Tough Economic Times Spur Pet Owners to Abandon Ill and Aging Animals

A Pit Bull puppy with Parvovirus and a Shih Tzu that had been hit by a car are just two examples of pets that have been abandoned by their owners at East Bay animal shelters in recent months. 

To the operators of the shelters, the growing number of sick animals arriving at their doors is a disturbing sign of the economic times: pet owners are surrendering their sick or old animals because they cannot afford to pay the medical bills.

“People seem to be dropping them off rather than treating them,” said Allison Lindquist, executive director of the East Bay Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “When it comes down to feeding your family or helping your pet, that’s a hard decision to make.”

Ms. Lindquist recalled that when a Pekingese, who was 12, was down to a single tooth, her owner simply handed her across the counter.

“I just can’t handle it,” the owner said.

Pet surrenders were already high as the recession led people to downsize or to lose their homes. Now, having an animal that needs expensive medical attention is becoming yet another breaking point for strapped pet owners.

Afflictions that lead to a pet’s being surrendered run the gamut from broken legs to flea infestations — even the cost of grooming for dogs that require frequent care can be the last straw.

Most shelters have not consistently kept track of the number of sick animals being turned in over the years, but shelter providers gave anecdotal evidence of the rise in sick animals being dropped off.

Kate O’Connor, manager of Animal Care Services in Berkeley, said she has seen more sick pets — including dying puppies and a one-eyed Chihuahua — left at the night drop box, where anyone can leave an animal after hours.

Megan Webb, director of Oakland Animal Services, said she had noticed more people asking to have sick pets euthanized — something many cannot afford to have done on their own, even if the animal is suffering. Sometimes pets that have been dropped off to be euthanized turn out to be healthy enough to live.

The problem is worse in places still dealing with high rates of unemployment and foreclosures. Alameda and Contra Costa Counties have two of the highest unemployment rates in the nine-county Bay Area, and shelter operators in both report a rise in the number of abandoned sick animals.

In contrast, areas with stronger economies report fewer sick animals arriving at their doors or no increase at all.

Marin County has a relatively low unemployment rate, 7.4 percent. Its animal service provider, the Marin Humane Society, initially saw a spike in animal drop-offs when the recession hit, but last year the number began to return to normal.

Sandra Stadler, superintendent of Palo Alto Animal Services, said the city had seen a small increase in the number of animals coming in as families were forced to downsize, but no noticeable rise in the number of animals with medical problems.

“But,” Ms. Stadler said, “that could be because of our demographic.” 

--Jamie Hansen



August 18, 2011 @12:04 pm
by — Ivan

I don't know about you, but I sure hope that one-eyed Chihuahua found a home. Of course, being a one-eyed dog, I have a soft spot for such deformities. While times are tough, I believe when the chips are down, there are still plenty of people who hang in there with their pets just like my family did with me. I do wonder though, what can be done to offset this alarming trend. Any thoughts on this?

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