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Downturn in economy pets’ worst nightmare

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Naperville Sun
By Cheryl Stritzel McCarthy
January 4, 2011

Animal caretaker Jeremy Bentham cradles 10-week-old black-lab-mix pups at ADOPT pet shelter. The youngsters, one female and two males, all available for adoption, transferred to the facility in north Naperville from a shelter in Quincy, Ill.

Five years ago, it was “extremely rare” for pet owners to ask ADOPT pet shelter to take their pets because they could no longer afford them, said Richard Glessner, director of operations. Now that’s the most common reason given.

More than half the calls to give up dogs and cats to the shelter in north Naperville are now for financial reasons.

“In 2006 and earlier, the primary reason used to be moving, or a change in the household, such as allergies or the birth of a child,” Glessner said.

Private pet shelters, such as ADOPT and Naperville Area Humane Society, accept only the number they can house, so the number of pets coming in doesn’t change depending on the economy. What’s changed is the reason owners give. Glessner called that change “dramatic,” but pointed out that as many as 70 percent of those calls come from owners outside Naperville, including Joliet, Sterling, Rock Falls and the Chicago suburbs.

Before you give up your pet...

Examine every resource before surrendering your pet, advised Laura Vivas, dog counselor and board member of the pet shelter ADOPT in Naperville. It may be that your pet can live in a foster home for a short time if you are dealing with an emergency, financial or otherwise.

Blessed Bonds is a program that arranges foster care for pets of people in crisis such as surgery or home loss, Vivas said.

“The animal gets to stay with a foster family, then returns to its original family, and stays out of the shelters.” Blessed Bonds merged with ADOPT on Dec. 1.

Blessed Bonds was founded by local psychologist Linda Harper in 2004, Vivas said. It uses 60 foster homes throughout the suburbs, many in DuPage County. It has aided more than 1,000 pets since its founding.

To volunteer or learn more, visit, call 708 710-2493 or e-mail

“The Naperville community has not seen much of an increase, but you start venturing outside that ... (Owners) keep calling until they find a private shelter that will take their pet, but most are in the same boat, limited by space.”

Has the city of Naperville’s animal control facility, which picks up strays, seen an increase in abandoned pets because of the economy?

“Looking at the numbers (of animals coming in), we’re about the same,” said Julie Kincade, animal control officer. She said the four dogs and seven cats in residence at the moment is average. Because of the economy, they may hold the animals slightly longer, waiting for space to free up at private shelters.

Kincade said they depend on Naperville’s two pet shelters, plus a handful more home-based shelters.

“We rely on them to take the homeless animals. A lot of other communities don’t have that. We’re really fortunate,” Kincade said. “There are a lot of people in Naperville who want to help animals.”

The Naperville Area Humane Society is fielding calls from more owners feeling the pinch because of the economy, said Angie Wood, executive director. First, NAHS tries to help owners keep their pets.

“Do they need help with vet care, the cost of food? We can direct them to low-cost or free resources.”

They may put a dog or cat on a waiting list, or direct owners to other shelters.

“We’re only able to take in what we have space for,” Wood said. “We’re at capacity every day, (but) we’ve always run at capacity. ... We can only take the next one in once an adoption is done.”

Glessner says more than half his shelter’s calls come from outside Naperville with reports from Kane and Kendall counties. A staff report from the Kane County Board’s public health committee states pet abandonment has risen over the past three years, going from 9.5 percent of all animals brought into that county’s shelter to 25 percent now. Kendall County animal control recently reported serious overcrowding at their facility.

Early in the recession, spending on pets’ welfare stayed steady, Glessner said. “(In some cases) people would feed their pets before they’d feed themselves. You could see people trying not to cut back on the care of their animals – which says a lot about how they care for them – but it finally did affect it.”


Sun-Times Media contributed to this story.


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