Times tougher on cats than dogs
As the recession tightened its grip on Mesa County in the past two years, animal-control officials braced themselves for an influx of abandoned pets. But something surprising happened.
Relinquishments of dogs actually decreased year over year at the Mesa County Animal Services shelter. Cats, however, didn’t fare as well, and residents already have turned over hundreds more cats this year than last year.
Why the shift?
“People unfortunately tend to differentiate between dogs and cats,” Mesa County Animal Services director Penny McCarty said. “People moving across the country wouldn’t dream of abandoning their dog. I think people think differently of cats.”
The top two reasons for owners to relinquish a pet are allergies and moving, McCarty said. About as many pet owners give up animals because they are moving to another area of town as do owners who are leaving the area, she said.
Animal Services officials worried that increasing home foreclosures would cause pet owners to ditch their pets as they moved into apartments that had rules against pet ownership, or abandon the animals as they moved from town.
From January 2009 to January 2010, Mesa County led the state’s 11 other most populous counties with its increase in foreclosure rates. But the number of dogs relinquished has decreased. In 2008, the shelter took in 2,011 dogs given up by their owners. That number dipped to 1,863 dogs in 2009. This year, 1,710 dogs have been released by their owners to the shelter.
The numbers of cats relinquished to the shelter remained about steady in 2008 and 2009, with 1,259 and 1,240, respectively. This year, the shelter already has taken in 1,468 cats.
On the whole in Mesa County, pet owners are better about spaying and neutering dogs than cats, McCarty said.
Pet owners might adopt dogs after taking care of them for some time, but not cats. Someone might care for and feed a cat for years but still not consider themselves connected to the animal, McCarty said.
“We ask them, ‘Is this your cat?’ and ‘How long have you been feeding and taking care of it?’ ” McCarty said. “Some will say three years. At that point, you’ve adopted it. We hear it all the time with cats but a lot less with dogs.”
People are less inclined to worry about or take care of their cats, thinking they can survive in the wild because of their independent nature, McCarty said. As a result, owners might not have their cats spayed or neutered and might forgo necessary vaccinations.
“There’s the perception that a cat can make it out there on their own, and they can’t,” McCarty said.