Preventing Homeless PetsFeatured, Part of the Solution — By Kim Gottschild on December 14, 2009 at 12:00 am
“Kim, I think I feel a lump,” Bjoern said as he felt our Rottweiler’s neck. It was a snowy January afternoon in Indiana, and we were cozily hunkered down in front of the fireplace. Cuddling with Brigitte, the dog, my husband had discovered the tumor that would steal her away from us that April, just as the warm sun would capture the snow.
In the three months following Brigitte’s lymphoma diagnosis, we were faced with multiple decisions to make and questions to answer. How to treat, when to treat, how often to treat, and whether or not to treat at all? Could we afford it? Would it be effective? Would it diminish her quality of life? Would she be miserable? Would it help her to stay with us a little while longer? Or were we just being selfish?
Eventually we tried everything, and when everything didn’t work anymore, we did nothing. That was the second hardest decision to make, the decision to do nothing. But doing nothing would turn out to be easy compared to the final and most difficult decision we had to make.
The vet actually made a house call for us that day, the day we felt like we had the flu, sick to our stomachs. The day we cried, wailing shamelessly over the loss of our best friend and loyal companion. The day we said goodbye.
Am I being overdramatic? Some people might think so. She was just a dog, after all, they might say. But we knew otherwise and most pet owners would agree that our pets are not merely soulless creatures that fetch balls, curl up at your feet at night, and eat your expensive Ecco sandals after devouring your children’s wooden fruit toys. No, no, our pets have personalities and seem to desire a relationship as much as we do, offering us an unconditional love that enriches our lives in a myriad of ways, reducing stress and increasing our general sense of well-being. Even the CDC claims that there are many benefits to pet ownership, such as creating opportunities to socialize with others and decreasing feelings of loneliness. So when we lose a pet, the Humane Society says, it’s only natural to be overwhelmed with grief and sadness.
Yes, having to make that last decision as Brigitte’s owners was excruciatingly difficult, and I can’t think of anything worse for pet owners – with one exception.
Being forced to give away your pet.
According to the ASPCA, approximately 500,000 to one million dogs and cats are at risk for becoming homeless, as their owners struggle to care for them during this economic recession. In an ASPCA online article, “How the Economic crisis Affects Animals,” Dr. Stephen Zawistowski, Executive Vice President of ASPCA Programs, states that “approximately one in 171 homes in the U.S. is in danger of foreclosure due to the subprime mortgage crisis. Considering that approximately 63 percent of U.S. households have at least one pet, hundreds of thousands are in danger of being abandoned or relinquished to animal shelters.”
While it is difficult to say exactly how many pets have already been abandoned or given up due to the recession, one shelter in Indiana has definitely seen an influx in surrendered pets. According to the Noblesville Star, The Humane Society for Hamilton County, which has a no-kill policy, became a temporary home for fifteen dogs in one weekend, while only one dog was adopted out. And eighteen dogs were crated in the shelter’s lobby due to lack of space. The article reports reasons for surrendered pets being listed as “financial,” “cannot afford,” and “moving.”
The effects of such scenarios all over the country are far-reaching, putting a strain on shelters’ ability to adequately care for surrendered pets (if they were surrendered at all, many are found in foreclosed homes), risking the well-being of the animals, and causing emotional stress in an already stressful situation for pet owners.
Supporting pet owners in caring for their pets during these times would be a logical way to keep the emotional bond between owner and pet intact while reducing the burden placed on shelters. There are a few things we can do to help:
- Start a Pet Food Bank by teaming up with a local food pantry. Or find a pet food back in your area and donate. I googled “pet food bank Indiana” and found this.
- Plan or participate in a local Pet Food Drive and help provide pet food to see pet owners through difficult times.
- If you know someone struggling to care for their pet, offer to temporarily keep the pet until your friend can get back on their feet.
- Help a local organization apply for support through the Petco Foundation’s “We Are Family Too” Fund.
- Donate to the Foreclosure Pets Grant through American Humane.
When we lost Brigitte, we knew at some level that the grief we suffered would be inevitable. For pet owners facing economic hardship, however, experiencing the grief that comes with losing a beloved companion and friend shouldn’t have to be. Let’s help now.
Do you have a Part of the Solution you’d like to share? Send your submission to firstname.lastname@example.org.