals for financial reasons, board member Betsy Clark said.

"We've also recently noticed a decrease in adoptions over last year. It's huge," Clark said. She estimates the rescue has seen a 30 percent drop in adoptions at the same time that fewer foster homes are available.

Clark noted that financially strapped animal owners can avail themselves of low-cost spay/neuter and vaccination clinics offered through the Spay Neuter Assistance Program and other organizations.

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