READING, Pa. (AP) – With high unemployment, the stock market's dramatic swings and fear of another recession weighing heavily on people's minds, many might have forgotten about another, more helpless group suffering from the ailing economy: pets.

Harry D. Brown III, executive director of the Animal Rescue League of Berks County, said Thursday that in all of 2007 there were 872 dogs and 1,919 cats surrendered to the Cumru Township shelter.

To date this year, the shelter has taken in 1,513 dogs and 3,073 cats.

Since 2008, the shelter has seen a steady increase of abandoned animals. Brown said the economy is most likely to blame because people don't have the money to feed the animals or provide veterinary care.

"I think the economy has a lot to do with it," he said. "We can tell because they (owners) won't leave a note."

Brown said owners usually leave a note when they are surrendering pets for other than financial reasons.

The other main animal shelter in Berks, the city-based Humane Society of Berks County Inc., reported a slight increase in abandoned pets this year.

"From 2009 to 2010, we saw a gradual decline in surrendered animals," said Dylan Heckart, the shelter's director of development and public relations. "Comparing 2011 to 2010, we saw a 4.2 percent increase."

While Heckart believes the economy has played a role in the increased drop-offs, he said there's no way to know.

"No one ever says, 'I'm giving up my pet because I'm too poor,"' Heckart said Thursday.

Because the shelter does not know for sure why the owner is surrendering a pet – although shelter staff routinely ask – Heckart said he can only guess that the economy might be impacting the owner's decision.

"It's hard to nail down the exact root of the cause," he said. "It's difficult to say pets are being surrendered because of this or because of that."

Nevertheless, it is hard to argue that the declining economy does not have a role in the increase of drop-offs, Brown said.

And because of the increase, and because the shelter can hold only 100 cats and 60 dogs at a time, the shelter is forced to euthanize animals unless they are adopted.

"When you're getting overrun, it's (euthanizing) a decision you have to make," Brown said. "No one likes doing it."

So for owners who are considering surrendering their animals because they are struggling to make ends meet, Brown said there is an alternative.

"We'll help them in any way we can," he said. "If they need food and stuff like that, we'll gladly help them."

Online:

http://bit.ly/mWr3ry [1]

Information from: Reading Eagle, http://www.readingeagle.com/ [2]