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Humane Society official suspects housing market creating more 'strays'

August 05, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- They can sit, roll over and play fetch like they've been doing it for years.

Many of them are housebroken, obedient and friendly.

All of which makes officials at the Humane Society of Washington County all the more curious when the dogs are described as strays by the people dropping them off.

"Something is going on," said Katherine Cooker, manager of development and public relations for the Humane Society.

In the last two months, the Humane Society has been flooded with animals that are listed as strays on paperwork. The increase is puzzling, Cooker said, because other categories, such as owner-surrendered animals, are about the same as they were last year.

Paul Miller, the Humane Society's executive director, said in an interview last week that he thinks the housing market is to blame.

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Miller said some people have admitted that they have lost their homes and can't find a rental that will take dogs. He thinks many more are embarrassed to admit as much and instead are dropping off their pets as strays.

"I find it hard to believe that all these animals are strays. I think a lot of people aren't telling us the truth," Miller said.

In June 2008, the Humane Society took in 413 stray animals compared to 338 in June 2007.

During the month of July, 445 stray animals were dropped off at the Maugansville Road shelter, about 130 more than in July 2007.

Miller said he is struck by the good behavior of many of the animals, abnormal for most strays.

He said it is "reasonable to assume" there is a link between the number of well-behaved stray animals and the housing market in Washington County.

So far in 2008, there have been more than 700 foreclosures here.

"The socialization (level of the animals) is the biggest factor. A lot of times, strays have a lot of behavioral issues, and that hasn't been the case. These dogs are socialized, housebroken, obedient. It's obvious that people have spent time with them," Miller said.

The situation mirrors a larger trend happening across the country.

"It is a nationwide issue," said Nancy Peterson, issues specialist for the Humane Society of the United States.

The Humane Society of the United States is not affiliated with local humane societies, but Peterson said the group has followed news reports about the problem from all parts of the country.

In March, the group created a fund to help local humane societies dealing with an influx of animals expand their foster homes, start food pantries or pay for veterinary care.

The Foreclosure Pets Grant Fund started with $15,000 in seed money from the Humane Society and has since drawn almost $70,000 in donations, Peterson said.

Miller said that while the trend is hard for pet owners who give up their animals, the increase of well-behaved animals is a benefit for people looking for a new pet.

"If you are really looking for a dog, now is the time," Miller said. "We have a lot of well-behaved dogs."

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