09/15/2011 08:33 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

D.C.-Area Animal Shelters Still In Tough Spot Due To Rocky Economy

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- One mark of the recession: scores of pets being dropped off at animal shelters. Shelters and rescue groups across the country reported that beginning in 2008, record numbers of pets were surrendered, with their owners citing lost jobs and foreclosed homes as the reason for giving up their furry friends.

Now more than three years since the start of the recession, are local animal shelters still being inundated with pets whose owners can't afford them?

Carrie Drummond, director of communications and outreach for the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria, said that in 2009 and 2010, the shelter saw a spike of pets being brought in for economic reasons. It was a 30 percent increase over the previous year, Drummond told The Huffington Post.

"In the past 12 months, it's held pretty steady," Drummond said. "We kind of got used to operating at the higher capacity."

In August, the shelter took in 132 animals. "Probably 25 to 30 percent are financial-related," said Drummond. Of those, Drummond said that about half were given up because their owners are in dire financial straits -- lost jobs and foreclosed homes -- while the others were given up because caring for a pet has turned out to be more expensive than an owner could comfortably manage.

Gary Weitzman, chief executive officer of the Washington Animal Rescue League, said that in 2010, the number of animals being surrendered for economic reasons tripled, but that this year WARL has seen a decrease.

WARL takes in about 200 animals per month, Weitzman said -- of those, around 20 percent are surrenders. (The other animals are largely rescues from hoarding or abuse situations, or come from regional high-kill shelters). Of those surrenders, about 10 percent are given up for economic reasons these days -- about the same as in 2009. In 2010, Weitzman said, it was probably three times that share.

"It was people who said they were homeless. A lot of it was financial," Weitzman said of owners who surrendered their pets last year. "We're back down to what we normally get. Maybe that's a good sign that things are getting better. Or it's a bad sign that everybody has already been hurt."

Weitzman does still see signs of an unhealthy area economy: Individual private donations, foundation and corporate support are all down. "This shelter relies 100 percent on private donations," he said. "It's tough."

But he also said there is at least one indication that things might be a bit better: The number of animals being adopted into new homes is going back up.


CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this post, Carrie Drummond's last name was incorrectly identified on subsequent references.