Give Me Shelter: The Recession’s Furry Victims

I learned yesterday that the MSPCA will be closing three of its Animal Care and Adoption Centers due to lack of funds.
Within the next several months, the shelters in Brockton (“our” shelter in Metro South), Martha’s Vineyard and Springfield (Western New England) will all be closed.

This news is a death knoll for many, many unwanted household pets because, like the signs of foreclosure some see in their neighborhoods, this is just one scary red flag of what could come in the years ahead.

What will become of the small-town shelters that are often overrun with pets needing homes? When I worked for a small-town shelter, the salary paid to the Animal Control Officer was pitiful. Here is the person expected to scrape up roadkill, corral loose livestock, break up dog fights, get a skunk out of a fireplace, investigate your neighbor’s dog who is out all all night. . . (I could go on and on); this person is expected to do this at any hour for a salary that many of us would find insulting. And, yet, towns are struggling to cover so many projects with too little money. “ACO” is just another line item on their budget and I imagine that some will scratch it out to fund other things like schools, road repair or town salaries.

What will become of the cats? We’ve been fortunate up here in New England with the success of the spay/neuter programs for dogs. In fact, many people need to adopt their Shelter Dogs from the south since there are so few in the area shelters. Indeed, the first time I walked into the Brockton MSPCA, I was stunned that there were only 3 or 4 dogs up for adoption. Even ten years ago, when I worked at a town shelter, we were full all the time.

But cats? Oy, they are still overrun with cats. Old cats, kittens, fat, skinny, long-haired, short-haired. The Brockton location has two areas to accommodate all the cats. The back room is filled with the traditional metal cages for the “more adoptable” cats: the cute, little, young ones. But, in the front of the shelter, there is a room filled with light and soft couches, chairs, cat toys and little “nooks” for hiding. This is where the older cats go: the ones who have been beloved pets for years before being surrendered. I can attest that these older cats usually do poorly in a noisy, cold metal cage. I love that they have this space to just “be cats”, and that people could come in, sit on the couch, and give these creatures some affection.

Where will the “others” go? The rabbits, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs and especially the “exotic” pets that some people adopt because they are “cool” but then realize they stink, or need to eat expensive food, or have insane vet bills. Many town shelters do not accept ANY of these animals; the MSPCA was the one place that did accept some. I’m doubtful that someone in Springfield who is under great financial strain will pack up their parrot, iguana, rabbit or 25 guinea pigs and drive them out to Boston to be surrendered.

As the recession gets worse, there will be more families who realize that they have to make a choice: feed and care for themselves, or for their pet. My heart goes out to them.

But, mostly it goes out to the people who work in the closing MSPCA shelters and to those animals who need it now and will need it in the months and years to come.

Sad times.


  1. That is very sad. Every time I go into an animal shelter I start crying and want to bring all the animals home. With 2 cats, 1 dog, and 2 fish tanks full of fish I’m not sure we can handle any more.

  2. I promise today, to you and myself: if we get a dog, it will be a shelter dog. Promise.

  3. Sad.

    In the last few months (insanely cold winter months, mind you) there has been a huge rise in the number of stray dogs found in the state park near my home. Instead of dropping an unwanted pet at a local shelter, people are driving to the park, letting their dogs out of the car, and driving off. I can only imagine how confused and terrified these animals are. I hated these owners for not having the courage to at least bring their animals to a shelter, where they could receive proper care and have a shot at adoption. Home foreclosures, layoffs and shrinking budgets have made it difficult for people to handle another mouth to feed. I fear that with less places to go (like the MSPCA), this may be a common practice among people who no longer have the means to care for animals.

    If I can get my damn allergies under control, I’d love to adopt a kitty. Or three.

    On a lighter note, we counted 40 turkeys in our backyard on Sunday morning. FORTY. Our town’s (underpaid) ACO has to deal with wild winged birds, deer and possum, in addition to cats and dogs.

  4. And, um, do people actually find hamsters at a local shelter? Man, I could handle those…

  5. Chicky Chicky Baby says

    It’s a sad commentary on the state of this country when people have to choose between caring for themselves and their families or caring for their pets. I’d take them all if I could. I may have to kick out my husband (who has demanded I stop at 2 dogs and 1 cat, for now) and take in more animals. 🙂

  6. This makes me terribly sad. Like your shelter, ours takes in dogs from the south to adopt out, but is still overrun with cats. I want to take home every single kitty. Sometimes my son and I just go to pet the older cats and give them some love. It’s the least we can do.

  7. Sarah @ says

    We’ve been noticing the same trend around here. It’s so sad, because it’s such a vital service, and I hope that someday soon they start to reinstate the shelters and their officers.

  8. Subspace Beacon says

    That cat room sounds like a great idea. I’m full of sympathy for people who have to make tough financial calls when it comes to their pets. Our elderly dog’s pill regime is at least $100 a month.

    And on a slightly unrelated note, my neighbour has bred his Golden Retrievers AGAIN and is selling nine puppies for $350 each. Idiot.

  9. Boston Mamas says

    Incredibly sad. Given my severe cat and dog allergies, I’m afraid that pets tend to hang in my peripheral consciousness. Thanks for this thoughtful reflection — I’m going to link up to this post in a roundup. -Christine

  10. This is extremely sad. We got our two dogs from friends who were going through a foreclosure three years ago when the market was good. I had never thought about it before then what happens to the pets when their owners go through financial hardship.

    These days stories all over the place are coming out about abandoned animals and it is extremely heartbreaking. I need to find out if my area already has a spay/neuter program and how to get one started if we don’t.

  11. Fairly Odd Mother says

    I’m all warm and fuzzy reading all of your comments!

    Sus, thank you for your promise—you will make a dog very happy someday! Mrs. Q—abandoning pets in a park is so sad. How disorienting for them! And cold, lonely, scary. Ugh. Angela, I love your initiative! Good luck! Subspace, I find it disgusting that some people use a pet as a ‘cash cow’.

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