By Amy Wenk
amywenk@reporternewspapers.net

The troubled economy has devastated people’s lives, but there are other victims as well — dogs and cats that depend on their owners. Because of financial difficulties, many people are surrendering their animals to shelters and rescue groups.

“The owner surrenders for economic reasons have really skyrocketed,” said David York, operator of Barking Hound Village Foundation, which runs the Fulton County Animal Shelter. “Just from March to November this year, we have had almost 500 owner surrenders. In the same period last year, it was less than 200.”

The county shelter, which has a capacity of about 400 animals, places around 200 a month. Animals used to be transported to other shelters around the country, especially in New England, but much of that movement has stopped because of the economy, York said.

“Many of the places they were transporting to in the past are full,” he said. “They are dealing with the same problems.”

Sandy Springs resident Lauren Jenkinger can testify to the increase in pet surrenders. The nonprofit organization she founded, Adopt a Golden Atlanta, provides a place for owners to turn in their golden retrievers instead of taking them to a shelter.

“We are averaging about two to three dogs a week that are being given to us because people have lost their homes,” Jenkinger said. “They are being forced to move into an apartment that will not take a large dog, or … they cannot afford the pet deposit for the dog.

“We also, unfortunately, have a lot of people that have actually moved out of their home and left their golden retriever in the backyard.”

Adopt a Golden has saved 320 dogs this year and close to 1,700 since the organization started in 2003.

“We use foster homes for all of our dogs,” Jenkinger said. The first Sunday of the month, the rescue group holds an adoption event, showing about 30 dogs at PetSmart in Buckhead.

Another side effect of the economic situation, she said, is that Adopt a Golden is receiving dogs in poor medical condition. Many were deprived of preventive medications for heartworm and fleas or have serious injuries. Jenkinger said on average it costs $650 to treat a dog, but the organization has spent as much as $9,000 on one animal.

Good Mews — a cage-free, no-kill cat shelter off Johnson Ferry Road in Marietta — also is under pressure this year.

“Right now, adoptions are slow because of the economy,” said Dana Widmer, the feline care manager. “We are also getting more phone calls from people who are losing their homes.”

The 2,350-square-foot shelter can accommodate around 100 cats. On average, the shelter adopts out five cats per week, and it has placed more than 5,000 animals since opening 20 years ago.

“They have it pretty nice here,” said Brianna McKeller, the executive director. At Good Mews, the cats can wander around as they please and have a variety of shelves, cat trees and beds for lounging.

The shelter accepts owner surrenders and takes cats from animal control in Paulding and Heard counties.

“For cats, it’s an almost instant death sentence” to go the animal shelter, Widmer said.

Those pet shelters and rescue groups, as well as others that focus on specific breeds or rescue any pets, need volunteers, foster families and donations. For more information, visit www.adoptagoldenatlanta.com, www.goodmews.org, www.fultonanimalservices.com or www.spotsociety.org/atl_shelter_list.htm.