The bad news: Humans aren't the only victims of the current economic crisis. Pets are being surrendered to animal shelters or, even worse, simply abandoned at an unprecedented rate because their owners can no longer afford to care for them.
The good news: When bad things happen to good pet owners, there are alternatives to losing the animal.
Dispel the image of that despicable dogcatcher in "Little Orphan Annie" who’s hunting poor Sandy with perverse glee. He doesn't exist.
These days a local animal shelter truly is your best resource. "View your local animal shelter like any community service. They are there to help. They know pets are better off with their owners," said Stephen Zawistowski of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Because animal shelters are for the most part local operations, services for struggling pet owners vary depending on community size and needs. For instance, the Washington Animal Rescue League in Washington, D.C., has a full-service veterinary hospital for low-income pet owners. The organization also offers a monthly low-cost ($10 each) vaccination clinic and distributes pet food to those in need.
Those over 65 can adopt a pet for free (a savings of up to $115) from Colorado's Denver Dumb Friends League. More than 600 pets have been adopted over the last 12 months through the program, which includes micro-chipping, spaying/neutering, vaccinations, and extended care. Like in Denver, many shelters, such as the San Francisco SPCA and PAWS, an animal welfare society covering Washington state, maintain a list of pet-friendly apartment properties.
The Humane Society of the United States is stepping up to the plate through its Pet Foreclosure Fund, which will distribute more than $80,000 this year. Grants go to nonprofits for pet food banks, subsidized veterinary care, assistance with apartment pet-security deposits, and expansion of foster care programs.
One recipient is the Animal Compassion Network, a safe-for-life animal welfare organization in Asheville, N.C. The organization unites local shelters, kennel clubs, and animal rescue groups to help homeless pets find new families. In addition, pet food is donated to community partners like food pantries and the Salvation Army for distribution to pet owners.
"Since March, demand for help has tripled," ACN executive director Eileen Bouressa said. "One local shelter will even house a pet for up to 30 days if you provide proof you are actively trying to find a new home and visit the animal every few days. There's a misconception that animal control officers 'want' to take your pet. The truth is shelters are overcrowded and want to work with owners."
Allie Phillips, director of public policy for the American Humane Association agreed. "Most major cities have pet food pantries or distribute pet food and kitty litter through Meals on Wheels. If your city doesn't [have this program], contact a local pet store, rescue group, or even human service agencies for suggestions."
Other ideas: Talk to your veterinarian about discounts or payment plans, or see if your area veterinary association will subsidize routine or emergency care. If you or a family member needs to relocate, you may be able to secure money from an animal rescue group for a pet security deposit or get help with foster care while you get resettled.
NY S.A.V.E. helps financially strapped owners get pet emergency veterinary care in the five boroughs of New York City. But spokesperson Effie Cooper said such programs only work when pet owners effectively seek them out.
Cooper, 71, is currently caring for Buddy, a 9-year-old beagle whose owner lost his house to foreclosure. "The man works but simply couldn't find a place to live that allowed animals or a no-kill shelter. He networked through animal lovers, and one called me knowing I had recently lost my pet," she recalled.
Though Buddy grew up with a house and yard, he'll live out his days in a Manhattan apartment. And even though Cooper offered Buddy's owner the opportunity to reclaim his pet, she suspects he won’t. "[The man] was so beaten down; we won't see him again."
The Internet is proving to be another good resource for pet owners who need help. Petfinder.com, which specializes in pet adoptions, has more than 12,000 animal shelters, humane societies and rescue organizations listed on its site. Pets 911 maintains a national pet-friendly apartment-rental database.
No Paws Left Behind lets users search for no-kill shelters or foster care facilities by ZIP code. The brainchild of Cheryl Lang, president of a mortgage-default management company, No Paws Left Behind (call 866-682-3001 if you want to discuss your situation) also provides monetary assistance to pet caregivers nationwide for vet bills or security deposits required by landlords.
Should you or someone you know face the problem of caring for a pet, leave no resource unexplored. Try the resources we have mentioned above. Ask family, friends, or co-workers to care for you pet while you relocate to pet-friendly housing or get on firm financial ground. As Lang implored, "Any solution is better than dumping the animal."