Even pets feeling sting of financial struggles | Charlottesville Daily Progress

Even pets feeling sting of financial struggles
Even pets feeling sting of financial struggles Charlottesville Daily Progress

Roo, a 5-month-old Chihuahua, was recently left at the Richmond Animal League, where she’ll live until she’s adopted.
Published: November 19, 2008
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nowBuzz up!Family pets are feeling the bite of the nation’s financial crisis.

An increasing number of animals have been abandoned or given up for adoption by people who’ve lost jobs or homes, according to animal-rescue groups. Pet owners also are delaying veterinary appointments and avoiding expensive treatments because of financial issues, according to local vets.

“Sometimes I have to ask them, ‘How much can you spend?‘ and maybe prioritize,“ said Dr. Jerry Bayer, medical director at VCA West End Animal Hospital. “We may say, let’s do this step this week, and two weeks after that do the next step, so we can break it up between paychecks.

“A few people whose dogs needed major surgeries, six months ago they would have done it and now we’re putting the dogs to sleep. That’s the unfortunate thing.“

Humane societies are trying to cope with increased need.

“The problem is huge down here,“ said Sharon Adams, executive director of the Virginia Beach SPCA. “A lot of shelters are feeling this across the state. It’s a tough situation right now.“

Since January, 39 people who said they were homeless and living in a car have surrendered animals to the Virginia Beach SPCA, Adams said. Another 88 people brought in pets that they couldn’t afford to keep, and 141 people brought animals because of landlord issues. The shelter also took in 129 abandoned animals and 335 animals from other facilities that were overcrowded.

“People are not choosing to adopt animals in a down economy, either,“ Adams said. “They’re having a lot of the same economic pressures.“

“It is a national crisis,“ said Kevin M. Kilgore, chief of Hanover County Animal Control and a board member of the National Animal Control Association. “When mortgages go belly-up, people are having to turn in their pets. They’re going into rentals and temporary housing situations that will not accept animals.“

. . .

Places with a more stable economy haven’t seen as great an impact.

In Arlington County, where federal jobs have been secure and foreclosures have been relatively uncommon, Kay Speerstra, executive director of The Animal Welfare League of Arlington, said family relocation is the most common reason for surrendering a pet.

Though some of the moves may be for financial reasons now instead of a job transfer or military reassignment, “the numbers of pets being relinquished for moving is not up from last year,“ she said.

In the Richmond area, “definitely, we’ve seen more surrenders, or at least people questioning about surrender,“ said Courtney Morano, head of the Henrico Humane Society. “We have gotten e-mails from real estate agents saying that animals have been left in vacated properties.“

At the Richmond Animal League shelter near Chesterfield Towne Center, “in the last month, I’ve probably fielded 40 calls to that effect, and I’m not the only one answering the phone,“ said Pam Bridgmon, kennel manager.

“People are calling us, begging us to take their animals,“ said Dianne O’Kelley Inman, a volunteer and foster home for Cat Adoption and Rescue Efforts Inc.

. . .

While taking in as many of the pets as possible, the rescue groups say they also are finding ways to help owners keep them.

The Richmond SPCA has developed Project Safety Net to provide low-cost boarding, a pet-friendly housing guide and free Web site listings for pets in need of homes.

“The aim is to prevent the pet from entering the SPCA,“ said Tabitha Frizzell Hanes, community relations manager. Since the program started in February, about 80 pets have been able to remain with their owners, she said.

When James Johnson lost his house and had to live briefly out of the cab he drives for a living, Project Safety Net kept him from having to give up his two dogs, a 10-year-old Yorkshire terrier and a 12-year-old poodle.

“I didn’t have nowhere to put them,“ he said, so he used the low-cost boarding service. “Then I got a place but I was only allowed to keep one dog.“

An SPCA medical exam identified a health condition in the older dog, which is being treated at the SPCA’s expense before the dog becomes available for adoption. Johnson hopes to bring the Yorkie to his new East End apartment soon.

The Richmond SPCA re-homing Web site begs for a place for Lula, “an affectionate kitty who likes to kiss her human on the nose every morning. . . . Lula’s owner expects to lose her home next month. . . . Supplies, including beds and scratching post, will go along with her.“

The Virginia Beach SPCA has started a program called HOPE, short for Help Out Pets Everywhere, to provide pet food and vet services to those in need. Since the program was announced last week, 15 people have applied, Adams said.

. . .

Help with vet care was critical for Mary Turley, who found CARE when she couldn’t afford the bill for her cat, Tux. Money is tight because her roommate has been out of a job for months. Turley works as a clerk at 7-Eleven.

When Tux got sick from an accidental overdose of flea-control drops, “I didn’t have cash up front,“ she said. An emergency vet service gave him a bath and monitored him for 12 hours, but he needed more help when a urinary problem developed.

Turley said she called about 15 vets, trying to find someone who would treat Tux and work with her on the bill. Finally, CARE found an appointment and paid for it.

“They are the most wonderful people in the world,“ Turley said. “As soon as I’m able, I’m going to make a contribution to them.“

Contributions to humane groups also have come under pressure. Individual donations to Henrico Humane Society are down almost 50 percent, Morano said. A few large donations have bridge the gap.

In response to the crisis, Anne Stallard decided to raise money for several rescue groups by creating a “giving tree” for pets, which she calls “Wish Upon a Paw.“

The concept debuts Friday during the Sycamore Square holiday open house from 5 to 9 p.m. in Midlothian. Stallard will continue accepting donations through January at her shop, the Ski Center.

Other groups have applied for grants from the Humane Society of the United States and PetSmart. CARE received $10,000 to help keep families and their pets together.

“I named it pre-rescue,“ Inman said. “If you help people to keep pets, the pets won’t be put in the county pound or county shelter.“

Contact staff writer Katherine Calos at kcalos@timesdispatch.comor (804) 649-6433.

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