Cash-strapped families can't afford to keep their pets

When you think about getting a pet, the number one consideration is probably time. Do you have the energy to walk a dog several times a day? Do you have someone in your neighborhood who can feed the cats while you're traveling? Usually, if a person can handle the time commitment of pet ownership, then it's a pretty easy decision.

Sure, it costs money to own a cat or a dog, but it's nothing compared to a child. Just a few bucks more on each grocery bill for food, litter, and miscellaneous supplies, then a few vet visits here and there -- but these expenses add up, and in an ugly economy, they add up to a heartbreaking truth. Thanks to layoffs, cutbacks, and higher costs, lots of people just can't spare the few extra bucks per week that it costs to own a pet.

Shelters across the United States are seeing a surge of animals that loving owners are forced to surrender because they can't afford to care for them anymore. According to the American Pet Products Association, the average annual cost of owning a dog is around $1,400. Cats are a little cheaper, at $1,000 per year. But finances are tight, and what used to be no big deal can now be an enormous burden. Pet owners with sick animals are more frequently choosing euthanasia over expensive medical treatment, too. Vets and shelter employees say that the people giving up their pets are not irresponsible owners who got in over their heads. They have loved and cared for these animals for years, but suddenly find themselves unable to afford them any longer.

If you are considering adopting a pet, you definitely need to take a good look at your finances first. If you determine that you can afford it comfortably, now is a great time to look for a new furry friend. Shelters are more crowded than ever, full of animals that need good homes.

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