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By William Hageman

RISMEDIA, May 29, 2008-(MCT)-The trend of pets being shooed out the front door or abandoned in forest preserves has put animal welfare officials on notice that cash-strapped pet owners are in critical need of help.

“Obviously the goal is to keep these pets in the homes and out of shelters,” said PAWS Chicago founder Paula Fasseas, whose organization has deployed staff members to the Animal Care and Control lobby on weekends to counsel people who are coming in to surrender their dogs and cats.

Here are some ways to keep your pet and still be able to pay the rent.

1. Foster Care

Having a friend, relative or neighbor take over the care of your pet is better than relinquishing the animal. Not just for the animal, but also for you and your family.

“Imagine the trauma (to children),” said Steve Dale, a Chicago pet behavior consultant, syndicated columnist and radio host with a Sunday night show on WGN-AM 720. “The more normalcy and consistency you can provide to kids, the better. And to give up family members is the exact opposite of what you want to do.”

If you can’t find someone to foster your pet, contact your local shelter or a breed-specific rescue and ask about its foster program.

“Many of these humane societies want you to foster your own animal while they look for a home,” said Kerry Vinkler, executive director of DuPage County, Ill., Animal Care and Control. “There is some time investment involved, because they’d like you to bring your animal to, for example, off-site adoption events so that the animal will have exposure. But a lot of times that will give more exposure than you (can give).”

PAWS Chicago has started a program for families losing their homes to foreclosures. The group will get a pet into foster care for as long as it takes for the family to get back on its feet, or if the family sees no way to take the pet back, PAWS will get the animal into its adoption program and will guarantee the life of the pet. (To participate, contact Jessica Hoffman at 773-475-9462 or

2. Low-Cost Medical Care

Don’t neglect your pet’s health needs because of an inability to pay. Veterinarians are often open to compromise.

“I know cases of vets who’ve been pretty creative,” Dale said. “They’ll say, `I know you’re out of work; I’ll give you a job.’ Or, `You’ve been with me 10 years. You can pay it out over two years’ time and I won’t charge you interest.’ I can’t guarantee every veterinarian would do that under every circumstance, but I don’t think compassion has to be diametric to making a living.”

If you and your vet can’t make some financial arrangement, numerous organizations offer low-cost pet care.

“People need to shop around for veterinary service,” said Charles Craft, supervising animal-care clerk at Chicago’s Animal Care and Control facility. “If you’re just looking for shots, PetSmart and Petco and others have low-cost offers.”

Also nationally, the American Animal Hospital Association has its Helping Pets Fund (, which provides financial assistance at AAHA-accredited veterinarians for emergency and non-elective care for those in financial distress.

3. Food and Incidentals

When money’s tight, think about generic pet foods.

“I’m not a proponent of generic pet food generally,” Dale said. “But if it’s (American Feed Control Officials) approved, and 99% of what’s on the market is, that’s another way to save money.”

Also, pet shelters receive donations of food that they’ll often pass on to food pantries. So check the shelves of your neighborhood food pantry.

The Animal Welfare League ( has its Pet Food Pantry Program. From noon to 3 p.m. on the last Thursday of every month, qualified pet owners can get a month’s worth of free cat and/or dog food at 6224 S. Wabash Ave. Persons looking for help must have a photo ID and proof that they’re over 60 or on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid or public aid. Call 773-667-0088.

4. Play Time

So now your pet is healthy and well-fed. Let’s make sure he’s happy, too, with some toys.

A dog’s best friend is a tennis ball. It’s as simple as they come and provides hours of entertainment. And you don’t even have to buy one.

“You can go to any of the tennis courts,” Dale said. “Go right after the courts close at 6, 7, 8 at night, and I guarantee you will find tennis balls.”

Another idea, assuming your dog doesn’t ingest plastic: Take a gallon milk jug (cleaned out, of course), remove the top and drop some small treats in it. The dog will bat it around-noisy but entertaining-to get to the goodies.

You can also make your own cat toy. Something as simple as a tightly wadded piece of 8-by-10 paper can be knocked around the floor by a cat. Make a cat fishing rod-tie a feather to a piece of string, then attach it to a thin stick and flick it in front of your cat.

General Tips

If you need a place to live, contact your local shelter for a list of pet-friendly housing.
If you absolutely must give up your pet, don’t turn it loose. Call a shelter, call a breed rescue.

“They’re coming into a shelter and they’re treated with compassion, no matter what their outcome,” Vinkler said. “But leaving an animal to fend for itself, be abandoned after it’s been a domesticated animal, is completely unfair to the animal.”

Don’t leave a pet behind when you move out.

“Where there’s an eviction or a foreclosure,” Vinkler said, “families will sometimes leave a pile of food and some water. But by law the banks can’t come in right away, and the landlords can’t come in right away. So they don’t. … It’s a terribly cruel situation.”

For those on solid financial footing, be proactive. Take your animals in for regular exams. A small health issue won’t become a big one if it’s caught early. Get pet insurance.

And put aside a little money out of each paycheck-as you would for a college fund for a kid-to have just in case the bad economy jumps up and bites you and your pet.

© 2008, Chicago Tribune.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.