Staff Photo by Shane McMillan
Rossville resident Brenda Bolt, left, and her daughter Cassy feed Jack Russell terriers Etnes and Oreo some Slim-Jims in the play area for the Chattanooga Humane Educational Society on Friday. Mrs. Bolt had to give them and three other dogs up to the society after health and financial problems forced her to to move into a more affordable rental with tighter restrictions on pets. Now she hopes to get some of them back and for the others to find good homes.
In the last few months, Rita Burrows found about six dogs tied or chained to her no-kill animal shelter’s fence.
“I guess they think they’re doing what’s best for their animals,” said Ms. Burrows, kennel manager at the Humane Society of Northwest Georgia in Dalton, Ga.
In most cases, however, Ms. Burrow’s shelter is full, so she and other workers take the pets to the city pound, which the owners were probably trying to avoid in the first place. The pound euthanizes some animals.
While there is no way to know why owners abandoned their pets, many who surrender their pets the proper way just can’t afford another hungry mouth, Ms. Burrows said.
“They said, ‘We can’t afford to feed them. All they’re eating is bread. We can’t afford anything else,’” she said of one family.
When families face tough decisions due to dwindling incomes, higher bills or home foreclosures, Fido and Whiskers often lose out, according to Paula Hurn, operations director at the McKamey Center in Chattanooga.
“When it’s: You put food and clothing on a child or take care of a pet, that pet’s going to suffer,” she said.
Other area shelters are seeing the same trend.
“You have your family and you have to make decisions,” said Guy Bilyeu, executive director of the Humane Educational Society in Hamilton County. From August to December, his shelter took in nearly twice as many pets from Hamilton County outside of Chattanooga as it did in the same time last year.
Several animal owners gave up pets because their house had been foreclosed on and they moved to an apartment that doesn’t allow dogs or cats, he said.
Rossville resident Brenda Bolt said she had to put her two Jack Russell terriers and three other dogs up for adoption at the Humane Society. She said health and financial problems forced her to move to a more affordable place to live, but her new home has tighter restrictions on pets.
In Walker County, Ga., the county-run shelter also is being inundated with animals being given up because of the recession.
“We are seeing more and more people who are saying they are sorry, but they just can’t afford the pets because they lost their job or whatever,” said Alison Smith, the shelter manager.
Surrendering pet owners have hit the Whitfield County, Ga., Animal Shelter in alarming numbers since May.
“You name the economic reasons and we’ve heard 18 of them,” said Don Garrett, shelter director.
In the first 11 months of 2007, 1,346 animals were surrendered to the shelter, compared to 1,878 through the end of November this year, according to staff.
“It’s the worst year ever for it,” Mr. Garrett said.
And while pets given at Christmas come with a bow, many will end up in area shelters within a few weeks.
The number of surrendered pets rises following the holidays, Mr. Bilyeu said.
Many animals given as gifts come as a surprise to the recipient, he said.
“Most people think they can give someone a cute, cuddly pet, but they’re not thinking about the person they’re giving it to. That person may not want that kind of responsibility in their lives,” Mr. Bilyeu said.
Pets given as gifts are given with all good intentions, said Paula Hurn, operations manager at the McKamey Center. Since the shelter just opened this past summer, there’s no record of post-holiday pet relinquishments, but “historically, yes, there are higher numbers this time of year. ... Just like the sweater you may give to someone at Christmas, it’s not the right size or color and it has to go back.”
Nationwide, that’s a trend, but at the Catoosa County shelter, it’s busy all the time.
“We’re seeing a really high influx right now, but people throw animals out all over the place, all the time,” said Darla Proctor, the shelter director. “I can’t say that I’ve ever seen a big after-Christmas rush. Right now, people are bringing their animals in because they can’t afford them.”
Both McKamey and the Humane Society perform extensive interviews with people when they adopt dogs and cats to make sure that they, or the person to whom they are giving the animal, are responsible owners and that the fit is a good one between pet and owner.
Adoptions on the decline
And while there are more pets coming in, adoptions are slowing down at some shelters.
Adoptions are down 25 percent at the McMinn Regional Humane Society near Athens, Tenn., according to Executive Director Stacy Low.
At the Northwest Georgia Humane Society, Ms. Burrows said adoptions have dropped from 10 to 13 a week to one to five a week since April. She said the region has been particularly affected because workers at nearby carpet mills have seen their hours reduced.
“That, of course, makes for not a really happy place to be in the shelter,” Ms. Low said.
But the shelters are limited by shrinking budgets even as demand for help is increasing, Ms. Burrows said.
“It’s hard to get people to donate to humane societies when there are so many people who need donations.”
Staff writer Adam Crisp contributed to this report.
Video: Recession petsGuy Bilyeu, executive director of the Humane Educational Society in Chattanooga, says the number of owner-surrendered pets dropped off at the animal shelter have more than doubled from this time last year. The shelter has developed a new holiday-season fundraiser called the Angel Tree that allows people to donate money to adopt or sponsor pets until homes can be found for the animals.
Andy began working at the Times Free Press in July 2008 as a general assignment reporter before focusing on Northwest Georgia and Georgia politics in May of 2009. Before coming to the Times Free Press, Andy worked for the Anniston Star, the Rome News Tribune and the Campus Carrier at Berry College, where he graduated with a communications degree in 2006. He is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Tennessee ...