Pets suffer in slow economy

By TOM CALLIS

By TOM CALLIS

Tribune-Herald staff writer

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The economic downturn that started four years ago has been tracked through both lost homes and jobs.

Yet there are other statistics not widely referenced that show hard times can have dire impacts not just on people, but on our four-legged friends as well.

Donna Whitaker, Hawaii Island Humane Society executive director, said the number of abandoned animals the shelter receives each year swung upward when the 2008 recession began, and has only recently showed signs of leveling.

The cause and effect is simple, she said.

When people lose their jobs or homes, it makes it that much harder to care for an animal.

“The pets are really the silent victims of owners losing their jobs and being in dire straits,” Whitaker said.

The shelter, with locations in Kona and Keaau, tracks its data through fiscal years that begin July 1.

During the 2011 fiscal year (July 2010 to June 30, 2011), the shelter received a staggering 16,366 animals, mostly dogs and cats. That’s up about 20 percent from the July 2006 to June 30, 2007, period when the shelter received 13,561.

The Rainbow Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kurtistown has also seen an increase in the number of people trying to drop of pets over the last few years, said Mary Rose Krijgsman, founder and president.

Krijgsman estimated that the 12-year-old sanctuary, which is at capacity with about 85 dogs and 245 cats, has had to turn down animals more over the last few years.

“There are weeks we get 50 calls,” she said.

While the number of abandoned animals is up at the Humane Society, the adoption rate has remained the same at about 2,500.

The result for the shelter, which cannot decline to accept an animal, is more euthanasia.

The shelter put down 12,578 animals during the 2011 fiscal year, compared to 10,922 four years earlier.

Most of those are feral animals, with cats the largest group, for which the shelter can’t find homes, Whitaker said.

About 80 percent of “adoptable” animals find new homes, she said.

For those considered too ill or unfriendly, time is short once they get to the shelter that is constantly running at capacity of about 250.

Some feral animals, if they don’t come with a tag or microchip, are euthanized in about a day.

Whitaker said they just aren’t adoptable, noting that people want friendly and healthy animals.

“There are so many animals that need homes,” she said.

“It’s really hard to just to find homes for the ones that are not nice and not in good health.”

Whitaker added, “We make every effort. We don’t want to see these guys put down.”

There are signs that fewer animals are being abandoned, she said.

From July 2011 through February, the shelter has received 12,262 animals.

At the same time last year, that number was higher at about 13,500, she said.

Whitaker attributed the recent drop to a spay and neuter program the shelter started two years ago and hopefully an improving economy.

When it comes to reducing the number of unwanted animals, population control is key, she said.

“I have to think we’re finally making progress,” Whitaker said, adding:

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“We’re never going to be able to adopt our way out of pet overpopulation.”

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.