Pets fall victim to tough economy
on October 30, 2009
Anje gets two or three e-mails every day from people asking her to take kittens. She founded Bitten by a Kitten Rescue in Richmond six years ago, and has three or four foster homes in the Bay Area to help provide care. (Since Anje is the only name she uses for her business, she preferred not to use a last name for this story.)
This year, approximately 20 percent more people asked Anje to take their kittens than last year. And hers is not the only animal rescue group in Contra Costa County where abandoned pets are crowding in.
Karen Kops, the president of Homeless Animal Response Program, an animal welfare group in east Contra Costa County, said this year the number of people asking her to take their pets is up about 25 percent.
Based on what families say when they give up a pet, people involved in animal rescue in Contra Costa County say the economic recession is behind the problem.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals early this year estimated that between 500,000 and 1 million cats and dogs in the U.S. are at risk of becoming homeless as a result of the continuing economic downturn.
Contra Costa County Animal Services stated in their 2008 performance report that with home foreclosures and the financial downturn, they received nearly 2,000 more homeless animals than in 2007. Also last year, 361 more pets died by euthanasia. Currently there are an average of 200 animals a day in the Martinez shelter, and about 40 in Pinole, which is all the shelters can take. The majority are cats and dogs.
When people get a salary cut, or lose their jobs, the family pet also suffers. Animals get cheaper food and fewer trips to the veterinarian. When people go through foreclosure or must move to a less expensive home, their pets are often abandoned, left silently homeless.
“The economy always affects the poor people the most, and these are below the poor people,” said Cynthia Burke, who has been doing cat rescue for 15 years in Richmond. “They’re at the bottom of the heap. They don’t have any rights.” Burke traps cats in the wild, has them spayed or neutered, and then returns them to their colonies.
The decrease in people’s incomes has also resulted in fewer adoptions. In previous years, Anje says Bitten by a Kitten could rescue 150 cats annually, but this year they might rescue only 100, as it takes longer to find an adoptive home. And these days, she said, people tend to adopt only one kitten, while in the past they often took two or more.
Anje says it makes her more careful when someone asks to adopt a kitten. “At the end of last year, what we had never done before was we asked people what their plan B is, in case they lose their jobs,” Anje said.
Recently Anje got a call to go to the home of a Chinese family who had kittens to give her. When she got there, the family struggled to convey in English the financial difficulty they faced. In few words and many gestures, they let Anje know that they wanted her to take their beloved mother cat, too. They simply couldn’t afford to keep her.
Anje foresees more difficulties like this in the future, because the financial burden has made pet owners reluctant to spay or neuter their pets. “There’s just going to be an explosion of kittens,” she said.
Foster homes are bearing more financial pressure due to their own shrinking incomes and the rise of veterinary fees. Burke said she used to spend an average of $30,000 to $50,000 annually on the cats she rescued. But her real estate company was not immune from the crisis and to save money she now makes pet food herself, using organic chicken and vegetables.
Three Saturdays a month, Burke chooses several cats to bring to Berkeley and display in front of a pet food shop, hoping some family will bring them home.
On a recent Saturday, she brought an adult Siamese cat and three kittens, two of which were found in a junk pile in northeast Richmond. As the cats sat in the cages watching people walk by on a shadowy tree-lined sidewalk, many people cooed over how cute they were. But no one adopted any of them.
|Animal Rescue and Adoption Groups in Contra Costa County
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