MELBOURNE — Two German Shepherds were found all alone at Lori Wilson Dog Park in Cocoa Beach last month. They had been abandoned, and, apart from being a little dehydrated, were otherwise fine and good natured, but extremely stressed because their humans had deserted them.
They were discovered in the gated dog run by Cocoa Beach Police Department Officer Ian Olsen and his partner, Officer Roy Bond, who were dispatched to the park when somebody called to report the dogs.
Olsen and Bond found no note or name tags with them, but it seemed that whoever left the dogs must have cared for them. There was a tote bag of toys, dry water bowls and collars with the words “Friendly” and “I HAVE EPI”— a pancreatic disease — written on each one.
Olsen concluded that the dogs’ owners, despite abandoning the two dogs, must have loved them and only left them at the park in the hope they would be taken in by other dog lovers.
“I feel bad for the people because the way the dogs were, you know, nine (or) 10 years old, and their teeth were immaculately white,” Olsen said. “So the dogs were clearly well taken care of.”
All across Brevard and elsewhere in the country, similar scenes are being played out over and over again: Beloved pets are being given up or deserted by their families who, caught in a downward economic spiral by soaring rents, inflation and gas prices, are forced to make a terrible choice.
According to rescue shelters and pet welfare advocates interviewed for this story, the number of pets — especially dogs — being surrendered to animal shelters in recent months has been increasing drastically. After years which saw animal surrenders to shelters dropping, the numbers went up 9,650 last year, and have continued their climb this year as the economic situation worsens.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, half of workers in Brevard County make less than $46,000 a year and many are having to pay half their income on rent. Though financial experts recommend that households spend no more than 30% of income on rent, that is not possible for many in today’s rental market. Add to that rising food and gas prices.
When people lose their home, or can no longer afford it, owning a dog or cat could be the difference between finding a new affordable place to live and being homeless.
Faced with this terrible dilemma, many people choose, often tearfully and reluctantly, to give up their pet. Some, however, would rather go homeless and hungry than part with their four-legged family members.
The stories of owners giving up their pets are always heartbreaking for both people and animals.
“People want to keep their pets, and we don’t believe that just because you are of a low income that you should not have a pet,” said Theresa Clifton, executive director of the Brevard Humane Society. “People will starve – they will give up their food for their pets. And that’s a choice they shouldn’t have to make.”
“There’s a need in the community – we have people that are asking us for a safe place for their pet, whether it be due to domestic violence or due to they’ve been kicked out of their rental and they’re between (places) and so they’re living in their car and they want to keep their pet but they don’t really have the means to do it,” Clifton said.