SF animal shelter sees uptick in dog drop-offs during economic crisis

The number of dogs dropped off at San Francisco’s city shelter has increased more than 42 percent over the past five years due to factors such as rent escalations, costly veterinarian care and other economic strain.

The rise in the number of dogs coming into the Animal Care and Control-run shelter has occurred since the start of the Great Recession and the trend doesn’t appear to be slowing.

While the local economy, with the success of a thriving technology industry, has turned around significantly since the 2009 downturn, not everyone has been benefiting. Residents, more and more, appear to be parting from their four-legged best friend under financial strain.

Animal Care and Control Director Rebecca Katz said that “the economy in all likelihood has a lot to do with it,” as dog owners, some who may have lost their homes or jobs, find “they can’t afford veterinarian care or some particular procedure.” She added there is “not enough pet friendly housing throughout the city.” In recent years, rents have doubled and tripled and evictions are on the rise.

“I’m sure it doesn’t help,” Katz said of the housing environment. “I have no doubt it’s playing into it in some manner.”

Since fiscal year 2007-08, the number of dogs dropped off at the shelters has increased by 42 percent for a total of 3,206 dogs last fiscal year. The shelter’s total animal intake was 10,307. Cats are on the decline at 3,294 last fiscal year, while the number of wild animals, including possums, raccoons and coyotes, climbed to 3,807.

“There’s still a significant number of people who are hurting,” Katz said. She said when people do decide to part with their dogs, the scene can be pretty dramatic at the shelter. “Most people are pretty miserable, crying,” Katz said. “It’s heart-wrenching.” And while the emotional display is the most common reaction, she said there are some who could care less about the separation.

Katz said that the increase is not attributable to one specific dog breed. Overall, she said the shelter dog population is about one-third pit bulls, one-third Chihuahua and the remainder ranges from pure breeds to other mixed breeds. The animals range from puppies to dogs as old as eight or nine.

The shelter, Katz said, has an 86 percent save rate and a 14 percent kill rate, of which pit bulls are the largest percentage of dogs euthanized. “It’s difficult to place the pit bulls,” Katz said. The live release of wildlife is about a 50 percent rate. For the shelter, the spike in dogs has led to a more challenging demand on its resources, which Katz said are already stretched thin. “It’s definitely an increase in costs,” Katz said. “We’ve definitely felt it.”

During a recent Board of Supervisors committee hearing called by Supervisor Scott Wiener, it was revealed the agency’s budget, currently at $4.9 million, has remained flat for years with the only increase coming as a result of an increase in labor costs such as health care.

LEFT BEHIND

42: percentage increase in shelter intake of dogs during the past five years

10,307: total shelter animal intake in fiscal year 2012-13

3,807: wild animals shelter intake in FY 12-13

3,294: cats shelter intake in FY 12-13

3,206: dogs shelter intake in FY 12-13

Source: City Administrator’s Office

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