By John Rondy
MILWAUKEE (Reuters) - Many Wisconsin animal shelters are at or near capacity, reflecting a national trend as more pet owners are forced to give away their dogs and cats because they can't afford to keep them.
"Where before it might have been due to pet allergies or the owner had a baby or some other reason, now the financial side is the predominant reason why people give up their pets," said Gayle Viney, spokeswoman for the Dane County Humane Society in Madison.
"Either they lost their home, they lost their job -- these are animals we normally wouldn't have received, because sadly, families are having to make these decisions," Viney said.
The Coulee Region Humane Society near La Crosse, Wisconsin, is always over capacity with cats, but recently has not had enough room for dogs, says executive director Heather Schmid.
Once dogs leave the shelter, more are waiting to come in, Schmid said.
"I certainly think the economy is a factor -- it has been for a couple of years," Schmid said. "We have definitely seen an increase in people surrendering their pets due to loss of a job, or downsizing from a home to an apartment."
The overflow in Wisconsin shelters is being experienced by shelters nationally due to economic hard times, said Inga Fricke, director of sheltering and pet care issues for the Humane Society of the United States.
"Most shelters struggle with greater demand for their services than they are able to provide," Fricke said.
Shelters face an increasing burden as more people surrender pets due to economic reasons such as job loss or home foreclosure, Fricke said. They also face funding pressure.
The same economic reasons cause fewer people to adopt pets, though Viney said the Madison Humane Society has been successful at promoting adoption through price breaks.
Shelters that use euthanasia have found themselves euthanizing a higher number of animals so that they can humanely care for the animals kept alive, Fricke said.
"Other organizations that do not euthanize turn animals away, or keep taking in animals and exceed capacity," Fricke said.
Fricke estimates that six to eight million animals are sheltered annually, while three to four million are euthanized.
(Writing and reporting by John Rondy; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and David Bailey)