SPRING HILL — The relentless assault on the economic stability of local families that has cost people their jobs, and in many cases their homes, is also forcing them to cut loose what some consider family members.
"We are seeing a lot more people who can't afford their pets. They've lost their homes and where they move doesn't always take animals,'' said Liana Teague, director of Animal Services of Hernando County. "There certainly is no shortage of pets coming in and I definitely think the economy is a factor."
This growing trend has brought tears to the eyes of Joanne Schoch, director of the Humane Society of Hernando County, which has had numerous families dropping off animals recently. "People shouldn't have to give up their pets," she said. "They're family."
The no-kill shelter is caring for 60 cats and 18 dogs, she said. "We turn an average of five to seven people away per day. It's absolutely horrendous. The impact it has on families is demoralizing."
The Humane Society will try to help such families in need with its Fur Fest 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Lake House on Kenlake Drive in Spring Hill.
While admission is free, attendees are asked to bring a bag of dog food or cat food, which will be distributed to pet owners in need at the shelter at 7224 Mobley Road, Brooksville.
The pet food also will be given away to such charities as Salvation Army, Day Star and St. Vincent DePaul Thrift Shop for further disbursement to families.
"We're trying to keep as many pets in their homes as possible," said Schoch. "We've already served 1,500 residents. But with pet food, now we're out."
Schoch said the Humane Society tries to talk a family into keeping their pet at least until the agency can either take it in or find it a new home. Through its affiliation with Petco for cat adoptions on Saturdays, the group has been able to place many felines in new homes.
The SPCA of Hernando County is also inundated. "We get calls every day on cats and dogs, some of them left at the gate, abandoned,'' said Aline Berry, a member of the SPCA's board of directors.
"I think this is the toughest time we've ever had," she added.
As for current adoptions, Berry said, "The turnover in dogs is pretty good, but as soon as one leaves we get another one in.''
At Animal Services, Teague says the adoption rate is "slow," but added that it's seasonal, more pets adopted in summer when children are out of school. "So, I don't know that can be directly attributed to the economy."
Although Animal Services forwards what it deems adoptable pets to the other pet agencies, it euthanizes pets with irreparable habits or major health issues.
At last week's end, the SPCA had a full population of 26 dogs and a cat shelter "at capacity." Animal Services peaked a day last week at 24 cats and 79 dogs. On Monday it was down to 34 dogs, five cats, two goats and a ferret.
The lower numbers, Teague noted, were due to euthanasia.
In the past, if owners brought in pets due to their irascible behavior, Teague said the agency would urge them to try obedience classes or a trainer. "But now, they can't afford that," she noted.
Beth Gray can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.