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December 22, 2008

Read It and Weep (for the animals and their owners)

Readers-

This time of year, I get a lot of requests to advertise luxury pet items and/or to link to sites that sell them. I decided awhile back that I wasn't going to do either because I think that most of it is pointless extravagance in ordinary times, indefensible at times such as these (see below). If anyone finds this offensive, then so be it.

I've said this before and I'll say it again (as you do your last-minute Xmas shopping): Your dog does not need a $900 designer dog bed; you can get a perfectly fine fleece-covered bed for $25 and give the balance to a shelter. Your cat doesn't need a $200 crystal-encrusted collar; buy a nylon collar for $5 and give the rest to a rescue group. You don't need a $1,200 leather pet tote; spend $50 for microfiber and spend the rest on pet food for a food pantry.

Please do the right thing this holiday season. There's so much heartache all over the animal kingdom, and anyone who's in a position to help, should.  (Also check out foreclosurepets.org).

By MARGERY A. GIBBS
Associated Press Writer

   A growing number of Americans are giving up their dogs and
cats to animal shelters as the emotional bonds between people and
pets get tested by economic ones.

   From the Malvern, Pa., man who turned his two dogs over in
order to help pay for his mother's cancer treatments to the New
York woman who euthanized her cat rather than keeping it alive
with expensive medications, rising economic anxieties make it
increasingly difficult for some pet owners to justify spending
$1,000 a year or more on pet food, veterinary services and other
costs.

   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 every year, half are euthanized and the rest adopted,
according to the Humane Society of the United States.

   "It's definitely discouraging for us,'' said Adam Goldfarb, a
Humane Society spokesman. îîOne of our major goals is to develop
and celebrate the bond between people and animals. It's so tragic
when families reach a point when they can't afford to care for
their pets.''

   With two children, a husband on disability and a difficult job
search of her own, 23-year-old Mel Bail of Worcester, Mass., had
begun feeding leftovers from family meals to her three cats …
Rory, Ozzy and Mudpie … before recently deciding to give them up.

   "When I couldn't pay my gas bill, I knew I had to find
another home for the cats,'' Bail said.

   But it wasn't easy to find a shelter that would accept them.
"They're completely full,'' said Bail, who ultimately turned to
online classified ads to find homes for Rory, Ozzy and Mudpie.

   There is no nationwide data being collected on the reasons
dogs and cats are being abandoned by their owners, but shelter
managers and advocates for animals say the trend is undeniable …
and probably a bigger phenomenon than they are aware of.

   "People are embarrassed to admit that's why they're giving up
their pets,'' said Betsy McFarland, the Humane Society's director
of communications for companion animals.

   An Associated Press-Petside.com poll found that one in seven
owners nationwide reported reduced spending on their pets during
the past year's recession. Of those cutting back, more than a
quarter said they have seriously 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.

   In Omaha, Neb., the Nebraska Humane Society's shelter began
tracking for the first time this year those pets given up because
of financial constraints. Through mid-November, more than 275
pets were given up because their owners said they couldn't afford
to keep them.

   Among them are two 9-year-old miniature schnauzers, dropped
off anonymously with a note that said their owners could no
longer afford to keep them.

   Humane Society spokeswoman Pam Wiese said the
obedience-trained purebreds came into the shelter up-to-date on
vaccinations and dental care and were well-groomed.

   "It is really sad, because for these people, it is not an
excuse. They are absolutely stuck, and they need to downsize and
there is no one to take the pets,'' she said. "You can tell
these have been much-loved pets.''

   In New York, Erin Farrell-Talbot recently made the decision to
euthanize her 15-year-old cat, Buki, when she was told within
days of losing her job that he would need thousands of dollars in
treatment and medications costing $65 a month to live.

   "When it came down to whether I was going to charge food for
the month of September or give medicine to my cat, that was a
clear decision for me,'' Farrell-Talbot said. îîIt was horrible.
It killed us.''

   The Animal Humane Association in Albuquerque, N.M., saw 69
dogs and cats turned over through September because the owners
couldn't afford to keep them. That compares with 48 in the same
period in 2007 … a 44 percent increase, said executive director
Peggy Weigle.

   In response, Weigle's shelter began a program to open its
emergency pet shelter … normally reserved for battered women
needing a place to keep their pets for a while … to those
suffering financially. So far this year 45 pets have been taken
in through the emergency program, compared with eight the
previous year.

   The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in
Virginia Beach, Va., recently began a program called Help Out
Pets Everywhere (HOPE) to provide food, medical care and
temporary homes for pets belonging to families with financial
difficulties. Eighteen applications were received within the
first week.

   The program received 18 applications within its first week.
Some of those people have never experienced hardship until now,
and therefore, neither have their pets, McNally said.

   "It's been devastating,'' said Amy McNally, a spokeswoman for
the program. îîFor somebody to say, 'I can't afford to feed my
dog' … it's a humbling time.''

   ………

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