People give up pets due to economy

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People in the East Hampton area hard hit by the economic downturn are increasingly giving up their pets for adoption, according to the director of a local rescue organization and the supervisor of East Hampton Town Animal Control.

“There’s definitely a change in the works,” said Sara Davison, executive director of the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons. She estimates that ARF has taken in pets from six or seven people in recent weeks who have told her that they could not afford to care for the animals.

“One person said they had to take a 50-percent pay cut, one guy had to move back with his mother, and a couple of people said they were moving. We are definitely seeing people who rent and are having to relocate,” she said. ARF’s shelter capacity for cats is full, though they have some room left for dogs.

Betsy Bambrick, supervisor of East Hampton Town Animal Control, said the number of dogs surrendered to Animal Control jumped from four in 2007 to 21 in 2008. “A lot of them were because people couldn’t afford to keep their animals,” she said.

Most of the surrenders were last spring, Ms. Bambrick said. “I think things were going bad for people long before it was in the news every night. For some people it’s a matter of, are the kids going to get new sneakers, or are the dogs going to get their shots. If somebody is living paycheck to paycheck, they have to decide whether to keep the dog legal.”

In 2006, it cost the average pet owner about $2,046 to care for a small dog, $2,300 for a medium dog, and $2,585 for a large dog for a year, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association 2007-08 National Pet Owners Survey. The survey showed it cost about a $1,281 to care for a cat.

Meanwhile, donations to ARF are down 40 percent over the same time last year, Ms. Davison said. “Support is down and demand for our services is going up,” she said. The decline in donations started in the fall, she said. “The number of gifts is steady, but people are giving us lesser amounts.”

The ARF annual Dog Walk in October also netted $15,000 less this year than last, she said. The Dog Walk raises funds for ARF through registrations and pledges.

The town doesn’t have its own shelter but contracts out shelter services to the East Hampton Veterinary Group and has another contract with ARF to put up for adoption dogs that have been running loose and aren’t claimed by their owners. Dogs with a history of biting are euthanized, she said.

Nationally, shelters are seeing increased surrenders of pets and decreased donations in the last few months, said Nancy Peterson, feral cat program manager for the Humane Society of the United States.

“I have spoken with many shelters, and they are seeing decreased adoptions as well,” she said.

As home foreclosures have shot up nationwide, she said she has received many reports of people leaving pets behind, locked in the empty houses.

“People should never abandon their pets. It could be that an animal could starve to death. If people know that a home is deserted and there are any signs of a pet, they should call animal control right away,” she said.

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