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Area animal shelters squeezed by the economy

For about 18 months Damien and Drew have been waiting for a new home.

Shelter officials would like to keep the inseparable blue pit bull and Lab terrier mix together, complicating their adoption process at the Lexington Humane Society.

The other complication is that animal shelters are dealing with the pressures of more animals being abandoned because of the economy and fewer people willing to adopt. In some places, that means long waits and strained resources. At others, that means more animals euthanized.

"It's been a bad year," said Ashley Sullivan, director of Paris Animal Welfare Society. "We have had a lot of people who have to move to apartments where landlords won't let them keep (animals). We have people who just can't afford them. We have a lot of people who have vet issues that they can't afford to treat."

That's the case at the Paris shelter, where donations are being sought for the medical treatment of Bud, a dog whose femur was broken when his owner fell on him. The owner, who couldn't afford vet care, left the injured rat terrier/Yorkie mix at the shelter.

About a third of those leaving animals with the Lexington Humane Society cite the economy as the reason they're giving up their pets, said director of development Madison Carey. And, she said, in the last two months the shelter has completed 224 fewer adoptions than usual. The shelter now has about 500 animals.

Every time there is an economic stumble, animals suffer along with their humans, said Stephen L. Zawistowski, an executive vice president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. About 1 million animals across the country are at risk for losing their homes, he said, based on calculations of foreclosure rates. In some areas, he said, shelters are closing because of government budget cuts. It's not likely to get better soon, he said. "We are kind of girding ourselves," Zawistowski said. "I think it's entirely possible that we are going to see more pressure."

Local shelters do the best they can, he said, but struggle to maintain a high adoption rate.

The Paris shelter has a 90 percent adoption rate for dogs. However, the adoption rate for cats is 38 percent, meaning 511 felines have been put down this year, Sullivan said.

"It's never easy to euthanize animals," said Sullivan.

Lisa Schorr, a director of The Way Home animal rescue in Lexington, said she and other volunteers for the non-profit make regular trips to rescue animals from shelters that have strict euthanasia policies.

For example, the Estill County Animal Shelter, which serves five counties, has a policy of euthanizing dogs after five to seven days. Such shelters are always overwhelmed with animals, and the economy is making it that much harder, she said.

Teresa Sparks, Estill County deputy judge-executive, said she's seen a slight increase in the number of owners turning in animals because they can't afford to keep them, but that has been balanced out by more adoptions. About 50 percent of the 2,165 animals received this year have been euthanized, but that's down from 60 percent last year.

"I do fear that owner turn-ins will increase if the economy does not stabilize soon," she said.

The Woodford Humane Society is sheltering about 200 pets. Capacity is 140, said Sandy Davis, public relations director. The shelters has received a small number of animals abandoned after home foreclosures, but they are getting a lot of people surrendering animals because families are moving.

Adoptions have remained strong, however, and so have donations, she said.

Schorr, along with most animal advocates, said the ongoing problem for animals is the lack of strict rules and financial help for spay and neuter programs.

"The problem isn't with shelters," she said. "They do the best with what they've got."

While there are no national statistics compiled, it's clear "intake rates are skyrocketing" across the country, said Daphna Nachminovitch, vice president of cruelty investigations for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

"There has been a crisis with animals for years," she said, "It's actually gotten worse. I didn't think that was possible."

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