Pet owners feeling economic pinch |

Pet owners feeling economic pinch

Sara Thompson
Jonah M. Kessel / Tahoe Daily TribuneMichael Pesci, 12, holds Captain Jack Sparrow, a parakeet that was adopted by Sierra Veterinary Hospital after its former owner couldn't afford to pay for the bird's care.

As economic times get tougher, some pet owners find themselves faced with a hard choice: Pay for food and medical care for their pets, or pay their other bills?

Captain Jack Sparrow is savvy to this situation ” his owner had to give him up because she couldn’t afford to take care of him. The parakeet was diagnosed with fatty liver disease and an overgrown beak.

But now Captain Jack is in fine feathered form with his new owner, Michelle Nason.

Nason, Sierra Veterinary Hospital office manager and veterinarian technician, said she got the bird in December after his former owner brought him in to put him down. The hospital adopted the bird and gave it to Nason.

This past winter, the Lake Tahoe Humane Society saw its largest demand for charitable assistance, with about twice as many cases as usual, according to Executive Director Dawn Armstrong. Charitable assistance cases equaled or exceeded the number of cases involving spay-and-neuter vouchers, Armstrong said, and usually the reverse is true.

Charitable assistance helps pet owners facing financial hardship get through medical emergencies and other situations.

“It’s about helping people through tough times when they need it,” Armstrong said. “If these people are eating noodles, their pets are, too.”

Margaret Williams, El Dorado County Public Health Department spokeswoman, said the South Lake Tahoe animal shelter hasn’t experienced an increase in owners surrendering their pets because of financial hardships.

But the county’s shelter in Placerville has seen an increase. Currently, the shelter has two cats surrendered because of home foreclosure, Williams said.

The South Lake Tahoe shelter does typically see an increase in animal surrenders each spring, as workers who come to town for the winter leave pets behind when they move away at the end of the season.

County officials reminded residents that it is illegal to abandon an animal. Those who no longer can care for a pet are asked to first try to place the animal themselves ” with a family member or friend ” and if that doesn’t work, to bring the animal to the shelter.

Veterinarian David Monroe with Sierra Veterinary Hospital said veterinarians do their best to keep costs down, even when faced with rising costs for food, gas and supplies.

For example, the delivery service the veterinary hospital uses for the X-ray processor now charges an additional fee because of rising gas prices, Monroe said.

“It’s doing our best within a budget sometimes,” Monroe said. “A lot of people grapple with that.”

Monroe said to keep pets’ health costs down, owners can prevent the preventable, such as by keeping their dog on a leash.

If dogs are freely roaming, their chances of getting into a dog fight, getting hit by a car and getting attacked by coyotes are greater. These types of incidents can result in expensive visits to the vet.

Cat owners should keep their pets inside to avoid contracting diseases and coyote attacks, Monroe said.

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