Four-Legged Victims Of The Recession

Some experts believe the economy is beginning to slowly recover. But in many cases the damage has already been done - both to people and their pets.

Dr. Debbye Turner Bell, the The Early Show's resident veterinarian, took a closer look at this tragic problem facing many pet owners.

As many people have lost their homes due to foreclosures and lost jobs, it is the family pet that often ends up homeless. These days shelters are struggling to keep up, and pet owners worry about how they can afford their four-legged family members.

Rick and Leslie Hardin talk about their dogs like their children.

"I called them my girls," said Rick Hardin.

But when Leslie lost her job and Rick's income as a salesman plummeted, they also lost their home.

"Things fell apart," Rick Hardin said.

The Hardens found a new place to live, but couldn't take their beloved dogs Sophie and Chloe with them. So they made the agonizing decision to surrender their pets to the shelter where they adopted them.

"When we went to drop them off, she was hysterically crying. It was awful. It was so awful, it is still so awful," Rick Hardin said.

The painful good-bye is still hard to bear.

"Just knowing we'd never see them again," said Leslie Hardin.

Like the Hardins, thousands of Americans have surrendered their pets during the recession. According to Petfinder.com, 84 percent of shelters and rescue groups across the country are reporting pet surrenders due to the bad economy, and shelters are buckling under the influx.

"These shelters are having to cut back their services because they're not getting enough charitable dollars or government money," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the U.S. Humane Society.

"We're all just really perplexed on how long we can keep up our adoption numbers and not have to start euthanizing animals because of space issues," said Martha Armstrong of the Animal Welfare League.

The Animal Welfare League of Alexandria, Va., blames the recession for a 30 percent increase in the number of animals at their shelter.

Even when owners can keep their pet, they're foregoing costly veterinary care.

"Which was harder, losing your home or losing the girls?" Bell asked.

"The girls," Rick Hardin said without hesitation. "I could care less about the house. I feel like I let her (Leslie) down. I feel like I let them (the dogs) down. You're not supposed to do that as a man."

"It is so difficult, but there is good news with the Hardins," Bell said. "Rick and Leslie's girls were adopted by another family, and they're doing well. The Hardins are very grateful for that. Now more than ever, shelters really need people to adopt because they are chock-full."

For more information on helping pets through the recession, click here.

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