Financial struggles reach pets

Published 10:08 am Thursday, December 31, 2009

Another ripple effect of the downtrodden economy can be found at local animal shelters where more pet owners are surrendering their animals because they can no longer afford to care for them.

That’s the case at the Tri-County Animal Shelter in Tyner where 638 dogs and 1,069 cats have been euthanized between January and October. The shelter serves Chowan, Gates and Perquimans counties.

In Chowan, the only county of the three required to keep track of owner surrenders, 232 pets were turned in during the 10-month period.

“These are people who’ve lost their homes after losing their jobs,” said Ginny White, an animal control officer who works at the shelter. “They’ve had to move in with family, or leave their houses and move into apartments where pets aren’t allowed.”

As bleak as the numbers are, the situation was worse in 2008, when the economy nosedived, White said.

Overall, there were 3,099 animals taken to the shelter during 2008. Between January and Oct. 30 of this year, 2,216 were taken in, or an average of 222 per month.

“And we have more coming every day,” White said.

Of those impounded in 2008, 318 were Chowan owner surrenders.

In Gates County, economic struggles have reached beyond dogs and cats.

Animal Control Officer Lacy Wilkins said that a number of horse owners in Gates County have contacted animal control asking for help because they can no longer afford to feed or care for their horses.

Wilkins said those calls have been referred to Amy Wood, of the Hertford, NC-based U.S. Equine Rescue League chapter. The USERL is a volunteer-based, nonprofit animal rescue organization that operates in five states, including North Carolina.

Locally, in addition to Perquimans, the Hertford USERL chapter serves Gates, Pasquotank, Chowan, Bertie, Northampton, Hertford, Halifax, Camden and Currituck counties, as well as the Outer Banks.

Owner surrenders continue to be high at the Pasquotank/Camden Animal Shelter in Elizabeth City. That shelter is operated by the SPCA of Northeastern North Carolina.

In 2008, owner surrenders in the two counties totaled 750. During that same time, 323 dogs and 1,370 cats were euthanized.

And, from Jan. 1 of this year through Nov. 30, owner surrenders totaled 976. There were 332 dogs and 1,291 cats euthanized during the period.

Jo Smith, a volunteer there, said that the shelter is experiencing an increase in the number of animal surrenders due to financial challenges.

“There seem to be more tears being shed because they have to give them up,” Smith said of pet owners. “We do have an overcrowding problem and more owner surrenders definitely contributes to it.”

Perquimans County Animal Control Officer Steven Chappell said his community has not seen an increase in the number of owner surrenders since 2008, although he had no available statistics.

(Rebecca Bunch is a Staff Writer for the Chowan Herald in Edenton. Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald Editor Cal Bryant contributed to this story.)