"600 Words by Esther J. Cepeda"
Forget the purified water, 100% organic dog chow, and the catnip-laced fantasy furniture – furry friends are feeling the credit crunch these days. It’s a sad story that’s playing out across the country: pet-owners pushed to the brink of insolvency are having to give up their pets as their lives get down-sized.
"Six months ago when the economy was wavering I was saying, ‘Well it hasn’t hit the animals yet,’" Tom Van Winkle, the Executive Director of the Animal Care League in Oak Park, IL told me earlier this week. "Over the last month and a half we are really seeing it: many people evicted, moving to an apartment or out of state and a vast increase in people getting rid of their pets."
Tom – who noticed I have a soft spot in my heart for small, yappy dogs – wrote to me to ask if I could help him spread the word about Animal Care League’s fundraiser this Saturday, December 13 at PRIMITIVE, located at 130 North Jefferson in Chicago (from 6 to 10pm). The ACL crew will be there helping celebrity photographer Marc Hauser take pet portraits to raise money for the growing needs of the shelter.
"We depend on donations and fundraisers to cover the costs to care for an animal from intake to adoption," Tom said. "It’s a couple of hundred dollars for the spay or neuter, the rabies shots, and microchip – exclusive of any illness – to care for an animal until it gets adopted."
That’s right, they keep all the non-violent or ultra-ill animals – cats, dogs, bunnies, gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs and birds – until they’re adopted.
"Dogs are hit the hardest; they’re the most expensive and less likely to be accepted to a renting situation like if someone moved in with friend or relative," Tom said. "It’s hard to tell with cats – that could be a 50/50 chance. You’d think most places would be open to accepting cats but we do get a lot of cat owners who are just up against the wall."
Tom estimates ACL will service at least 1,200 pets this coming year and it’s not a good scene. According to him and his staff, they’re already seeing people who are at the very end of their rope. "There are many, many tears shed when a family has to be separated from their pet," Tom said, "but ACL commits to putting a lot of work into finding good homes where their friends will be taken care of."
According to a recent Los Angeles Times news report, a record 10% of the nation's mortgage-burdened homeowners fell behind on their loan payments or were in foreclosure during the third quarter, according to a survey released by the Mortgage Bankers Association on December 6, 2008. For animal shelters, that means way more "foreclosure pets" are on their way and that’s not even counting the general uptick in animal drop-offs at Christmas.
"After the holidays usually it’s mid-January to February when we get a lot of pet store animals," Tom said, "because there’s no counseling at the store just the sale."
And will there be a box-office hit Beverly Hills Chihuahua factor?
"We aren’t seeing it yet but we will because the movie is out of theaters now and everyone is looking for them. Pet stores are going to their puppy mills now to get Chihuahuas like crazy," he said. "The shelter will start to see them in springtime when all that cuteness has started to wear off."
"Cuteness wear off" wha-?!?!?
Once I recuperated from Tom’s slight of the canine objects of my affection he pitched me on how handsome my two fine specimens might look in a Marc Hauser photo.
"These animals are being affected by the economy but can’t do anything about it and have no choice," Tom said. "We’re trying to help the animals that can’t help themselves and individual donations will give our animals the opportunity to have a happy holiday, too."
RSVPs to ACL’s Give ‘Em Shelter fundraiser this Saturday December 13 may be made by calling 708.848.8155 or online at www.animalcareleague.org. Reservations may also be made by calling PRIMITIVE at 312 575.9600.
Esther J. Cepeda writes the "600 Words" & "Pregunta del Dia" columns, and is also the Chief Marketing and Communications Officer for the Illinois Student Assistance Commission. Her views and reporting do not necessarily reflect those of ISAC. "600 words" is a registered trademark of EeJayCee, Inc., Copyright 2008. May be reprinted with permission, contact email@example.com