Shelters see huge influx of pets in tough economy

The dog was a terrier mix named Jax. His owner, a woman who looked to be in her early 60s, said she had just lost her job and couldn’t afford to keep him.

Instead of abandoning the pooch, the woman called the Perry Animal Shelter.

“She was pretty much hysterical,” animal control officer Hanna Barrett recalled.

Barrett informed the woman of an adoption program that gives pet owners who have up-to-date veterinary records for their animals a chance to find good homes for them.

In the tight economy, area animal-control officials say they have encountered a number of pet owners who have had to give up caring for their dogs or cats because of the financial strain.

Jax’s owner recently took him to an adoption day at a midstate pet store where he found a new home. His owner said her goodbyes there.

“She sat with it for a little bit,” Barrett said. “She was crying her heart out.”

The Macon Animal Shelter is also seeing firsthand the signs of harsh economic times. In a recent span of 10 days, pet owners dropped off 309 dogs, cats and kittens, said Animal Control Director Jim Johnson.

Some pet owners have said the economy is forcing them to move from houses to apartments where they can’t take their animals. Others say they can’t afford to take care of them or pay veterinary bills, Johnson said.

“We have them crying at the counter,” he said of owners handing over their pets.

The influx of animals has come at a time when seasonally more kittens are born. And with more people outside during the summer, there are typically more reports of dogs loose in neighborhoods.

“It’s a busy time for us in May, June and July,” Johnson said.

A decrease in the number of adoptions has exacerbated the overcrowding dilemma. The shelter saw two weeks this month when no pets were adopted.

Walking through the adoption area of the shelter, Johnson pointed out animals that ordinarily would be adopted quickly, within two or three days, that have been at the shelter for weeks.

Johnson said the state requires shelters to provide each animal with enough room to lie down without overlapping. When the shelter rises above capacity, animals are euthanized.

In recent days, Johnson said the number of pets being euthanized has doubled.

“We’re having to do euthanizations every day,” he said. “I don’t have the space to keep them.”

This past Wednesday, 45 pets were put down.

Typically, the shelter holds animals for at least seven days to offer pet owners a chance to reclaim their lost pets.

But for the first time in Johnson’s three-year tenure at the shelter, there have been a couple of times when animals were only kept for five days because of overcrowding.

Johnson said local animal rescue groups also are at capacity and can’t take adoptable dogs from the shelter as has been their practice.

“Everybody is overrun,” he said. “Right now the economy is hitting everybody and it’s showing up here.”

Greg Langston, senior animal-control officer at the Warner Robins Animal Shelter, says people sometimes don’t understand the commitment involved in tending to a pet.

“It takes a lot to feed an animal. ... Bigger dogs, they live 12 to 15 years,” Langston said.

Barrett, the animal-control officer in Perry, said tight times or not, she doesn’t think she could part with a pet.

“Now there are differences of opinion,” she said. “I’ve had my dog for five years now and I can’t even think of giving it up. I’d be giving it some bread if I didn’t have any food. I just couldn’t get rid of mine. It’s like a member of the family.”

To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398. To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.