For many pet owners, a dog or cat is another member of the family. So what happens when you can’t keep him or her?
That’s the question many Capital District pet lovers are being forced to answer, and they’re turning in increasing numbers to local pet shelters for temporary or permanent assistance.
If a poor economy and less money to go around wasn’t enough, the recent impacts of tropical storms on the region have exacerbated problems.
At the Mohawk-Hudson Humane Society, the effects of the storm have been palpable. Though the shelter itself was not impacted, since the disaster a slew of animals have arrived at the Menands facility.
The storm exacerbated an existing problem with animal abandonment, as families hit by the recession were already trimming their budgets and expenses — including what’s spent on the family pet.
“Our owner surrendered animals are up about 50 percent from last year, and we’re holding about 140 more animals than we were at this time last year,” said Executive Director Brad Shear. “Adoptions have been slow, because I think a lot of people were affected by the storm and are trying to figure out what to do with the animals they have.”
Most of the people who have turned over animals to the shelter aren’t bad owners, Shear said, they’re just out of options. A Schenectady woman who lost access to her home in the flooding turned over eight dogs to the shelter, without any plans to recover them.
“She said she’s going to have dogs in the future, but she doesn’t have a home,” Shear said. “For us, that’s a lot of dogs to take in all at once.”
The Red Cross provides temporary shelter to disaster victims and pets aren’t allowed at these facilities, so some people have only leaned on the shelter temporarily. But when they’re moved to hotels, a relative’s home or move out of town completely, the victims oftentimes just can’t make accommodations for their pets.
The Mohawk-Hudson Human Society’s Menands shelter is now housing about 510 animals. A poor economy also means that while abandonments are up, donations are down for this not-for-profit, and with the average cost of turning around an animal for adoption (vaccines, veterinary expenses, food and housing) running between $200 and $250, the shelter takes a bath on every adoption.
The Saratoga County Animal Shelter saw only one dog and one cat come in because of the recent storms, and both were only temporarily housed. At the same time, the shelter still has a high population, in part because of the time of year (kittens are born in the fall) and also because of the economy.
“We are seeing more come in with major medical issues and problems that people cant’s afford,” said Shelter Supervisor Daniel Butler. “The cost of pet care today is right up there.”
Owners will either turn their sick animals over to the shelter or simply let them loose in the streets (which is illegal). When it comes to sick animals, many times the shelter has not choice but to put them down, Butler said.
The Saratoga Animal Shelter has 59 dogs and 264 cats looking for homes. Butler reminded pet owners that pets should always be spayed or neutered.
There are some shelters out of the Capital District that are in even worse shape. The Scotia Animal Protective Foundation was not heavily impacted by the storm, but has collected and dispersed about 8,000 pounds of food and other supplies to shelters in Schoharie and Rotterdam Junction, for example, and another shipment was recently sent to the Aslan’s Cats shelter in Catskill, which apparently had run completely out of food.
The generosity of donors has been remarkable, said AFP spokeswoman Marguerite Pearson.
“I think animal lovers can really identify with the tragedy of possibly being separated from their animals,” she said.
In the Schenectady area, where the Mohawk River rose over its banks and flooded homes in the city and Rotterdam Junction, the Scotia APF did not see a marked increase in abandoned animals outside of a few remarkable cases.
A kitten was picked up off the street in the midst of Tropical Storm Irene, and later, during the flooding, a blind Chihuahua was found in the Stockade. The former was reunited with its owner and a new home was located for the dog.
The Scotia Animal Protective Foundation is currently sheltering 121 animals looking for homes.
Local shelters are always looking for welcoming homes for animals.