BY RACHEL RICHARDSON For Cincinnati.com
Cincinnati, OHIO — Homeowners aren’t the only ones losing their homes as foreclosure rates remain high.
Animal rescue organizations report sharp increase in animals especially from families who can’t make their mortgages and have no way of caring for their pets. That rise comes while shelters struggle to stay afloat amidst dwindling donations.
At the League for Animal Welfare, the phone rings hundreds of times each day. Seventy-five percent of the calls are from people begging the Batavia no-kill shelter to take their pets.
“One woman called and asked if there was any place she could get free food for her dog because she had to make a choice between feeding her kids or her dog,” said shelter manager Mary Sue Bahr.
“People don’t want to give up their pets, but they feel they’re forced to because they can’t afford to feed them anymore or they have to move to a place where they can’t have them.”
Coupled with the increase in animals is a big drop in donations, Bahr said. The shelter – which relies on donations, adoption fees and membership dues for its annual operating budget of $600,000 – has seen donations drop by at least one-third over the past two years.
Animal adoptions are down too, just a bit for dogs but more than 30 percent for cats, Bahr said.
Even smaller rescue organizations that don’t need to meet payroll or overhead expenses feeling the pinch. Donations are down 80 percent for Newport-based Pampered Pets Animal Rescue, an organization of volunteers who “foster” rescued dogs, cats and rabbits in their homes until permanent placement can be found.
“The economy has a big part to do with it,” said Tracy Heinrichs, the organization’s president. “We used to get donations from regular donors on a monthly basis and now we just can’t bring in donations. You go from one fundraising event to another and hope you make enough money to pay for vet bills that month.”
Shelters and rescues filled with animals surrendered by their owners or found as strays aren’t the only problem.
Faced with impending homelessness or a move to an apartment that does not allow pets, some people leave their pets behind.
“We’re getting calls from people who want to care for a stray cat that was left behind when a person moved due to foreclosure,” said Charlotte White-Hull, development and outreach director for the Ohio Alleycat Resource.
“People haven’t gone to a shelter to adopt these cats – these cats have happened upon them. It’s harder to come up with the money to have them spayed or neutered.”
Recycled Doggies in Norwood launched the Cincinnati Pet Food Pantry earlier this year to help displaced and financially strapped families keep their pets.
The group distributes pet food once a month to pet owners in need. Shannon DeBra, the organization’s president, said the crowds begin to line up as early as 7 a.m. for the 10 a.m. distribution.
“People who don’t need the food wouldn’t be camping out in the freezing cold,” she said. “They’re so worried about being first in line that they hang out for hours. We’re seeing a lot of people who haven’t been part of the system before.”
The organization’s biggest challenge is maintaining a sustainable program, DeBra said. Pantry volunteers rally donations from pet stores, pet food manufacturers and donation bins, but each month is a toss-up as to whether it can offer assistance.
For Blersch, who has more than 25 years experience in animal rescue, the current economy is the worst she’s seen for animal rescue efforts.
“Things are down so much and have been for so many months that it’s worrisome,” she said. “They keep saying the economy has improved, but we’re not seeing it. If it has improved, it has not filtered down to us yet. “