12/29/08 — Economy hurting pets, too

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Economy hurting pets, too

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on December 29, 2008 1:46 PM

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Wayne County Animal Adoption and Education Center Director Justin Scally takes care of a 6-month-old grey tabby Monday morning

The Wayne County Animal Shelter is having to cope with a surge of homeless pets, with many of the animals the victims of a difficult economy.

Owners who would otherwise keep their pets are being forced to give them up because of financial hardship, Shelter Director Justin Scally said.

"We've had a big increase in animals coming to our shelter," Scally said. The majority of what we're taking in right now, people are saying they can't afford to take care of them."

Many pet owners he's seen at the shelter are struggling to make bill payments and buy the basic necessities of life, Scally said.

"They're unable to care for themselves," he said.

These days it's not unusual for the Animal Control Department to get 20 or 30 calls a day about taking in pets, a sharp rise in the typical number of calls they receive, Scally said.

Gina Hollowell of the Wayne County Humane Society said they've seen the same increase.

"We have far more numbers calling in, looking for homes for their pets," she said.

While some owners are illegally setting their pets loose outdoors, there haven't been any cases in Wayne County of animals locked inside foreclosed homes.

However, landlords do frequently find abandoned pets inside rental properties after tenants move out, Scally said.

"We tell people if they can get a tag number (on the animal), we will prosecute. Animal abandonment is a crime, we do prosecute that," he said.

The problem of "foreclosure pets" has become so commonplace elsewhere in the country, many animal welfare organizations are offering a helping hand to shelters and rescues who are working with foreclosed pet owners to help them keep their animals.

Locally, the Humane Society of Wayne County is trying to help beleaguered pet owners by giving away free pet food on the third Sunday of every month, and the mobile veterinary center is providing low-cost, income-based spay and neuter services at the animal control shelter every third Saturday.

Spaying and neutering prevents any unwanted mouths to feed that strapped-for-cash pet owners and strained shelters can't afford.

Call 736-PETS for more information on the Humane Society of Wayne County's programs.

In response to the overwhelming need, the Humane Society of the United States is offering grants of up to $2,000 to agencies that are working to alleviate economic pressure on owners -- and prevent strain from building on shelters -- by partnering with food banks and the Red Cross to distribute food to needy humans and their pets, and provide free vet care.

The Humane Society Web site also offers tips and information on how owners can find pet-friendly rental housing if they must move due to foreclosure or a work search. For more information, visit http://www.animalsheltering.org

For military service members facing upcoming deployment or veterans facing emergency hardship, there is an option besides taking pets to the animal shelter.

The 501(c)3 nonprofit organization Guardian Angels for Soldier's Pet is a nation-wide volunteer network of foster homes that care for soldiers' pets while they are deployed, for months or even years, and reunite pets with their owners when they return home.

GASP helps owners locate temporary homes for dogs, cats, birds, small animals like rabbits and even large animals like horses. Volunteers sign a contract ensuring that they will take good care of the animals and return them, healthy and happy, when the owner comes home.

GASP has helped find foster homes for military service members' pets in nine states, including North Carolina.

To submit a pet, donate or sign up to foster a soldier's pet, visit the group's Web site at http://www.guardiana ngelsforsoldierspet.org