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Monday, September 14, 2009

A Double Whammy for Animal Shelters

The economic downturn is having ripple effects in nearly every part of American life, but the impact on animal shelters has been especially acute. Struggling families are relinquishing more dogs and cats to shelters, as they find they can no longer afford the costs of pet care, or they are evicted from their homes and cannot find pet-friendly housing. At the same time, municipal governments are cutting local services, and charitable giving is on the decline, so both public and private shelters have less funding. It’s a double whammy for animal shelters—greater demand but fewer resources.

Animal shelters play a critical role in our communities.

The problem may become more severe in California, as a budget deal between Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state legislators will reduce the funding available to hold stray dogs and cats in the state’s municipal animal shelters. But some communities are taking a more forward-looking approach and trying to sustain—rather than cut—critical services.

In Lincoln County on Oregon’s central coast, the county animal shelter is scheduled to close its doors on June 30, 2010, because funding will run out. But this November, voters will decide on a new property tax that would allow animal care and control operations to continue uninterrupted. If approved, Measure 21-134 will provide funding for another five years to support the animal shelter and animal control services in the county.

With tea-party protests around the country, it’s hard to imagine voters approving a new tax. But it’s even harder to imagine what life would be like with no animal shelter and no animal control services. Without an animal shelter, homeless pets will have no place to go to find new, loving homes. Stray animals will be left to the mercy of the streets, and without animal control services, they will continue to breed and overpopulate. As their numbers grow, disease will become rampant and pose a very real threat to animal health and human health.

In fact, cutting funds for animal care and control is penny-wise and pound-foolish. Without a functioning animal shelter, other costs to the community—demands on law enforcement, county health officials, and nonprofit rescue groups—will grow. Measure 21-134 would cost the average Lincoln County property owner less than a nickel a day, while the potential costs of dealing with dog bites or a rabies epidemic would certainly be much greater.

Most people wouldn’t imagine living in an area with no school, no hospital, no police, no road maintenance, or no trash collection. An animal shelter, too, is a community institution, and shouldn’t be allowed to go under. It’s not just a quality of life issue for citizens, but a critical service in a nation that cares about animal welfare—a nation where we want to see pets cared for and adopted, not suffering and dying on our streets.


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