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Local animal shelters full of unwanted cats, dogs

By Staff | Dec 30, 2008

It is clear that the rising population of dogs and cats within local animal shelters is much more than typical returns after Christmas. In fact, according to representatives from animal shelters in Lee County, the number of animals being handed over has steadily increased since the summer.
The national foreclosure crisis has not only affected thousands of families, but has forced animal shelters to reach maximum capacity.
All year the Cape Coral-Fort Myers metropolitan area had foreclosure rates higher than many other cities in the United States, while animal shelters like Gulf Coast Humane Society have started saying no to people surrendering their animals.
“We are getting a lot of calls, but right now we are at full capacity so we’re unable to take in anymore,” said Julie Birdman, an adoption counselor with the Gulf Coast Humane Society.
The Fort Myers-based shelter has been at its approximate 300-bed capacity for dogs, cats, adoptions and intakes for months. Birdman said they stopped accepting animals, and Lee County residents are waiting up to two months to hand over their animals.
Some people return their new animals after the holiday because they experience buyer’s remorse, have a family member with an allergy or because of the animal’s unexpected behavior, yet increases this year are deeply interconnected with the economy and not a fickle mind, she said.
Those moving from a foreclosed home either cannot afford the animal or are not allowed to have it in their new residence. As a result, Birdman said many families are having to give up older animals who have been in their families for many years.
Shelter overcrowding is not isolated to the Gulf Coast Humane Society. Representatives said there is no place in Lee County to surrender an animal.
“All of the county is full. We’ve been telling people to put their animals on Craigslist or if they are purebred, going to purebred rescues,” said Birdman.
Lee County Animal Services has been taking in between 1,000 and 1,400 animals per month, said Christina Crawfis, chairman of the Animal Care Trust Fund, the non-profit portion of LCAS. She explained that the trend of more animals being turned over after the holidays is not as prevalent this year.
Furthermore, LCAS will never permit an adoption without the owner present, therefore it is unlikely many adoptions will be returned to the shelter because the new owner received the animal as a surprise Christmas gift.
LCAS is, in fact, trying to place animals rather than accepting them as surrendered through programs like Home 4 The Holidays. If owners try to surrender their dogs, Crawfis recommends finding a rescue organization that deals with that specific breed.
“If someone brings in a beagle, we ask them to call the beagle rescue because they know the breed more specifically and are more geared to handling the breed,” said Crawfis.
This not only lightens their load but it also eliminates the chances that animals will be euthanized.
“When a government shelter is overpopulated, euthanasia is increased,” she said.
The National Council on Pet Population and Study estimates that 9.6 million animals are euthanized annually in the United States.