Pets fall victim to struggling economy

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 8, 2008

Maria Papadopoulos

The family came to the MSPCA Animal Care and Adoption Center on Wednesday to surrender their tan Terrier mixed-breed.

Their reason for leaving their dog behind?

“Its owner said that their house was foreclosed upon, and they moved into an apartment that didn’t allow dogs,” said Jennifer Alvarez, project coordinator for the MSPCA in Brockton.

Skyrocketing foreclosures, job losses and soaring gas prices aren’t just hitting humans. Their furry friends are often the most visible victims of a struggling economy.

Local shelters and animal control officers say they are seeing more animals without homes, while veterinarians are seeing fewer pet owners coming through their doors.

“Some of them are telling us that they’re in bankruptcy. Some have lost their job. Some are in foreclosure or fighting against a foreclosure,” said Sharon Sequeira, technician supervisor at Lakeville Animal Hospital, where pet owners are delaying office visits. “A lot of people are cutting corners.”

More clients are saying they can’t afford to have non-emergency, preventative care for their pets, such as a teeth cleaning, Sequeira said.

In some cases, “we have been burned for some big amounts with people who give us checks and then close their bank accounts,” Sequeira said. “It’s really hard because you want to make sure you take care of the animals.”

To help ease the burden on pet owners, Sequeira said Lakeville Animal Hospital is in the process of lowering prices for veterinary services.

“It’s a two-edged sword,” she said. “Everybody wants you take care of their animals, which the veterinary community wants to do. But there’s a price. You can’t afford to give free services, unfortunately.”

In Raynham, Mass., animal control officer Fred Silvia picked up a Springer spaniel on Jade Drive on Aug. 18. Silvia expected a call from the “friendly” dog’s owner by nightfall. It didn’t happen.

“I can’t tell you how much it shocked me,” Silvia said. “She was one of the most friendly dogs I’ve ever seen. She just wants to cuddle with anyone who’ll pet her. She’s gorgeous.”

After keeping the dog he nicknamed “Bella” for 10 days as required by state law, Silvia said he gave her to a good home.

Silvia said he’s heard stories of people leaving their pets behind in parking lots. Others have reportedly left their animals in abandoned houses.

“If you can’t afford it, all you have to do is bring it to an animal shelter,” Silvia said. “They will ask you for a donation, but if you say you can’t afford it, they’ll take the animal.”

But local shelters are filled to the max.

At the MSPCA in Brockton, the shelter took in 340 cats and about 50 dogs in August, up from the 300 cats and 60 dogs surrendered in July.

Most animals that do not find homes are euthanized, shelter officials have said.

“We’ve definitely been taking more in than we’re adopting out,” said Alvarez of the MSPCA, whose Brockton shelter has adopted out just 100 cats since June. “It’s been very busy here.”

The shelter currently has 60 cats, four dogs and several rabbits available for adoption.

To adopt a homeless animal, call the MSPCA at 508-586-2053.

Maria Papadopoulos can be reached at mpapadopoulos@enterprisenews.com.