Economic Downturn Leads to Upturn of Animals at Shelters

Monterey County – Since the beginning of the year, the Monterey County SPCA has seen an increase in the number of animals brought to it's shelter or even left abandoned in foreclosed homes. The most dramatic increase has been in the horses. This time last year they had two horses up for adoption; now there are fourteen. A chestnut quarter horse named Dizzer is the most recent addition. "He's in his thirties and was surrendered to us because the board went up at the place that they were keeping him and they decided they could no longer afford that care," said SPCA Community Outreach Director Beth Brookhouser.

Animal advocates suspect the increase is a nationwide trend connected to the downturn in the economy, but since animal shelters don't have a national parent organization, numbers are hard to track. Nancy Peterson works for the Humane Society of the United States. "In addition, someone coming into the shelter may be too embarrassed or humiliated to say, 'I'm giving up my pet because I'm being foreclosed or I'm having financial problems.' So from the view point that there is no database, central database, it may be tricky to try to pinpoint the real reason that that pet is being surrendered," said Peterson.

But the increased demand on local resources is clear. Sherrie May runs Animal Welfare Information and Assistance and its consignment shop, Tailwaggers in Pacific Grove. Business is slow and donations are down, but, "We've seen an increase in those seeking assistance who are trying to be responsible pet owners, but due to the fact that the economy is hurting them in the pocket book and they need to keep food on their table, their pet is probably not number one in their family," said May.

Her organization helps Monterey County pet owners in a variety of ways including fronting the money for vet bills while arranging a payment plan for the owners. But lately even those manageable payments are slow to come in. That, combined with a decline in donations, makes it a challenge for May to fulfill her mission of keeping pets with responsible owners.

It's a mission shared by the Monterey County SPCA, so earlier this month it opened a pet food bank. "When you have people coming to your desk, their family is in tears, 'I've got to give up my dog because I just can't afford to feed my family let alone my dog.' And we can turn around and say, 'well look, we can help you out there, we can provide food for you on a temporary basis for your pet, let's keep this family in tact. This is a stressful enough time for you,'" said SPCA Executive Director Gary Tiscornia. If you need pet food or would like to make a pet food donation, the food bank is open at the Monterey County SPCA across from Laguna Seca on Highway 68.