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Sheila Lirio Marcelo

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Pet Abandonment Up, Adoption Down

Posted: 11/09/09 05:01 PM ET

The current recession has touched so many different parts of our lives over the past 18 months. We've measured unemployment, counted the dollars of multiple bailout packages, and watched the housing market fall. But one aspect that's been overlooked is how the recession has affected household pets.

Pets are being abandoned in rising numbers as incomes fall. Earlier in the year, the ASPCA in Boston reported a 45 percent increase of pet owners surrendering their animals from either economic concerns or home-loss. There have been other reports across the country from shelters overflowing with abandoned pets, too. But it's not just that people are abandoning animals in higher numbers--animal shelters haven't been able to place dogs and cats into new homes as easily this year. My brother Ronic adopted a new dog a few months ago, but unfortunately, that puts him in the minority.

"We are definitely seeing animals being here longer than the old average length of stay," said Sheila Ryan, Director of Development and Marketing of the New Hampshire Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NHSPCA). "People don't seem to be as willing to adopt now as they have been in the past. It seems like people can't take on one more thing to pay for."

The NHSPCA just ran its annual Adopt-A-Thon. Last year, they were able to find homes for 80 animals. But this year the number dropped to 52 despite having more media coverage and attendees for their event.

As any fellow animal lover will tell you, pets are an absolute joy. The unconditional love and companionship they provide can be life-changing. My own family has two dogs (Blake, a Cairn Terrier, and Sydney, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel). The two little guys are like furry family members! They have also been great teaching tools for Adam, our youngest son, who has learned responsibility while walking, feeding, caring for, and cleaning up after our puppies.

But with the good comes the bad. For all the joy pets bring into our lives, they can be very expensive. Caring for a dog costs $1,000-2,000 each year, and cat owners pay anywhere from $800-1,000 annually--all without adding any unforeseen medical expenses. Blake and Sydney are such important parts of our lives; it's hard to imagine the pain of having to give up a pet. In light of all this, I want to share ways to save money and keep your four-legged family members.

Save on Pet Care
Use a pet sitter? Share their services with a pet-loving neighbor to split the cost and save money. Or forgo the dog walker a couple days each week and arrange your lunch break so you can go home for a quick "hello" and a walk.

Cutting Costs at the Vet
Pets need regular doctor visits, shots, and checkups, but you can save money while making sure your animals have the medical attention they need. Ask your veterinarian if you can work out a payment plan to spread out the costs. Also, regular checkups help you save money in the long run. They're not only good for your pet, but they also prevent small health issues from building into big ones with high price tags.

Cut Out the Frills
Pet accessories, fancy leashes, and expensive toys can add up quickly. If you're feeling a budget squeeze, make sure your animals have what they need, then cut out the extras. Replace a new plaything with a little extra one-on-one attention and they'll never know the difference. Oh, and you can even try making your own dog food!

A "Petcation"
If you find it's too expensive to keep your pet at home, why not find a friend or relative to temporarily care for them? Instead of giving them up to a shelter or stranger, someone you trust will look after your baby. This arrangement doesn't have to be permanent--think of it as a vacation for your pet. It can also be a chance for another family to experience the joy of pet ownership. Maybe they'll even adopt a companion pet, too!

Like many other non-profit organizations, animal shelters are losing funds as sponsorship, grant, and donor money dries up. They also need in-kind donations like pet food, kitty litter, or even hay for horses to make it through the winter. These problems will only grow as pet adoptions slow and more animals are abandoned.

"Spread the word that adoptable animals are waiting for people," said Ryan. "These aren't throwaway animals--they're adorable, loveable, potential pets."

Check with your local chapter of the ASPCA to see what you can to do to help (or if you're interested in adding a four-legged family member!).