Amid economic woes, and the anxiety many feel for their jobs, homes, and livelihoods, the most innocent victims of the recession are almost always overlooked.
"It's raining cats," said Stacy Lewison of the Marshall Animal Clinic. "We've been receiving about two cats per day the last week-and-a-half."
According to Lewison, in the county and within the city limits of Marshall there is a tremendous overpopulation of feral and abandoned domestic cats.
Photo by Steven Browne
Certified Veterinary Technician Kathy Fenger with one of the many cats the Marshall Animal Clinic takes in and tries to find homes for.
"Seventy percent of the cats at the pound are totally tame," Lewison said. "Out in the county there is still a dog problem, but there are definitely more unwanted cats. People are less likely to spay and neuter cats, and they're viewed as more disposable."
Veda Chalmers, who serves on the board of directors of the Tracy Area Animal Rescue, agrees.
"There's a huge number of cats in the city," Chalmers said. "If you drive down at night you can see them all over the place."
Stray dogs, other than pets who have temporarily wandered away from home and need to be returned, seem to be more of a rural problem. Perhaps because people are less likely to abandon dogs than they are to give them to a local humane society, and those who do tend to drive out of town and dump them.
Mark Farrell, vice-chairman of the Lyon County Humane Society, has been working with homeless animals for about 20 years.
"With rural strays maybe the animal didn't live up to expectations, maybe they found out they didn't have the time," Farrell said. "People who adopt a puppy need to consider their situation. Puppies don't stay puppies."
Farrell said dogs that wind up with the Humane Society may have had owners who lost a job, or got transferred, or divorced, or moved to rental housing where pets aren't allowed, or a family member have allergies, or any number of reasons.
"Often there's nothing wrong with the pets," Farrell said, "their circumstances just don't allow them to keep them."
Charlie Fenick is the assistant coordinator of Last Hope Inc. animal rescue in Farmington, and has been working with homeless animals for 11 years. She said home foreclosures and unemployment rates are definitely a factor in the increased number of abandoned pets. Last Hope has a no-kill policy for healthy animals and serves as the last resort for many rural humane societies.
"The economy has absolutely made the problem worse," Fenick said. "People get frustrated and tend to toss them out on the street.
Animal welfare problems are compounded by a lack of resources in rural areas. Smaller towns often cannot afford a full-time animal control officer or pound facilities and must rely on veterinary clinics and volunteers to temporarily house strays.
Animal complaints within Marshall are referred to full-time Community Service Officer Cliff Bahr.
"Most often we deal with strays," Bahr said. "Hopefully we pick them up and return them. If we can't find an owner we hold animals for seven days, then bring them to the Marshall Animal Clinic. They try to adopt them out."
In rural areas and contract towns Russell, Cottonwood, and Ghent, animal complaints are handled by the Lyon County Sheriff's Office, according to Deputy Sergeant Eric Wallen. However Lyon County does not have its own pound.
"We try to locate the owner, "Wallen said. "In order for us to pick up and house an animal, the city must have a facility."
Though Marshall has a city-owned and operated pound, in towns like Canby and Ivanhoe animals picked up go to local veterinary clinics who try to adopt them out. In Tracy TRAA tries to find temporary foster care for cats, but large dogs are housed in a makeshift pound operated by a volunteer at his business.
Before being given away, animals must be prepared for adoption, and that can be expensive.
Fenick said, "You can get one dog and spend $3,000 easy, and get a $300 adoption fee."
Lewison said the first thing they do with a stray brought in is test for leukemia. If the test is positive, or has an injury they can't treat with surgery or amputation, the animal is humanely euthanized.
"We test for rabies and distemper, give them their vaccinations, flea treatment, and spay or neuter them before adoption," Lewison said.
If local clinics and humane societies can't find homes for their charges, the next destination is Last Hope, which houses them with volunteers while they try and find permanent homes.
"We do a dog run usually every other week to Glencoe to meet the Marshall people halfway," Fenick said.
Farrell said the LCHS does follow-ups on the animals they send to Last Hope. Though the names of the new owners are kept confidential, Last Hope informs them of the circumstances of the animal adopters.
However Last Hope cannot accept aggressive dogs, or dogs which are too old or have serious health issues.
"People get angry with you when you tell them we can't accept their pet," Fenick said. "But our motto is 'Last Hope,' not 'Bottomless Pit.'"
The problem of homeless animals has been around for a long time, largely because dogs and cats produce more offspring than there are people to adopt them.
"That's the biggest problem," Farrell said. "If people would spay and neuter that would solve a lot of the problem."