Sometimes they are dropped off like a sack of dirty laundry.
But other times, they are left with weeping — as if a mother were giving up her toddler to a stranger.
The tearful partings are what get Carl Arky, director of communications at The Humane Society of Utah. "It is gut wrenching," he said.
But it happens every day at animal shelters across the United States. Pet owners giving up their animals — animals that lick their owners' hands for the last time as if to wash them with forgiveness.
The economy exposes just how expensive pets are. And when deciding about getting a dog or cat, unless a potential owner counts the cost, they may end up reluctantly bringing the animal to the shelter.
"People give a multitude of reasons for bringing in an animal," Arky said. And in a recovering economy, the underlying reason is often economic.
Some people will say the animal grew too large or someone in the family is allergic. But more and more Arky said the reason given is cost or moving.
Lose a job. Lose a house. Lose a pet that is not welcome in the new apartment."People are moving from a home of their own into an apartment because they lost their home," he said. "Hopefully that is going to stop."
Gail Buchwald, senior vice president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Adoption Center located on the upper east side of Manhattan, said the ASPCA does not have nationwide data on animals that are brought to shelters, the number one reason for pet relinquishment is moving. "Moving is often triggered by a number of other factors, many of which can be related to financial issues," she said.
The need to move can be related to the loss of employment and the inability to afford current housing. When the move is to a place that doesn't allow pets, that is also an issue of economics because it generally costs more to find pet-friendly housing.
The New York Housing Authority, which provides free and low cost housing, recently placed a ban on dogs over 25 pounds. "That did directly result in relinquishment," Buchwald said.
In California and Arizona, where home foreclosure rates were high, pet relinquishment skyrocketed as a result of a loss of a home. But people will tell a shelter they were giving up their pet because of a need to move but would naturally not offer information that they lost their home in a foreclosure. "When the economic recession hit the in the home forclosure market, we saw a direct correlation with that," Buchwald said.
Carol Moulton, an advisor to the American Humane Association on shelter issues, said that even though national statistics on animal shelters are not available, the economy had an impact. "There was a rash of relinquishments when all the big foreclosure started," she said. "As the economic crisis goes on, the cost of keeping a pet might be more of the issue than foreclosures."
Buchwald with the ASPCA said there has also been a tremendous drop in pet adoption in New York City. A drop of 10 percent in 2010 and a drop of 5 to 10 percent in 2011. Normally the percentage goes up each year — but Buchwald thinks some people are looking at their finances and are deciding it isn't the right time to get a pet. "People are thinking it through and they are not coming to adopt," she said.
On the other hand, Arky said The Humane Society of Utah's adoption rates stayed consistent over the last few years with about 7,500 animals being adopted out in 2010 and about 7,400 in 2011. "I find it encouraging," he said.
But Arky said people need to know a pet is a lifelong commitment. "It could live ten, twelve or fourteen years," he said.
And with those years the expenses rack up.
For example, a large dog costs $875 annually and a small dog $580. Cats are about $670 a year. "Until I saw these numbers and then crunched them out on my pet, I did not realize what I was spending on my pet," Buchwald said.
There is food, vaccinations, litter for cats, toys, treats, license fees, collars, cages, training, boarding during vacations, grooming costs and a multitude of expenses large and small.
But seeing the numbers puts people in a position to make better decisions about getting a pet.
And this isn't even looking at the cost of buying the animal in the first place.
A pet may live a long time, and the longer it lives the more likely it may incur expensive veterinary bills. A hip problem on a dog could cost $2,000. Cancer treatments could cost $30,000.
Arky has pet insurance for his three dogs, Sunny, Shay and Chica. The $30-a-month-per-dog insurance covers medical emergencies and surgery. Buchwald encourages pet owners who don't get insurance to set aside an emergency fund to save up money for future needs.
But even if a person makes an educated decision and adopts a dog or cat from a shelter, economic circumstances can change.
In those situations, it might be tempting to skimp on veterinary care or vaccinations. Buchwald said, however, that there are programs across the country to help people with their pets. She said to contact local shelters for referrals.
The time to consider giving up a pet is when it becomes such a financial burden or a time burden that the owner can't provide an adequate quality of life for the animal. But this is a hard decision to make without input, and Buchwald recommends asking friends and family what they think about the situation. "The worst thing to do is nothing at all," she said. "Don't keep it quiet. Call friends and relatives. Call the local shelter. Look for resources. Be proactive."
Moulton with the American Humane Association said to first look for another home. "Shelters are just stuffed with animals," she said. "If you can find a different solution, that would be great. Try whatever you can."
But if a person has to give up their pet, Buchwald also recommends planning and calling a shelter to see the best times to bring in a pet. Shelters do not have infinite room. Some aspects of animal relinquishment are seasonal. For example, cats have kittens in the months from April to about September — and so the chance of an adult cat finding an adoptive home among all those cute kittens is quite slim in those months.
Ultimately getting, keeping or losing a pet is about costs. Cost of money. Cost of time. And cost of love.
"Having a pet is, for me, the only way to live life," Buchwald said.
"It is incredibly exciting to come home with a new friend,"