I have been asked to speak for several groups lately regarding the impact the economy has had on our pets. It is such a complex issue that I thought I would write about it.
Animal shelters are busier than ever with more than a 100 percent increase in animal intakes over last year. Veterinarians, trainers and behavior consultants are slower than ever with individual pet clients! Shelters are euthanizing more dogs and cats as one might expect, but it is disheartening to hear that veterinarians are also faced with euthanizing more pets than ever before. Trainers and behavior consultants hear the emotional stories of the problems people are having with their pets only to hear that caring owners are unable to afford the training protocols necessary to resolve the issues. Dogs and cats are being euthanized for treatable behavior and training issues, as well as treatable medical issues.
Families are now concerned about how they are going to pay their bills, if they are going to keep their jobs, if they can maintain their residence, etc. Pets are becoming a lower priority. This is the most difficult thing to deal with as a professional in the pet industry. We dedicated our professional lives (and personal lives for most of us) to resolving problems and working to strengthen the bond between pets and their people. With the change in priority for the average American, at times, we as professionals can feel disempowered in our ability to help.
Animal shelters are also feeling the negative effects of the economy. Donations are down. This is a huge challenge for them with more than a 100 percent increase in animal intakes. Shelters are forced to trim down their staffing and that is affecting the animals. Administrative positions are often the first to feel the effects of downsizing. This presents a problem because those positions are responsible for coordinating volunteers, donor relations, fund development, marketing, public relations, etc. Administrative positions are essential when trying to grow available resources and networking with the community to meet the needs of the animals. Shelter administrators are forced to triage based on immediate needs instead of focusing on long-term planning. There are fewer resources available for the animals as behavior and enrichment programs are considered less critical than food and medical care. Education and training programs for staff and volunteers have been either restricted or cut entirely. The staff and volunteers are stretched to their limits doing several jobs and having to deal with the stressed public who need to surrender their animals. It is an amazingly challenging time.
What can be done to weather this storm?
Members of the community need to get involved. Most importantly, when anyone mentions problems they are having with their pet, recommend that they call for help. There are often lower cost options available for people to get the help they need. As pet professionals, our first goal is to keep the pets from entering the animal shelters in the first place. There are many options for behavior and training help: group training classes, private training programs, home consultations, office consultations, phone consultations, e-mail and chat consultations, etc. The important thing is for people to call to find out what their options are.
The next thing you can do is look to your local animal shelter or rescue to obtain a pet and encourage others to do the same. Shelters are bursting at the seams with wonderful dogs and cats that are waiting for their permanent homes. If adoptions increase, then euthanasias will decrease. This sounds so simple and I suppose it really is – but we need to talk about it with friends, family and co-workers so it is at the forefront of people’s minds.
Another thing you can do is to contact your local animal shelter to see how you can help. Donations are critical in these tough times. Think big on this one: that means monetary donations, donations of your time in terms of volunteering, and donations of items. Most shelters have a wish list of items that they either need but can’t afford or items that they need on a consistent basis.
Finally, don’t underestimate the power of your voice; encourage people to get help for their pets, encourage people to consider adoption first, and encourage people to help at local animal shelters. If everyone becomes an advocate for the animals by networking and being vocal about it – we can help the dogs and cats to weather this economic storm.
Sam Kabbel, CPDT-KA, is president and owner of Pet Behavior Solutions. She began her career in animal welfare in 1996, working with pet owners as well as animal welfare organizations, rescues and animal control agencies. She is the creator of the Core Behavior Assessment, which is the behavior evaluation program used by many animal shelters and animal control agencies in Arizona, including the Arizona Humane Society and Maricopa County Animal Care and Control. Reach her at (602) 324-8948 or visit www.petbehaviorsolutions.com.