Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Homeward bound - pet adoptions rise

Pluto is a 1-year-old, white and brown basset hound who has been living at the Humane Society of Greater Miami for the past six months. He's been adopted twice since his original owner surrendered him. But he keeps coming back to the shelter.

``I don't understand why people keep giving him back,'' said Jorge Leon, a supervisor at the shelter in North Miami Beach. ``He's the sweetest dog.'' And it is the same with surrendered cats like 9-year-old Anika, who even when she seemed to have found a new home, came back to the shelter five days later.

The reason: The new owner's job suddenly required extra travel, said Carol Kent, a kennel attendant at the shelter. Animal rescue organizations have reported an increase in abandoned animals as the economy took a dive -- including a spike in animals left behind in foreclosed or abandoned homes.

``We get a lot of calls from police to get dogs or cats at homes,'' said Dr. Sara Pizano, director of Miami-Dade's Animal Services Department.

But the downturn has an upside: Adoptions are on the rise.

Broward County Animal Care and Regulation reported an increase in adoptions in 2009: 3,267, up from 3,050 in 2008. Miami-Dade Animal Services alone made 768 adoptions in December -- a record, Pizano said.

``Many people can't afford pets,'' she said. ``But they can't afford buying, either, so they are adopting more, which is cheaper.''

One pet lover adding to those numbers is Ashley Gonzalez, 14. Ashley, who moved from Mexico seven months ago and lives with her family in Hialeah, was at the Miami-Dade Animal Services adoption center in Miami last week looking to adopt a new pet.

``I love the kitty, he's very pretty,'' she said in Spanish, while holding a 3-month-old blue Russian. ``I think it's beautiful to adopt a cat who's gone through a lot and give him a family who can love him.''

The Humane Societies of Miami-Dade and Broward also reported an increase in adoptions in 2009 but were unable to provide figures.

Lisa Mendheim, public education coordinator at Broward County Animal Care and Regulation, said it can be hard for shelter officials to determine whether the owners are telling the truth about why they are surrendering their pets.

``We don't always know why. They don't always admit it's because of foreclosure. They might say it's because they're moving or other financial circumstance,'' she said. ``They aren't always honest.''

But numbers indicate that in tough times, the number of people unwilling -- or unable -- to care for an animal has risen.

In a typical year, about 20 percent of the animals at Miami-Dade Animal Services are surrendered by their owners.

But in 2009, the number of surrendered pets increased by about 1,000 animals to 7,000.

Broward County Animal Care and Regulation has also seen an increase in the animals surrendered by their owners. In 2007-08, 2,429 animals were surrendered -- a number that jumped to 3,063 animals in 2008-09.

The Broward and Miami-Dade facilities, which can house up to 600 animals at a time, euthanize the animals that cannot be put up for adoption, either because they are sick or too aggressive.

The Humane Society of Broward County also euthanizes non-adoptable pets, while the Humane Society of Greater Miami is a no-kill shelter. When the shelter is full, owners are referred to other shelters.

All shelters said their budgets have decreased in the past year -- either through government cuts, in the case of the county facilities, or a drop in charitable donations at the nonprofits -- meaning they are having to do more with less money.

While most of the surrendered animals are dogs, shelters also reported a higher amount of cats being found on the streets, either as strays or abandoned by their owners.

According to The Cat Network, a nonprofit organization focused on educating the public on the importance of spaying and neutering all cats, a single cat can generate a family tree of 3,000 cats in a single year.

``Unless we encourage the spaying and neutering of all cats, we won't be able to control the cat population,'' said Patricia Murphy, a member of The Cat Network.

The organization does not run a shelter, but volunteers work to find homes for stray and abandoned cats.

They also urge cat owners who need to surrender their pets to join the network and participate in weekend adoption programs at PetSmart, Pet Supermarket or PETCO.

``We encourage them to join the program and get them spayed and neutered,'' said Murphy, who has taken in four kittens and four cats while trying to find them a permanent home.

Pet stores are a frequent site for owners to abandon their cats, with Murphy noting that number also seems to be on the rise.

Shelters such as the Humane Society of Greater Miami also reported this kind of abandonment, said Kent, who recently received Bella, a 4-year-old cat found outside a PetSmart.

``They think it's OK to just drop them off,'' she said.


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