A ‘ruff’ time for some in the Roaring Fork Valley | VailDaily.com

A ‘ruff’ time for some in the Roaring Fork Valley

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Scott Condon/The Aspen TimesSky, a royal standard poodle, was taken in by the locally run Animal Rescue Foundation after his owner couldn't the dog's care any longer.

EL JEBEL, Colorado ” If you think the recession has been rough on you consider the case of a Roaring Fork Valley resident known as Sky.

The royal standard poodle was given up by his owner in El Jebel to the Animal Rescue Foundation of Colorado last month when she couldn’t afford the dog’s care any longer.

“It’s almost unheard of to have a young purebred poodle like him end up at a rescue group,” said Haley Houghton, director of the nonprofit better known as ARF. “It’s really a sign of the times.”

An unusually high number of dogs and cats have been surrendered to ARF since December, when the recession started hitting the Roaring Fork Valley hard. Winter jobs didn’t materialize for some people after the real estate crash and the drop in tourism. Some people who surrendered their pets simply couldn’t afford to take care of them when budgets got tight. In a couple of extreme cases, pet owners who faced foreclosure gave up their pets.

Houghton estimated that ARF receives a “surrendered” pet about once a week. “It’s a tough time for animals right now, that’s for sure,” she said.

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The surrendering of a pet is a cooperative process between ARF and the owners. ARF also takes pets that are abandoned and others that are transferred from pounds where they are at risk of being killed. The organization also takes care of the offspring of pets it has accepted.

ARF has limited ability to accept pets. It doesn’t operate a kennel of its own, so it relies on foster homes and donated space in commercial kennels. With limited space, it gives priority to pets from the Roaring Fork Valley and Lower Colorado River Valley. The vast majority of pets surrendered for economic reasons in recent months have come from the two valleys, Houghton said. The nonprofit also has taken pets in those situations from owners in Craig, Fort Collins and Denver ” when the owners exhausted all options there, according to Houghton.

In one case, a Roaring Fork Valley pet owner wouldn’t take the time to come into ARF’s Carbondale office and fill out the paperwork. “He threw [Carrie] over the fence and abandoned her,” Houghton said.

But that was a rare case. It’s a real struggle for most pet owners to give up their animals. And, Houghton said, it’s “heartbreaking” to see the pet owners give them up.

The Aspen Animal Shelter hasn’t experienced a spike in pet surrenders specifically related to the owners’ financial hardships, according to director Seth Sachson. “We haven’t seen it like the rest of the country,” he said.

What is more common in the upper valley is for people to abandon pets when they move to town for the winter and realize how hard it is to find housing that allows pets, he said. The shelter also ends up with animals when owners leave town at the end of the winter.

The recession is dealing a double whammy to ARF. At the same time that the demand for services is soaring, donations are tumbling. December and January are typically the best months for raising funds, according to Peggy Corcillo, the founder and president of the board of directors, but contributions are down about 33 percent this year.

“We had a lot of the same people donate but they donated less,” Corcillo said.

ARF received $69,000 in revenues in 2008 and is shooting for the same amount this year. The organization stretches its dollars with donated services from veterinarians as well as space and TLC from foster homes and kennel owners. Houghton is the organization’s only employee, and she is part-time.

Even when pinching pennies, stuff happens. Sky, the purebred poodle, needed surgery for a torn ACL when he was surrendered to the organization. While awaiting the surgery date, he developed pneumonia in both lungs and required a lengthy, expensive hospital stay. He got over the pneumonia and is hanging out at a foster home in Snowmass, but still faces surgery.

Cases like Sky’s are why the organization needs to raise more funds, Houghton said.

More information about ARF, and the pets available for adoption, can be found at http://arf-colorado.com.

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