Economy affecting pet adoptions for better or worse

Depending on the shelter, adoptions have either gone down or up with financial downturn

January 04, 2011|By KATE S. ALEXANDER |
  • A young dog waits to be adopted at the Washington County Humane Society in Hagerstown.
Yvette May, Staff Photographer

Some area animal shelters report a rise in pet adoptions for 2010, while others say the number has declined.

In both cases, shelter officials say the economy played a role.

"The decrease has to do with the economy," said Michael Mahrer, director of development and marketing for Briggs Animal Adoption Center in Charles Town, W.Va.

"It seems people are having bigger hearts because of the economy," said Brandi Bowers, manager of the Berkeley County Humane Society in Martinsburg, W.Va. "We noticed that in this bad economic time, even our harder-to-adopt ones are going."

Most area shelters experienced a recent increase in adoptions.

In a three-year comparison, the Humane Society of Washington County in Hagerstown saw a 19 percent increase in adoptions, Executive Director Paul Miller said.

In fiscal 2009, the Washington County shelter had 316 adoptions for the period of July to October, he said.

That number increased to 323 for the same period of fiscal year 2010 and jumped to 401 for the current fiscal year.

There is no clear answer to the question of why adoption figures rise and fall, Miller said.

Briggs reported a similar increase for the first part of its current fiscal year, but Mahrer also said total adoptions for fiscal year 2010 decreased from fiscal year 2009.

Bowers said the Berkeley County Humane Society also saw an increase in adoptions, but she did not offer any data collected by the shelter.

Despite reports of adoptions on the rise in Washington, Berkeley and Jefferson counties, the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter in Chambersburg, Pa., saw a general, albeit minimal, decline in adoptions in calendar year 2010, said Jennifer Vanderau, director of communications for the shelter.

In December 2010, Cumberland Valley adopted out 27 cats and 11 dogs, she said.

That was down from the previous December, when the shelter adopted out 39 cats and 20 dogs in 2009, she said.

Adopting out animals to good homes is a tough job that has a special set of challenges beyond the economy, Vanderau said.

Looking at adoption numbers alone does not give the full picture, she said.

The greatest challenge of adopting out animals is not economy, but matching the right animal with the right person, Vanderau said.

People often visit a shelter with preconceived notions of the animal they want to adopt, she said.

Miller said it is common for someone to describe their ideal dog to shelter staff as a trained, calm, adult dog, but be drawn to the puppies.

"Puppies are cute; there are no ugly puppies," he said. "But that doesn't mean we are going to match an elderly person with a Jack Russell puppy just because it's cute."

People often expect to take a shelter dog home and have everything be instantly perfect, Vanderau said.

"If you want instantaneously perfect, go to the store and get a stuffed animal," she said. "There is no such thing with a shelter animal."

Most of the dogs and cats at shelters are on what Vanderau called their second and third chances, meaning they have been in homes before but have landed back in a shelter.

Miller said shelter animals often have behavioral or medical challenges.

Like Fernando, a Chihuahua mix, who suffered from hair loss on half of his body, Vanderau said.  Despite his medical challenge, Fernando still had an uncanny ability to lower his bottom lip, raise his upper lip and smile, she said.

Many animal lovers embrace the eccentricities that land animals in the shelter, some for a second or third time, Vanderau said.

At a no-kill shelter like Briggs, an animal can stay for years until the right owner comes along, Mahrer said.

Unfortunately, the older the dog or cat, the more difficult it is to find it a new home, Bowers said.

People like the idea of the animal growing with their family, she said, but noted that the Berkeley County shelter has seen a shift in that mentality since the economy took a turn for the worse.

"People are asking if we have animals that were dropped off by people who either couldn't afford to keep the animal anymore or were forced to surrender it because of a foreclosure or a move," she said. "And those are the ones they are adopting."

But even younger animals can struggle to find homes, she said.

Take George, a 2-year-old orange tabby who looks like Garfield and has been at the Berkeley County Humane Society since July 11, she said.

There is no clear reason why George has yet to find a home, Bowers said.

"It's just that no one has wanted him yet, even thought he is good with other cats and loves puppies," she said.

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