ELYRIA - Animal lovers are blaming what they say is the biggest deluge in memory of homeless, hurt and unwanted pets on Ohio`s foreclosure crisis.
For months, shelters and other animal control agencies have been struggling to find the space to take in abandoned and stray pets, especially cats.
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There are 6 million to 8 million stray cats and dogs roaming the United States, according to the Washington, D.C., branch of the Humane Society.
That means shelters are forced to euthanize as many as 4 million pets each year, spokeswoman Heather Sullivan said.
Local agencies say it`s impossible to estimate how many domestic animals are running loose in Lorain County, but the number is growing.
"It`s the economy. Everyone is dumping their animals left and right," Erie Shores Humane Society President Eleanor Mittler said. "The situation is very bad. We`ve been going for 25 years, and have never known it to be this bad."
There are no spare beds or empty cages to be found anywhere in Lorain County, she said.
In fact, her office has been fielding calls from as far as Toledo and Youngstown from people seeking a safe haven for abandoned pets, Mittler said.
RenÃ© Springowski, one of the founders of Love-A-Stray in Sheffield Lake, said she has been taking carloads of cats - as many as 40 a week - to be spayed and neutered.
Many veterinarians give them a break on the cost of the operations, but Springowski said an adoption fee helps defray the cost and donations are always welcome.
But what most animal groups really want are foster homes to take in stray and abandoned pets until new owners can be found, she said.
It is all Love-A-Stray can do just to slow the growth of the rampant overpopulation of loose cats and dogs, she said.
"Nobody has ever seen anything like this, and we attribute it to the foreclosures," Springowski said. "We started seeing it last fall, and I was thinking then to myself that it was only going to get worse."
So far this year, there have been 2,188 foreclosures in the county, according to Common Pleas Court Clerk Ron Nabakowski.
That`s a significant increase - up about 11.4 percent from 2006 - with an entire month yet to go in 2007, he said.
Last year, his office recorded an alarming 1,935 foreclosures.
When people lose their houses, they often can`t afford to care for their pets and simply leave them behind, Mittler said.
Combine that with a pretty mellow winter and you get many female cats on their second or third litters of the year, Springowski said.
Two weeks ago, she trapped 35 cats near Weber Road in Avon Lake. She said there are another 400 on a waiting list to be spayed and neutered.
Meanwhile, the problem is finding homes for the fixed felines, Springkowski said. There are nowhere near enough foster homes and most shelters are past maximum capacity.
"It isn`t that we don`t want to take them in. It`s that we don`t have room," Mittler said.
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