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Recession pushes pet owners, shelters to the brink

By jim Published: October 12, 2009

BRISTOL, Ind. (AP) — A lack of donations and surge in the number of pets being surrendered has pushed many animal shelters to their physical and financial limits.

Kim Intino, director of shelter services for the Humane Society of the United States, said the economy has affected many shelters in the country.

"We are seeing an increase in owners relinquishing more cats and more dogs," she said. "People are coming to us with vet bill problems or saying that they're going to have to move and they can't keep their pets."

In Indiana, the Humane Society of Elkhart County took in 447 stray cats and 197 stray dogs in July and 440 and 145, respectively, in August. Dozens of others were taken in because of neglect or owner relinquishment.

Only 120 of the 1,229 abandoned dogs and cats taken to the facility during those two months were adopted out. Most of the remaining animals were euthanized.

"We just don't have the room for all animals," said Anne Reel, the Humane Society's director. "The number of cats we've been receiving is way up."

The Elkhart shelter, which can hold 266 animals, is currently filled with about 300.

The St. Joseph County Humane Society says it's near its capacity of 422 animals as well.

"Of course we have too many animals," director Dr. Carol Ecker said. "We always try so hard to take in all the animals."

Reel said her shelter tries to work with rescue groups to get more animals saved but is limited by a small full-time staff of 16, which also must deal with cases involving neglect or cruelty.

She said an average of 20 animals a day are left in the night drop boxes at the front of the building, where people can come at night and leave an animal. One night someone left a pet rat, a dog and a cat in the same box.

Reel said the shelter was revisiting the policy to see if it should continue.

"When they're locked we'll find kittens in our Dumpsters or a wild dog running in the parking lot," Reel said. "We're trying to address this issue and see if it's still working."

Reel said she is concerned the shelter's budget may get cut in the near future, which could make matters worse.

"We need all the help we can get," she said.

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