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Furry pals hit by tough financial times

CLEARWATER — Popi Chewlo was the first dog to race to the gate when he saw Lynn Martin approaching.

Close behind was a second pug named Bupkis and two Boston terriers, Buddy and Pitsala.

The wiggly dogs jumped all over Martin, 56, last week under a giant Spanish oak tree at the Humane Society of Pinellas.

It was a joyous reunion for both dogs and owner.

"Without my dogs, I'm devastated," Martin said.

After a heart attack in May, she lost her job as a paralegal, her health insurance and her mobile home. She ended up living in her truck with her dogs. Buddy and Pitsala are 11, Bupkis is 3 and Popi, 2.

But before Martin went to a Homeless Emergency Project shelter in Clearwater last month, she took her dogs to the Humane Society of Pinellas.

The agency has three programs for pets of people who are ill, live in hospice care or have animals with serious medical conditions.

Humane Societies anecdotally notice the impact when economic pressures or other social dynamics force people to give up their pets.

"When I was in El Paso, we knew the country was going to war six months before because the soldiers were turning their dogs in," said Barbara Snow, executive director of the Human Society of Pinellas.

These days, anecdotal evidence suggests the current foreclosure crisis may be adding to the reasons for moving, long a primary reason for people turning in their animals.

The Humane Society of Pinellas has heard from a half-dozen people recently who said they were going through foreclosure.

"We have seen some instances of shelters reporting an increase in that reason," said Nancy Peterson, issues specialist for the Humane Society of the United States in Washington, D.C.

Martin said her love for dogs was sparked when she was 8. After she behaved well during a brief stay at a Washington, D.C., hospital, her father got her a dog at the local Humane Society.

Martin has worked for a movie studio in Los Angeles and a company in Las Vegas. Two years ago, she moved to Tampa

Never married and with no children, she said 11 dogs over her lifetime have given her unconditional love.

Some she rescued from breeders, Martin said. She said some breeders kill puppies who are not perfect.

And while Martin had heard that many people are a paycheck away from being homeless, she did not think she was one of them.

She worked all her life, but she never saved much. Instead, she spent on others, she said, like her disabled parents and single mothers she met.

After the heart attack, Martin spent 10 days at University Community Hospital. When she got out, the doctors advised her to leave Florida because her lungs were filling with fluid.

She went to Delaware to stay with a friend. But she lost her job in Clearwater — and her health insurance.

While in Delaware, she could not pay the lot rent for her mobile home in Tampa, she said. The landlord placed a lien on the home. She lost it in December.

After a falling out with her friend in Delaware, she slept in her truck there, she said.

She arrived in Clearwater on Feb. 3 and parked in a friend's driveway.

"I slept in my truck and I said, 'I can't put my animals through this,' " she said. She took the dogs went to the Humane Society and she went to the shelter.

"The last three weeks have been real eye-opening," Martin said. "Taking a public shower and eating dinner with 70 men and women — and you're all in the same boat."

But she already has landed a job as a manager at a debt-negotiating firm. Her first paycheck is coming Friday and she plans to get her dogs back and rent a hotel room.

The programs helping Martin had a balance of about $40,000 two years ago, but those funds have run out, said Suzanne Sakal, the Humane Society's development director. Now they rely on money from other parts of the agency's budget.

Still, basic care is not all the Humane Society will have provided for one of Martin's dogs.

Popi's eyes are overexposed to the environment in part because his eyelids don't cover them completely.

Working with the Humane Society, Dr. Tom Miller is going to perform surgery worth $1,500.

"What you have done for my peace of mind," Martin told the staff as her dogs fought for her affection last week, "you have no idea."

Jose Cardenas can be reached at jcardenas@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4224.



.animal sense

Pets: a social barometer

Animal shelters spot trends moving through society by the pets dropped at their doors. Humane Society of Pinellas executive director Barbara Snow offers these anecdotes:

• When she was in El Paso, Texas, Snow sensed the country was going to war months ahead of time because soldiers from nearby Fort Bliss started turning in dogs.

• These days, the Humane Society suspects the foreclosure crisis contributes to people moving, a common reason to drop off a pet.

Furry pals hit by tough financial times 03/01/08 [Last modified: Thursday, March 6, 2008 8:59am]

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