Recession horror stories now have new victims: pets. Animal rescue organizations in the Bay Area say they have been getting more and more calls from people who say they can't keep their furry friends — mostly dogs — after losing their homes.
Kim Durney of San Francisco's Grateful Dog Rescue began receiving foreclosure-related calls last fall. One story proved unforgettable. A real-estate appraiser inspecting a foreclosed home in the East Bay discovered an abandoned 3-year-old Rottweiler so starved that she lacked even the milk to feed her six puppies. "That people would walk away and leave their dog to starve is just so incomprehensible," Durney says.
Reports of people giving up or abandoning pets because of foreclosures or financial troubles have plagued other cities in the Bay Area and the Central Valley since the beginning of 2008. But by late summer, these recession pet stories began popping up in San Francisco. "People didn't call and say they were foreclosed and had to move or couldn't keep their dog before," Pat Goldberg of Rocket Dog Rescue says. "Now it's pretty frequent."
The trend has been on display at the city's animal shelter, which has seen a dramatic rise in owners giving up their pets. Through August, the shelter took in 11 percent more animals than the year before; by November, the year-over-year rate had jumped to 20 percent. And the problem is still growing. Last month, 35 percent more animals were surrendered than at the same time a year ago. "It had been trickling in, but now there's more and more coming in," said Deb Campbell, spokeswoman for the city's Department of Animal Care and Control.
Campbell says that the shelter is seeing more dogs with medical issues being abandoned by owners who can't afford the veterinary bills. Many of these canine companions are older. The San Francisco SPCA, meanwhile, reports a doubling in the number of people needing financial assistance at its vet hospital in the last six to nine months. According to adoption director Holly Fink, the SPCA is the only S.F. vet hospital that offers subsidized health care.
"These animals have lived in someone's home their whole lives," she says. "It's a tragedy for both the animals and the humans."