Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Downturn in economy tough on animals, too

Billy Bob the goat is feeling a little gruff: He's homeless
July 17, 2008

Until recently, Billy Bob led a comfortable life with a loving family on a farm in rural Minnesota.

Then his family lost its farm in the foreclosure mess that's sweeping the nation. Reluctantly, they sent their pet goat packing.

Today Billy Bob's life has truly gone to the dogs. The 5-year-old lives next to several canines in a kennel at an animal shelter in Woodbury.

"They said he's like a dog with horns," said Stacy Arvidson, manager of the Woodbury animal shelter.

Animal Humane Society officials said Billy Bob is the latest casualty of the economic downturn that's not only hurting humans but also leaving thousands of dogs, cats, birds and farm animals across the nation and the Upper Midwest without homes.

In recent months the Golden Valley-based shelter system -- it's the largest animal rescue organization in the Upper Midwest -- has become a magnet for animals from a network of rescue shelters in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and South Dakota. Many of those shelters are overcrowded.

"That's a strong indicator that shelters are struggling with animals that are coming in from smaller organizations that just don't have the resources to house them," said Cindy Johnson, who oversees the adoption and intake process for the Animal Humane Society's five shelters in Buffalo, Coon Rapids, Golden Valley, St. Paul and Woodbury.

In recent months the society has been getting more inquiries from hobby farm owners who are facing foreclosure or other economic hardships. Many can no longer afford to feed their horses or donkeys.

Unlike Billy Bob the goat or the occasional city-bred pet chicken, those animals are too large for most shelters, Johnson said, so their owners are steered to rescue groups such as the Minnesota Hooved Animal Rescue Foundation in Zimmerman.

More pets being given up
Last year, Animal Humane Society facilities made room for more than 300 animals from shelters in rural Minnesota and several neighboring states. So far this year the group has taken in more than 900 dogs, cats, birds, gerbils and farm animals from rescue groups.
Shelter officials said individual pet owners have also driven up the number of animals at their five metro area shelters. This year's total is up more than 7 percent to roughly 17,740 animals. Meanwhile, adoptions have fallen by almost 3 percent when compared to the same time last year, for a total of 9,782.

The shelters have so many cats and kittens this summer -- more than 2,000 a month are expected to arrive until fall -- that shelter officials are recruiting "foster parents" to help manage the volume. "Mission Meow" places adult cats in temporary homes for a few months and allows them to re-enter the shelter system when they have a better chance of being adopted.

Johnson said many owners, like Billy Bob's, who surrender pets have owned them several years. Many are embarrassed and typically don't admit they're facing foreclosure. Instead, they cite job loss or a need to downsize to an apartment. Making matters worse is that many families aren't able to leave a donation to help care for their former pets.

"People are feeling bad," Johnson said. "They feel bad about not being able to keep their pets and not being the type of owner they wanted to be."

Surrendering pets is tough
Billy Bob's former owners, a couple with two young children, told shelter officials that their farm was in foreclosure. They drove to the east metro area last week after making several calls to the center to ask about accommodations and euthanasia.

"They were all upset about it," said Stefanie Knutson, an Animal Humane Society employee.

They surrendered the goat to shelter officials with more than a month's worth of feed.

On Monday, Billy Bob calmly watched a shelter volunteer enter his kennel and rearrange the straw bed he's slept on for several days. He had just come back inside after a 30-minute walk and wore a blue dog collar his former owners had left for him.

Arvidson said she's not sure if Billy Bob is house-trained but she was told he hasn't had an accident in the hallways as he's escorted outside for his daily walks.

"It's an usual case," she said. "But our perspective is this is a beloved family pet."

Billy Bob is the first goat to be taken in by the five-shelter system, but he's not the first farm animal to enter one of the metro-area shelters.

There was a pot-bellied pig and a farm pig a few weeks ago, Arvidson said. Both have since found homes through agencies that specialize in farm animal adoptions. Shelter officials hope Billy Bob will follow in their paths soon.

Until then, shelter officials said it's no trouble to have him around. Arvidson said: "He's honestly one of the nicest animals I've ever met."

Patrice Relerford • 612-673-4395

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