1st the layoff, then giving up the family pet: Alberta sees rise in abandoned animals

The Calgary Humane Society reports the number of strays and "owner surrender" animals is up as families give up their furry friends to make ends meet.

Humane society says it has noticed a jump in the number of pets being turned in by their owners

Sage Pullen McIntosh from the Calgary Humane Society poses with one of the adoptees at the shelter on Sept. 13. The shelter has had a rush of animals surrendered by Calgarians who have lost their jobs in the economic downturn. (Bill Graveland/Canadian Press)

Surrender never comes easily.

An animal information card at the Calgary Humane Society identifies the temporary resident inside as a grey-and-white kitten named "Marilyn" who has been there since June 26.

"I am an owner surrender," reads a note in a section called "A little about me."

Many Calgarians, already dealing with layoffs, economic uncertainty and the potential loss of their homes, are now having to give up their furry friends.

The Calgary Humane Society says it has noticed a jump in the number of pets being reluctantly turned in by their owners since the economic downturn started in 2015.

There were 1,500 pets surrendered to the society between Jan. 1 and Aug. 31, 2014. That number ballooned to 1,673 in the same period last year and sits at 1,635 so far this year, but there's also been a huge jump in the number of strays being picked up.

A humane society official says it's gut-wrenching for those who have to give up a member of the family.

"It's the last thing they want to do. Typically they will go without a lot of things ... without food ... maybe they'll skip rent for a month if they have to," said Sage Pullen McIntosh, senior manager of community relations and communications.

Embarrassed, ashamed

"They really want to keep their animals, but they've lost everything. They have drawn on all the savings they have, or every family member they have, and they just don't have anywhere else to go."

McIntosh said the increase in strays is likely because some people can't bring themselves to turn the animals in.

"They feel embarrassed ... they feel ashamed."

She said it can be heartbreaking when animals are admitted and owners have to say goodbye.

"It's really tough for people. This is a member of their family."

A senior psychologist at the Calgary Counselling Centre said having pets at home is good for people going through tough times, such as job losses or changes in their personal lives.

Joanne Ginter said she had one client who had to turn over the family cats.

"The family was greatly distressed because mom had lost her job, and she was the primary breadwinner, and what are they going to do?" Ginter said.

She suggested that the children write a letter to the shelter talking about their cats and how they would like them to be taken care of.

'Part of our identity'

"People get very, very attached to their pets. Pets serve as a calming technique. They serve as a sense of family. They're just part of who we are and part of our identity."

Ginter worries things are going to get worse for those hurt by Alberta's economic downturn because soon many will no longer be eligible for employment insurance.

McIntosh said there are about 400 animals in the shelter on any given day. Most are cats, but exotic or expensive pets such as snakes and reptiles are also growing in number.

"They get very, very big. They're very expensive to care for and they're not able to maintain that care, so they surrender them to us. They take longer to adopt, so we do have a lot of exotics right now."

She said the humane society has been coping, but it can be a struggle.

"It is hard. When you adopt a cat out, you will get three more that same day."