Mountain View Voice

News - April 9, 2010

Pets flood local shelters in hard times

'Broken families' forced to give up their animal friends

by Daniel DeBolt

As superintendent of Palo Alto Animal Services, Sandi Stadler has a unique perspective on how the recession is hurting Peninsula residents.

More than ever before, Stadler said, people are abandoning their pets at the shelter on East Bayshore Road, which serves Mountain View, Los Altos and Palo Alto. The reason is clearly economic: Before the recession it happened only about once a month, she said, but now it's a weekly occurrence.

"It has not been unusual this year for us to have a house full of pets," brought in, she said — such as when two cats and three dogs from a single home were taken in all at once.

"Mostly it's because they've lost their house," Stadler said. "They are moving into a rental or in with a relative and there is not room for a pet."

She called the people and their pets in this situation "broken families."

"These pets are as much a relative for that family" as the people are, Stadler said. "It's like taking grandma and saying, 'We don't have room for you.'" She added, "It is hard on parents, kids, animals and us. The emotions run very high."

In one case, a man had to choose between caring for his small dachshund and his own father, who was moving into his home, Stadler said. On Monday the dachshund, named Kobe, was still waiting for someone to take him home, as were dozens of other dogs who looked plaintively toward the courtyard entrance.

"They're just hoping," Stadler said. "Doesn't it just break your heart?"

Recently the shelter received its first horse, brought in by a couple who could no longer afford to keep it at a ranch. It had an ongoing medical issue and no one wanted it. The husband had lost his job, Stadler said, and "It was really the only option they felt they had."

Stadler said that while trying to find a home for the horse, she called local ranches and discovered a trend: People who suddenly can no longer pay their bills are abandoning the animals, leaving them at the corrals.

Inside the Palo Alto shelter there were dozens of dogs and cats, each with a story written and posted on the kennel door by staffers: Sam, a young pit bull terrier, had been brought in by recent immigrants who only spoke Spanish. Staffers learned that they had to return to Mexico and leave the dog behind.

Stadler remembers pulling into work one day to see a woman "bawling her eyes out" with two little dachshunds on her lap that she had to leave behind. Her new living situation had forced her to part ways with her beloved dogs.

"I'm sure they looked for an alternate solution other than bringing them to us," Stadler said.

Fortunately the dogs were able to find a home together, and the horse found a home with a Northern California "horse rescue" outfit.

Stadler and her staff continue to screen applicants to ensure that each animal finds a suitable home. The shelter strives for a 100 percent adoption rate, but euthanizes some animals that have health or behavioral problems.

A side note: Watch out for the roosters.

Illustrating a related trend at the shelter was a rooster from Mountain View named Fernando, one of several to show up recently. Stadler said it has become increasingly popular for people to keep chickens in their backyards as a cheap, environmentally friendly source of eggs — but when purchased online, sometimes the chick turns out to be male. And most local cities have ordinances against roosters because of their noisy crowing.

E-mail Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com INFORMATION: The Palo Alto Animal Services shelter is located at 3281 E. Bayshore Road in Palo Alto. Those interested in adopting an animal can see pictures at www.petharbor.com or through links on the animal services page at www.cityofpaloalto.org. For more info, call the shelter at (650) 496-5933.

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