Depressed economy hurts more pets|Local shelter sees increase in drop-offs

Published 6:43 pm Saturday, September 19, 2009

Daily News Correspondent

Grinding economic perils are taking a toll on pets in the area.
This year, the recession has placed Beaufort County Animal Control on pace to exceed the number of animals it took in during each of the past two years.
The rise in temporarily sheltered animals will lead to more animals being euthanized.
“We have noticed an increase,” said Sandy Woolard, chief animal control officer. “When people come in to surrender their animals, a lot of them are saying they just can’t afford them anymore due to the economy.”
Though the county department has no hard data on how many pet drop-offs are directly related to the recession, anecdotal evidence abounds, according to Woolard.
“A lot of people are having a difficult time with their animals,” she acknowledged.
Some people are inquiring about surrendering a major investment — horses, which the shelter can’t handle. Owners who want to have their horses adopted are referred to equestrian rescue centers, Woolard related.
The tough job market is also showing up in the elevated population of pets being housed at J and J’s Homeless Pet Rescue, a nonprofit, no-kill animal shelter in the Washington area.
“We actually have doubled our numbers,” said Jim Thompson, vice president. “Instead of helping one out of a hundred (animals), we help two out of a hundred.”
At the same time, donations to the nonprofit have fallen, Thompson said.
Despite the troubling numbers, area animal caretakers aren’t giving up the fight.
The staff and volunteers at the county’s Betsy Bailey Nelson Animal Control Facility are working to create a fund that would give neglected animals a second chance, Woolard said.
The volunteers are attempting to obtain nonprofit status for a group that would oversee the fund, she said.
The fund would likely be named for Whaddamess (“What-a-mess”), the late shelter dog that the staff used in education programs across the county.
Whaddamess died this summer.
On another front, J and J’s is continuing its practice of posting adoptive pets on five different Web sites, Thompson said.
In addition to housing animals who have been given up for adoption, J and J’s also encourages veterinary checkups and reference checks to ensure that pets are placed in good homes, he noted.
J and J’s is also a member of a multi-state pet-rescue network, he said.
“There’s always been a pet overpopulation problem,” said Marty Poffenberger, a Washington-area veterinarian and president of the local Humane Society.
“I think you do see people becoming more aware of the problem,” Poffenberger said, adding that there are still more animals than available homes.
Asked what people can do to help, Poffenberger advised those who are seeking pets to visit a nearby shelter or pet-rescue operation. This practice doesn’t bolster the market for puppy mills or other unscrupulous outfits, she indicated.
She also suggested that would-be pet owners think of the future when considering adoption.
“If we are responsible pet owners, then we are looking ahead to what it takes to provide for that animal for the next 12 to 15 years,” she said.
Woolard, Thompson and Poffenberger recommended having pets spayed or neutered.
“Certainly, spaying or neutering just have to be No. 1,” Poffenberger said.
People who have trouble paying for one animal shouldn’t allow that animal to reproduce, she said.
The Humane Society offers varying levels of financial assistance with spay/neuter procedures, she said.
Also, Poffenberger said, taking pets in for regular checkups and vaccinations can ward off expensive medical problems and costly procedures.
“Preventive medicine is always the best medicine,” she said.
Beaufort County
Animal Control Numbers
Animals taken in:
• 2007: 3,706
• 2008: 3,825
• 2009 to date: 2,540
Animals euthanized:
• 2007: 2,786
• 2008: 2,979
Source: Sandy Woolard, chief animal control officer