Seattle Animal Shelter Sees Influx of Sick and Injured Pets As Recession Takes Toll on Veterinary Spending

As has been widely reported, the recession has led to many more pets being dumped on shelters around the country. The Seattle Animal Shelter has not been experiencing that, according to spokesperson Kara Main-Hester. But it has noticed an equally disturbing trend.

The city-run shelter is getting more animals than ever before with serious medical problems. Main-Hester chalks up the problem to people not being able to pay potentially steep veterinary bills. That's consistent with national surveys showing that some pet owners are spending less on veterinary care even for serious problems.

Main-Hester estimates that the Seattle shelter receives five or six sick or injured animals every month, whereas it used to see such animals only occasionally.

A few months ago, for instance, the Seattle Animal Shelter got a call about four dogs that had been found at a South Seattle home. Their owners, who had been squatting at the home, left in a hurry--sans dogs--after being tipped off that police were on the way. All the dogs seemed to have been neglected: poorly fed and "just really dirty," says shelter spokesperson Kara Main-Hester. But one dog, a brown pit bull whom the shelter subsequently named Bambina (pictured above), was in particularly poor health. She's about to undergo a $2,000 surgery for torn Achilles tendons and weak knees on both legs.

On other occasions, pet owners have themselves turned in their animals, explaining that they can't pay the medical bills. In yet other cases, the shelter will hear from veterinary offices, where injured animals have been abandoned.

That's how Susanna recently wound up at the shelter. The black and white pit bull had been hit by a car on Rainier Ave. S., Main-Hester recalls. A Good Samaritan brought the dog to a veterinarian, who discovered that one of Susanna's legs was badly broken. The vet tracked down the owner through the dog's implanted microchip. But the owner never returned the vet's phone call, so the vet called the shelter. Main-Hester says Susanna will need either a rigorous course of physical therapy or surgery likely to cost between $1,000 and $2,000.

A committee at the shelter decides whether animals will receive medical care or be euthanized, according to Main-Hester. She adds that the shelter rarely opts for the latter, doing so mostly in cases where animals are really old or their prognosis is poor. The shelter spent $100,000 last year on medical bills, up by about 10 percent from the year before.

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