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Shelters Stand Guard for Pets Abandoned by Desperate Homeowners

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By Heather Svokos

pet-webRISMEDIA, March 5, 2009-(MCT)-She was all ribs, except for a bloated stomach filled with babies. In her back yard, she and her two playmates waited. The September days stretched into a week. They were hungry, thirsty and flea-bitten. The dogs kept waiting. But their owner wasn’t coming back. A neighbor noticed. For several days, he fed and watered the Rottweilers. Then he called a friend, who had a contact at Operation Kindness, a no-kill animal shelter in Carrollton.

Melody Boulay, the shelter’s public relations manager, drove out to the house in Wise County and found a heartbreaking scene. Three emaciated dogs navigating through a yard full of trash, one of them pregnant.

“It was a horrible sight to see her,” says Boulay, recalling the pregnant dog. “You could see in her eyes, she was just tired. She (and the others) had been abandoned in the yard; the house had been foreclosed.”

The mother-to-be had a tag on her collar. Her name was Gabby.

And her story wasn’t over yet.

As the economic crisis deepens and foreclosures increase around the country, there are more horror stories about abandoned pets like Gabby-dogs being left in homes, yards, on highways or at least being surrendered to shelters and veterinary clinics.

Regardless of the scope, the anecdotal evidence is here. Animal professionals have seen the economic crisis up close, in the eyes of two ailing boxers, of two starving Rottweilers and their pregnant companion, Gabby.

After Gabby was discovered in the Wise County, Texas, yard, Operation Kindness found her a foster family that saw her through the rest of her pregnancy and labor. Since then, Gabby and her 11 puppies have been adopted. (The other two dogs abandoned in the yard with Gabby-christened Mocha and Latte-also were found homes through Operation Kindness.)

“Gabby is spoiled rotten,” says Stephanie Edgington of Grapevine, Texas, who adopted her in early December. “She has her own room. We have a million and one toys, and she has two little boys to play with in the back yard. She’s the most amazing dog I’ve ever owned.”

Gabby is an impressive 98 pounds now-a far cry from her days of abandonment, when she didn’t quite weigh 50 pounds.

“Nobody should have to endure what she did,” says Boulay of Operation Kindness. “Her spirit is still there. Thank God, nobody broke that.”

Edgington, who has two young sons, remembers first meeting Gabby at Operation Kindness. “She was real scared, real terrified. I’m sorry she had such a horrible life before, but I think we’re making up for it tenfold now.”

Veterinary clinics are also seeing other signs of hard times. Tami Connell, head technician at Fort Worth’s Southside Veterinary Clinic, says the clinic is getting a higher volume of “estimate” requests. That’s when people call or check to find out how much their pet’s care will cost-whether it’s basic treatment or something more involved, such as X-rays.

“We probably do 20 estimates a week now,” Connell says. “It used to be five or six a week.” At Southside, they’re also seeing a decline in dogs’ getting rabies shots, and fecal and heartworm checks. “We have to figure out ways we can still treat the animal and still get them well for less money,” she says.

But Connell knows all too well that some struggling pet owners have to make painful decisions.

In March, a man came into Southside with two boxers, a male and a female. Both were so overdue on their vaccinations that they had hookworms, and the female had heartworms. The man couldn’t afford to feed or treat them anymore. “He had just lost his job, and his wife was going to have another baby,” Connell recalled. “He said his focus had to be on his family.”

She told the man that she would find them new homes. Connell fostered them herself for about two months until they looked well enough to be adopted. By then, spots had opened up at Legacy Boxer Rescue, and both were eventually adopted.

The male, Jaden, is now being coddled by Jason Young of Arlington, Texas. “It was months before he would take a treat from me, because he didn’t know what they were,” Young says. “But he would try to get them if they were in the trash. And he still has no idea what toys are.”

And the female boxer? Just ask Dana Allen’s 4-year-old daughter, Alyssa. The little girl wraps her arms around the neck of the 50-pound bundle of love that sits on her mom’s lap. “That’s our Harleigh Jeane,” Alyssa chirps.

The dogs in this story are the happy endings. But that doesn’t mean the problem won’t become more dire.

“I think right now, we’re in a ‘brace ourselves, wait and see’ mode, depending on what the economy does,” says Keane Menefee, Animal Care and Control manager for the city of Fort Worth. “Sooner or later, it’s going to reach our area.” But as far as the city’s impound, Menefee says, “we haven’t seen it here like I’ve heard on the East and West coast(s). People are not coming in and identifying that as a reason.”

The primary reasons for pets being taken in by the Humane Society of North Texas are people moving or having financial problems, says operations director Tammy Hawley. But the stats there seem to support Menefee’s assertions. Their January intake numbers were actually lower than those for January 2008.

Hawley theorizes that one reason might be more low-cost spay and neuter programs, which cut down on unwanted litters. Still, she can’t be sure. “My fear is that maybe nobody knows we’re here, and there are people out there that are being affected in the same way that you’re hearing about in other areas,” Hawley says.

“Maybe they don’t even know that there is some place to take their animals. And I hope that’s not the case.”

If you cannot care for your pet, take it to a shelter, a rescue, the Humane Society, or even to a vet’s office. Many places will try to find a home for the pet. “It is far better to bring the animal to us than it would be to leave it in a yard somewhere,” Hawley says. “We are an open-door shelter, which means we can’t guarantee adoption for everybody, but it also means that we don’t require appointments, we don’t require a set fee. For those who absolutely can’t afford it, we are here.

“When the economy gets bad, you don’t just start giving up your children, and that’s how a lot of people look at their pets,” Hawley says. “And we’re very appreciative of those people. It’s easier to give up a couple of cable channels from your 200-cable setup than it is to give up Fluffy.”

Just don’t abandon your pet, Hawley says. They might not be as lucky as Gabby. Less than a month after she was taken in by Edgington and her two young sons, Gabby proved that the word “rescue” is a two-way street.

One January evening, an armed intruder tried to break into their home through the dining room window. Gabby heard the noise and started attacking the window, alerting Edgington, who called 911. She can’t say much more about the incident, since the case is still open. But Gabby foiled the burglary and saved the day.

“She’s our angel,” Edgington says, her eyes welling up. “She completes our family. It’s weird to say that about a dog, but she did.”

Keeping Pet Costs Down

If you are a struggling pet owner, the experts offer these tips:

- Search for low-cost vaccination clinics and low-cost spay and neuter programs.
- Buy food in bulk.
- When buying pet products, such as dog houses, beds and toys, consider looking for them online, through sites like Craig’s List.
- Try to invest in preventive heartworm and flea medication. It is pennies compared with the average cost of heartworm treatment, which can be $750 to $1,100.
- Price pet insurance. It will probably cost $300 to $400 annually, but it can save you much more if your pet needs surgery or has a life-threatening illness.

Fostering or Adopting

Before you adopt or foster a pet, consider these things:

- The health and happiness of your own pets at home. Some pets will tolerate friends coming and going, and some pets won’t. Also, make sure they’re vaccinated. In many fostering cases, pets will have illnesses such as upper-respiratory infections or kennel cough. You won’t want to expose them to other pets.
- Your other family members.
- Your lifestyle. If your typical days are busy and fast-paced, it might not be for you. It can be done, but it’s best to think it through.
- Giving up a foster pet. Once they’re in your heart, it’s tough to give them up.
- Your city’s pet limits. If you’re getting into heavy-duty fostering, make sure to check with your city code to make sure your animal menagerie isn’t a problem.
- When applying to foster an animal, you can be picky. You can tell the agency you can’t handle a pet with a medical issue, or whether you prefer dogs to cats.

Resources

The Humane Society of the United States’ page on foreclosure pets: www.humanesociety.org/foreclosurepets. This link points you to a host of helpful information, such as what to do if you’re having trouble affording veterinary care and how to find animal-friendly apartments in the event of a move. And if you’re in the position to help out, there’s also a spot that tells you how to donate to the Foreclosure Pets Grant Fund.

Petfinder. Thinking about adopting a rescue pet? This site is a must-see. It allows you to search by breed, sex, size and geographic location. A recent search showed that there are 22 pugs up for adoption through Pug Rescue in Grapevine. www.petfinder.com.

No Paws Left Behind. Focuses on dog training and behavior, which may become issues in the event of a move.

© 2009, Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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