The form that Sissy’s owners signed when they gave up the golden retriever said it all: "No yard, no time, no money.” The golden dog with the noble eyes had shared all seven years of her life with a family that included children, other dogs and even cats. But there she stood, willowy tail wagging, at Sooner Golden Retriever Rescue. She suddenly had to find a new family because of her owner’s job loss and upcoming move to an apartment. The financial downturn hit Wall Street, then Main Street and is now beginning to hurt Oklahoma pets, animal advocates say. "Our donations stayed pretty much the same. But our intakes went through the roof,” said Bob Bornstein, retriever rescue president. The retriever rescue set a record in the past year with 212 dogs taken in — a 53 percent jump in a year. Shelters and rescue services in Oklahoma report being at or above capacity. Some are seeing more people give up their pets because of financial hardship. Several rescuers say the spike might be higher if people weren’t reluctant to list financial problems as a reason for surrendering their pets. "We’re flooded with animals left on our doorsteps,” said Paula Poole with Second Chance, a Norman nonprofit shelter for abandoned, abused or neglected cats and dogs. "Adoption rates have dropped because people don’t have the money; people are having to turn over their animals because they’ve lost their jobs. Poole said problems have multiplied, particularly over the past six months or so. Though the calls for help keep coming in, the shelter is at capacity with 50 dogs and 50 cats.
Welfare groups play heavier roleThe American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recently estimated up to 1 million cats and dogs nationwide risk becoming homeless because of the economy. The Oklahoma City animal shelter took in more than 18,300 dogs and 9,800 cats between July 2007 and June 2008, said Catherine English, superintendent of animal welfare. About 6,500 dogs and 2,600 cats were adopted, reclaimed or transferred to rescue groups and about twice as many (17,600) were killed. Though the Oklahoma City shelter doesn’t see an economic impact, the Paws Doberman Rescue faces problems related to owners’ personal finances. "We have seen a lot of owners that have lost their homes and are having to give up their dogs,” Judy Swaim of the rescue said. Chows, rottweilers, pit bulls, German shepherds and dobermans are hardest to place. Apartment owners tend to avoid them. Sometimes, pet owners suffering financial problems have to give in when clobbered by another challenge, such as poor health. A married couple hit by hard times while undergoing cancer treatments recently had to move to a small apartment, meaning they had to give up their two small dogs to the El Reno Animal Shelter, said Mike Townsend, animal control officer. In a difficult economy, animal welfare groups play an even heavier role in helping pets and their people, said Karen Brady, president of Volunteers for Animal Welfare. "In these increasingly tough economic times,” she said, "we really need our pets.” Indeed, the golden retriever, Sissy, is living proof as she romps happily with her new "forever” family. Now, she lives indoors and is a constant companion of two parents, two loving children, an Australian shepherd and four cats.