Displaced Pets Increasing, Mall Sponsors New Adoption Center

Suzanne D'Alonzo of Alexandria's Animal Welfare League with foreclosure victim Bobby.
Suzanne D'Alonzo of Alexandria's Animal Welfare League with foreclosure victim Bobby. (Courtesy Animal Welfare League Of Alexandria)
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By Annie Gowen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Chicago-based company that owns Landmark Mall is sponsoring a pet adoption center inside the Alexandria shopping center beginning this weekend to help find homes for pets displaced as a result of the nation's growing financial crisis.

General Growth Properties, which owns or operates 200 malls across the country, created the adoption center in a shuttered Foot Locker store not far from where the mall's Santa sits and dubbed it Bark Avenue/Meow Place. Several animal welfare groups from around the Capital Beltway will bring adoptable animals to the mall -- including cats, dogs, rabbits and guinea pigs. Some, but not all, were given up by their owners because of tough times.

"Our objective is to help the animals find homes, and given the recent economic conditions, the number of animals needing homes has exacerbated," said Nicole Spreck, General Growth's director of public affairs. If successful, centers might be opened in other malls.

The move comes as some animal shelters across the country have reported increases in pets given up for adoption while the number of those looking to adopt has shrunk, according to Kim Intino, director of animal sheltering issues for the Humane Society of the United States, a co-sponsor of the Bark Avenue adoption center.

Across the region, some animal shelters in suburban locations have seen large jumps in the number of pets given up by their owners because of foreclosures, evictions or similar financial circumstances. In Loudoun County, for example, the number of pets surrendered by their owners is up 26 percent. Officials there say they have had several cases in which families left dogs or cats in their abandoned homes.

"We've seen a large increase in owner surrenders due to the economic situation in the region," said Chief Rodney Taylor, head of the Prince George's County Animal Management Group, which oversees the county's Forestville shelter. "We had an elderly couple the other day bring their two dogs in because they were unable to pay the vet bills. Animals are starting to be turned in daily."

Tamela Terry, president of SPCA/HS of Prince George's, said she recently fostered Smokey, a dog who had been found running wild. Through microchip and tag information, shelter volunteers were able to contact the dog's owner, who told them: "We can't afford to come and get him. Tell him that we love him," Terry recalled. "It just breaks my heart. . . . He was a wonderful little dog, well cared for." The shelter eventually placed the pooch with a couple in suburban Maryland.

Representatives of the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria will be bringing several animals to the Bark Avenue adoption event this weekend, including Cleo and Sheeba, black-and-white domestic short-hair cats whose owners gave them up because they lost their home and had to move in with their parents. Thirteen animals were dropped off at the shelter because of foreclosures in the last week of October alone, said Suzanne D'Alonzo, manager of training and education for the shelter.

Animal welfare advocates often discourage giving pets as surprise gifts for the holidays, but D'Alonzo said that a pet adoption can be successful if the family makes the decision carefully and consults with all involved.

The Bark Avenue/Meow Place adoption center will be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays from Saturday through Dec. 21. Those interested in the pets can fill out applications at the time but won't be allowed to take them home until later, after the approval process is complete.

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