for National Geographic News
In the fallout from rising fuel prices, job losses, and foreclosures in the United States, many people are facing hard choices about what to sacrifice to stay afloat.
For some, this means deciding whether to give up a member of the family.
More pet owners are struggling to pay for food and veterinary care, and some are being forced to abandon their animals when they move or relinquish them to shelters.
More than half of all U.S. households own a pet and, on average, the annual cost of ownership runs between $400 to $800 for food, supplies, and medical care, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
(Related photos: "Pets, Hurricane Katrina's Other Victims" [September 8, 2005].)
Pet-food pantries, animal shelters, and other nonprofits are helping to alleviate costs for owners who have fallen on hard times. But many of these organizations are straining to keep up.
"I think we're all going through economic struggles right now with the way the business environment is," said Brigitte Farrell, executive director of the Frederick County Humane Society in Maryland.
Friends in Need
So far this year, Pikes Peak Pet Pantry in Colorado Springs, Colorado, has donated nearly three tons of cat and dog food to needy locals.
Darlene McCaslin, a self-described cat rescuer, started the pantry last September after noticing more people were considering giving up their pets due to finances.
Twice a week a steady flow of cars pulls up to the storage unit where the organization operates to load up on bags of food and kitty litter—no questions asked.
"We give help to anyone who needs it," said McCaslin, who has helped individuals in seven other states start their own pet pantries.
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