Pets the unseen victims of foreclosure crises

Summer is a busy time for animal shelters. Economic woes and home foreclosures could put an even greater strain on animal welfare organizations.

According to Colleen Macuk of Jackson County Animal Care and Control, the county shelter took in 32 cats in 90 minutes one day in June. Two cats were adopted that day. Cats breed during spring and summer, which dramatically increases the number of strays during the warmer months.

"If more people would bring in their own, rather than abandoning them, that would cut the problem in half," Macuk said.

The Southern Oregon Humane Society recently took in three dogs from a home foreclosure. According to Executive Director Bill Templeman, the animals' owners gave them up because they were unable to care for them. At the time of their arrival, the dogs were covered in foxtails and skin infections.

"There seems to be pockets of the country where that's happening more and more," Templeman said.

SOHS saw a 10 percent increase in surrendered pets from private owners in the last year, with a 12 percent decrease in intakes overall. The organization's adoptions have decreased by approximately 9 percent this year.

Templeman believes these changes could be related to economic factors, though SOHS has not received a large number of animals due specifically to home foreclosures.

According to Sally Mackler, director of nonprofit Spay Neuter Your Pet, widespread home foreclosures can have a huge effect on pets.

"Often these animals are just left on the property," she said.

In response to this problem, the Humane Society of the United States launched a grant program earlier this year to help local shelters and nonprofits to aid cash-strapped pet owners.

Animal welfare workers agree that the best way to avoid the annual crisis of "kitten season" is to spay and neuter pets. According to Mackler, a single unspayed female cat and her offspring can produce 100 cats in a year. An unneutered male can impregnate many females in that time.

"Their reproductive capabilities are mind-boggling," Mackler said.

Mackler also said the cat breeding cycle seems to get longer every year. She said litters of kittens have been coming in even during the autumn months in recent years, though the reasons remain uncertain.

SNYP offers need-based services to help pet owners find and pay for spay/neuter services. The cost of spaying a cat can range from $50 to $100, while neutering costs from $30 to $70. SNYP works with local veterinarians and uses certificates and other programs to bring this price down.

College students who give up or abandon their animals at the end of the school year also contribute to the seasonal increase.

County adoption applications specifically ask if applicants are students or renters. Jean Kimball, a JCAC Advisory Board member and JCAC cattery worker, recommends that students volunteer at the shelter rather than adopt.

The Southern Oregon Humane Society spays and neuters all animals in its shelter before they are put up for adoption. The JCAC shelter offers coupons to help new owners pay to have their pets fixed, and requires them to do so as part of the adoption application.

Whatever the cause, Southern Oregon's public and private animal welfare organizations can only care for a relatively small number of the region's homeless pets. The humane society can hold an absolute maximum of 60 dogs and 125 cats. JCAC can only comfortably handle 50 cats and up to 150 dogs.

"Please spay and neuter," Macuk said. "Please don't abandon your pets."

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