An Unwitting Pet Sanctuary

by Mamta Badkar

You know times are tough when people don´t have enough money to feed their hamsters. Last winter, 11 of the cute, furry rodents were left in a box outside the Petland Discount store on Broadway, the main thoroughfare in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx. Some froze to death before the employees showed up to work. The live ones didn´t have much time left. Since then, a rabbit and a cat were abandoned outside the store.

Petland employees believed the recession had something to do with the onslaught of dumped animals. And they  hope with winter coming on, that Bronx residents don´t panic again.

“People are desperate, the last alternative is taking their animal to a pet store,” said Rafael Gonzalez, the assistant store manager, whose store has become an unwitting pet sanctuary. “If we carry cats or dogs, they think it´s a suitable place for them, and unfortunately that isn´t the case,” he said. Gonzalez and store manager Roxann Rodriguez took home some of the abandoned pets. They called other good Samaritans to rescue the others.

The squeeze is on, when one visit to the veterinarian can range anywhere from $45 to $100, and dog or cat food can cost from $40 to $60 per month. “Owners will no longer buy the extra bone,” said Rodriguez, who had to put fish on sale to attract customers.

“We´ve on occasion, had customers try to steal food, put it in their hoodie pockets, or open up a can of food inside the store and feed it to their pet before one of us goes down the aisle,” said Gonzalez who confronted one customer who had two cans of Eukanuba, a brand of dog food, in his pockets.

Animal shelters like The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) require owners to pay $35 for every pet they drop off. “This discourages people but the shelters also need money to care for and reinstitute them. It´s like a catch-22,” said Gonzalez.

According to The Toby Project, which is in partnership with the Animal Care and Control of New York City, 70 animals are euthanized in the city everyday. At Riverdale Animal Hospital in Kingsbridge, Dr. Lino Cedeno has often refused customers´ requests to put down healthy pets.

While the economic downturn hasn´t affected the pet industry as dramatically as it has others, it has had a profound influence on the spending habits of the average American. When people are struggling to take care of each other, pets sometimes don´t make good fiscal sense, especially in low-income neighborhoods.

But Gonzalez tries to stay upbeat. “It is the season to shop, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas,” he said.  Pets make the best gifts, as long as their owners can afford to care for them.

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