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Mike Nowatzki, Published September 01 2009

Shelters pounded: More owners giving up their pets in F-M area

Leaders of local animal rescue groups say they desperately need more foster homes to handle an increase in dogs being surrendered by their owners, and the economic recession appears at least partly to blame.

Fargo-based 4 Luv of Dog has about 50 dogs available for adoption, roughly double the number during the last quarter of 2008, said Lori Green, the group’s grants coordinator.

The agency has already “adopted out” 202 dogs this year – 39 in August alone – compared with 120 in all of 2008, Green said, adding numbers “exploded” after the holidays last winter.

About two out of every five dogs were surrendered by their owners, with the remainder coming from area pounds, she said.

The Fargo-Moorhead Humane Society adopted 88 more cats and dogs through Monday than it did during the same period in 2008, Executive Director Nukhet Hendricks said.

And Adopt-A-Pet’s dog hot line receives far more calls for giveaways than from people wanting dogs, President Tara Pearson said, adding giveaway calls have increased “tremendously” over the past year.

“A lot of them are moving or selling their houses, and they can’t have the dogs where they’re going,” she said.

Terry Stoll, who manages Fargo’s city animal pound, said that while dog and cat impounds are relatively flat this year, there’s been a gradual rise over the past decade, from about 1,200 in 1999 to 1,433 last year.

In May, 4 Luv of Dog launched a donations-driven “Kibble Kitchen” program – sort of a food pantry for pets – in the interest of keeping dogs with their owners.

“We understand that the current economic climate is making it difficult for some people to feed their families, let alone feed their pets,” Green said.

Foster interest growing

Why owners give up their pets varies widely, but relocation is one of the top reasons, Pearson said.

“Some of the people, they just seem pretty desperate, and there isn’t much time to work with them,” making it harder to place their pets, she said.

In some cases, the pet has health issues the owner can’t or doesn’t want to deal with, Hendricks said.

Other owners may have allergies or a new baby in the household, or may not have realized how much time and work a pet would require, she said.

Keeping up with the constant flow of surrendered and impounded dogs has been a struggle for all three local rescue groups, but a boost in the number of foster homes has helped, Green said.

Her group’s network of foster homes grew from about 20 at the end of last year to 45 to 50 in the first quarter of 2009 as the nonprofit publicized the need for more homes and began posting “urgent dogs” on its Web site.

“It is amazing how people have responded to our pleas for help, but we still need more,” especially homes that are willing to take large dogs or don’t already have pets, she said.

Pearson, who has fostered as many as 24 dogs in one year, said the addition of a third local rescue group in 4 Luv of Dog in 2005 has meant fewer dogs being put down and more awareness among pet owners of adoption options.

“I think the word must be out there, because I don’t remember ever getting that many calls from people,” she said.

Cats claimed less often

When it comes to pound rescues and adoptions, cats don’t enjoy as many happy endings as dogs.

Six percent of cats impounded at the Fargo pound in 2008 were claimed by their owners, compared with 56 percent of dogs.

Roughly a quarter of cats were placed with adoption agencies, compared with 37 percent of dogs.

Nearly 70 percent of cats were euthanized, compared with 6.5 percent of dogs.

“There are very few dogs that get put to sleep,” Stoll said. “With cats, usually the ones that get put to sleep, they’re either sick or they’re feral.”

The numbers so far this year bode better for both cats and dogs.

At the Fargo pound, the percentage of pets claimed by their owners through Monday stood at 62 percent for dogs and 10 percent for cats, while the percentage euthanized dropped to 2 percent for dogs and 40 percent for cats.

The Fargo-Moorhead Animal Hospital, which serves as the pound for Moorhead, Dilworth, Glyndon, Minn., and Clay County, also is on track for smaller impound numbers this year. The pound saw an average of 27 dogs and 17 cats per month through July, down from an average of 31 dogs and 22 cats per month in 2008.

Four percent of dogs and 18 percent of cats were euthanized through July, down from 10 percent of dogs and 38 percent of cats euthanized during 2008.

The West Fargo Pound also is seeing more owner claims and adoptions and fewer euthanized pets this year. The pound housed 120 dogs through Monday, compared with 130 during all of 2008, and so far no dogs have been euthanized this year. Twenty-four percent of cats were euthanized through Monday, compared with 49 percent in all of 2008.

Pearson said owners are less likely to look for lost cats, in part because they are usually easier and cheaper to get than dogs. Many cat owners also let their felines run free outside – which, if they’re not spayed or neutered, often results in more kittens in the pound, she said.

As with dogs, more foster homes are needed for cats, Pearson said.

“They’re in pretty dire straits, too,” she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

For information on animals available for adoption and upcoming events, visit:

- www.4luvofdog.com

- www.f-mhumanesociety.org

- www.adoptapetfm.org