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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

When the budget's too tight for a best friend

As the economy turns sour, the number of pets being dropped off at metro-area shelters is increasing, and adoptions have waned as owners are turned out of their homes.

Dogs and cats don't worry about recessions.

But maybe they should.

Because of Minnesota's economic downturn, the number of unwanted pets given to local shelters has jumped 50 percent in one year, according to Mike Fry, manager of Animal Ark No-Kill Shelter in Hastings.

"People are moving, getting evicted, losing their houses," Fry said. "Bad economic conditions always mean bad times for pets."

At the same time, the rate of adoptions into homes is down about 20 percent, he said. "It is not a good picture," Fry said.

The increase reflects a national trend, as animal-welfare workers are seeing the fortunes of animals sinking along with the economy.

Nationally, some Humane Society shelters have reported increases of more than 125 percent in unwanted pets, said Nancy Peterson, spokeswoman for the Humane Society of the United States.

Bill Stevenson, an officer for St. Paul Animal Control, said he is seeing more animals without vaccinations or routine spaying or neutering - another sign of economic stress.

Stevenson sees far more complaints in less affluent parts of St. Paul - such as Frogtown or the lower East Side - than in wealthier sections like Highland Park.


In the Twin Cities, Fry founded the Home for All Pets Coalition, composed of 14 animalrescue groups, all of which have seen spikes in the number of incoming pets in the past year.

But curiously, many Humane Society shelters - including those in the Twin Cities - are not seeing increases.

"People know their animals are likely to be killed at the Humane Society, so fewer people are surrendering them," Fry said. "Ironically, at the same time you are seeing empty cages at the Humane Society, we have a waiting list of 300 names."

The Humane Society's Peterson said about half of the 8 million animals accepted nationally into its shelters each year are euthanized.

She said that's because the shelters are "open admission" - they take in any animal for any reason, including old, sick or aggressive animals that can't be adopted.

Peterson said no-kill shelters - what she calls "limited admission" shelters - typically pick the healthiest and most adoptable pets until their pens are full, then turn away the rest.

"If you have a dog that is aggressive, biting or not safe, what are you going to do? You sure can't take it to a no-kill shelter," said Laurie Brickley, spokeswoman for the Animal Humane Society in the Twin Cities.

The Animal Humane Society accepted about 36,000 unwanted animals last year, she said, and 25,000 were adopted into homes or placed with other rescue groups. She didn't know the euthanasia rate but said it was well below the 50 percent national average.

The national Humane Society's Peterson said animals surrendered in an economic downturn are more likely to be healthy, adoptable animals - the kind accepted in no-kill shelters. Meanwhile, Humane Society shelters may have experienced no increase because the number of diseased or difficult-to-adopt animals isn't increasing.

Fry said Animal Ark, which completed 1,000 adoptions last year, does accept diseased and undesirable animals.

In fact, he was home most of last week caring for a dog named Bernie who is dying of cancer. In the Animal Ark shelter are two cats rescued from the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

"We care for some that (the Humane Society) would put down," Fry said. "They are not completely upfront about the mass killing they have been doing."


The economic downturn is harder on some animals than others.

Pit bulls remain the dog breed most seen in shelters, because of their undeserved reputation for aggression, Fry said.

Animals are the victims of human fashion, especially for what are considered ferocious guard dogs.

"In the '60s, it was Dobermans. Then it was Rottweilers and now pit bulls," said Fry.

Cats are among the hardest-hit, said Ingrid Harding, a volunteer with the St. Paul cat rescue group Cause for Paws.

In tough times, owners are less likely to spend the money for spaying and neutering cats than for dogs. They let cats outside, where they breed, Harding said.

"Unfortunately, people place a lesser value on cats," Harding said. "If a dog gets hit by a car, it goes to the vet. If a cat gets hit, people say, 'It's just a cat.' "

Harding - who emphasized Cause for Paws is not a no-kill group - said many pet owners don't want to wait weeks for a no-kill shelter to accept their animals.

"It's a problem, and they want it fixed," Harding said. "We are a quick-fix society. We want things perfect right away."

Bob Shaw can be reached at or 651-228-5433.

Please don't believe the explanation above for why shelters can be no kill. While it may be true for one or two no kill shelters, it is NOT the norm for no-kill shelters. I volunteer at a no-kill shelter and we have had 2 three legged cats, some come in badly wounded due to being outside, we have a polydactyl (where they have more "fingers" than normal), we care for FIV kitties, too.
Please think logically about what you read. Don't just believe everything. Don't even believe me. I am just saying, don't change your entire opinion about something by one article you read. The animal shelter "controversy" is huge right now in our country and there are a lot of people out there wanting to make money off it and also push blame onto others.

What is your opinion about the housing issue? Have you faced a similar crisis? How did you deal with it?

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