Recession going to the dogs

dogWhen asked about spending cuts because of the recession, pet owners in a recent Catalyst Direct study said that they would cut back on personal purchases before cutting back on spending for their dogs and cats: 79% would reduce spending on vacations; 77% on clothing; 49% on certain personal/family food items.

Which makes what's going on at community animal shelters that much harder to fathom. The spcaLA (the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles), which cares for more than 4,000 unwanted and abused animals a year, has seen its food donations drop by 90%. Madeline Bernstein, the president of the group, said it is receiving 90% less food from big box stores, supermarkets, pet food suppliers, dry dog/cat food manufacturers.

It's a pattern being repeated at shelters around the country, said several dog rescue groups and shelters. Blame it on the recession. Stores that would normally donate soon-to-expire pet food are keeping it for sale longer or discounting the price as the food gets closer to expiration. Pet food cans that are dented or have missing labels were once freely given to animal shelters. Now the stores just mark down the price or ship them back to the manufacturer refusing to pay for damaged goods.

At one point, spcaLA received so much in donations that it was able to supply animal rescue groups and shelters from Bakersfield to San Diego with food. Now, it must borrow from other parts of its budget just to feed the animals it cares for in its two shelters, said Bernstein. Like many other shelters, spcaLA has set up special online ways of donating and helping it address the problem.

No dogs or cats have been euthanized because of the inability to feed them, at least not at spcaLA.

On the other side of the country, in December the Little Shelter Animal Rescue & Adoption Center, in existence for 84 years and is Long Island's oldest no-kill shelter, says it cut back on services because of a 30% decrease in donations. Adding to the problem there was the closing of two Long Island shelters in 2009, the overall economy, the rise in unemployment and foreclosures causing more animals to be surrendered to the shelter.

In Bakersfield, Ca., the Bakersfield Pet Food Pantry was launched in November as a pre-emptive move to allow people to keep their pets despite financial hardship. They rely on private donations and have thus far delivered 2,500 pounds of dog food using a tag-along plan and working with Meals on Wheels, which feeds seniors in need -- and now their pets as well.

The pantry also feeds the dogs belonging to the homeless people who come to the local soup kitchens. So far, reports one of the founders, the donations have been steadily coming in -- but all from individuals and not pet food manufacturers or big distributors like pet supply chains or supermarkets.

"Everyone is being affected by the current economic crisis in some way, including animals," said ASPCA President & CEO Ed Sayres in a press statement. "Community animal shelters and rescue groups across the country could be seeing an increase in the number of homeless pets they must care for, or a decrease in the donations they rely on to care for those animals. There has never been a better time to support your local animal shelter if you are in a position to do so."

The ASPCA and Humane Society are used generically. They don't represent more than 5,000 community-based animal shelters in the country.
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