It's a dog's life for pets in hard economic times

Fri Nov 7, 2008 9:34am EST
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By Claudia Parsons

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Job losses and home foreclosures are forcing many American pet owners to make hard choices about their furry friends, and some are turning to animal shelters and charities to relieve them of the burden.

Margaret, a 58-year-old make-up artist who lost her job at a TV station in February and declined to use her last name because she does not want her landlord to know she is in financial difficulties, can no longer afford to buy food for her four large dogs and two cats, all rescued.

Sally, a three-legged 15-year-old mutt who has survived cancer, and Hershey, an elderly Dalmatian with urinary tract problems, both require expensive special food.

"I was finding I couldn't handle it all. It was costing me $350 to $400 a month just for their foods," Margaret said, sitting with a dog on her lap in the New York apartment where she grew up and where she nursed her mother for 10 years.

"I can't tell you how many people said 'You're being cruel to them, give them away.' But they're like family. I don't have family anymore, these guys are my family," she said.

Margaret turned to Safety Net, which provides foster care for pets and other help for pet owners who need some time to get back on their feet after losing a home or a job. Safety Net is now giving her pet food.

"We try to keep pets and people together," said Richard Gentles, spokesman for Animal Care and Control of New York City which runs Safety Net.

"In January of 2008 we had about 115 calls and then in September of 2008 we had over 200 calls. That's directly indicative of the hard times," he said, speaking over the constant barking of dogs at the city's Manhattan shelter.   Continued...

<p>An ownerless dog sits in front of a barge in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, Louisiana, September 22, 2005. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi</p>