Economy forcing people to make the toughest cut: family pets
By Sharon Kiley Mack
Thursday, July 03, 2008 - Bangor Daily News
BANGOR, Maine - As household expenses - food, fuel, heating costs - rise at an unprecedented rate, more and more pet owners are finding themselves making the difficult choice to give up their pets.
"It is absolutely heart-wrenching to watch grown men cry," Dawn Weber, an adoption counselor at the Bangor Humane Society, said this week. "We have people who say they have given up their cell phone, shut off the cable, and they still can’t make ends meet. So, now it’s the dog or cat that has to go."
This week there are 112 cats at the Bangor society and Executive Director Suzan Bell said half of those were brought in for economic reasons. Shelters across the state say that over the past year, financial pressure has surpassed allergies and lack of time to care for a pet as the most common reasons for surrendering them.
"It appears to be the reason of choice lately, and not a choice these people want to make," Bell said, adding that many of the surrendered pets have not had veterinary care, either. "That would be an additional expense," she said.
Bell said that excluding unexpected medical expenses, it costs between $400 and $600 a year to maintain a pet.
"When you can’t feed yourself, you can’t feed your dog," said Pat Nelson, manager of the Somerset Humane Society and Animal Shelter. "When you can’t pay the bills, the animals have to go."
Shelters and humane societies across the state are feeling the strain twofold: Animals are coming in and donations are not.
At Skowhegan earlier this week, two 13-year-old cocker spaniels were turned in. Yesterday it was a three-year-old Pomeranian. "She is sweet but scared to death," Nelson said. "It breaks your heart.
"A lot of people are embarrassed and turn their pets in as strays," she said. "But we can tell. The animals are cared for, they have names, and those people cry when they leave."
At Bangor, Weber watched as one woman gave up two of her four cats because of the cost of keeping them. "She was in tears. How do you choose which ones to give up?" she said.
It is not just cats, dogs and kittens that are being given up. Pet owners are also turning in everything from rabbits to rats.
Norma Worley, director of the Animal Welfare Division of the Maine Department of Agriculture, said this is the worst she has seen for financially based surrenders in 26 years.
"What is scaring us are the pet owners that don’t turn their animals in to a shelter and abandon them," she said. "In some other states, financially strapped owners are turning their horses loose in state parks. In Maine, the horses are on grass all summer, but what is going to happen this winter? Next spring, when the horses are turned out of the barns, how thin will they be?"
Tracy Sala, the executive director of the Humane Society of Knox County at Rockland, said her shelter currently holds 150 adult cats, more than 40 kittens and 12 dogs. She said that a full 50 percent of those animals have been turned in because of financial pressures.
"We are also seeing donations down across the board," Sala said, "including even goods such as cat and dog food and kitty litter. People are struggling."
Many local food banks are doing what they can, turning pet food over to those who are struggling, and the Bangor Humane Society also has free bags of dog food available while they last.