Abandoned: The four-legged victims of Venezuela's economic crisis

venezuela starving pets orig_00000407
venezuela starving pets orig_00000407

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Story highlights

  • Dogs and cats are often victims of families' belt-tightening
  • Four-legged friends are abandoned as owners struggle to find food for the family

(CNN)Skinny and desperate, they root in the trash for even a small morsel of overlooked food. They are bedraggled; their rib cages and hip bones show through taut skin.

On the street, left to fend for themselves, they snap at each other, trying desperately to survive in the cruel world which has forsaken them.
    They are the abandoned pets of crisis-hit Venezuela.
    Protesters take to the streets of Caracas, Venezuela
    Protesters take to the streets of Caracas, Venezuela

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    Pet owners in the country, which is facing a deep economic recession that continues to spiral out of control, cannot afford to care for their animals.
    More and more, Venezuelans are struggling to even feed their own families, and with even the cheapest bag of dog food costing as much as a third of the country's minimum wage, thanks to rampant inflation, money for pet food is simply a luxury fewer and fewer can afford.
    Activists say the number of abandoned animals has increased by 50% in the past year, and many are left to fend for themselves on the streets.
    According to the rescue organization "Street puppies," many of those dogs rescued arrive at the shelter starving and emaciated. Animal activists tell CNN's Osmary Hernandez that they too are suffering the pain of the economic crisis.

    Overcrowding

    Animal shelters get more crowded by the day. But as the number of strays increases, the shelters are feeling the strain.
    "The (dogs) are hungry because there are many dogs and no matter how much effort I put in, I bring all these filled containers (of food) but it's not enough," one activist says.
    Venezuelans themselves are suffering through severe food and medical shortages while inflation and crime skyrocket and massive protests call for a referendum vote to remove President Nicolas Maduro.
    Families all through the country are struggling to feed their families, standing in lines for hours to buy food, many times coming up empty-handed. Also missing from the shelves at the supermarkets and pet stores is locally produced dog and cat food.
    Many stores in Venezuela's capital Caracas haven't received locally-made pet food for over a month -- and imported brands are just too expensive.
    One small bag of dog food -- weighing 1.5 kilos (3.3 lbs) -- can cost as much as the Venezuelan monthly minimum wage, about 15,000 to 20,000 bolivares (about $1500 to $2000). One worker tells CNN even the cheapest bag could cost up to one-third of that.
    Owners have started to take desperate measures, sometimes leaving animals tied to poles or in front of animal stores and veterinary clinics.
    "Abandoned dogs have been left here, in front of the shop and even at the door of the clinic" says Elizabeth Hernandez, a worker at a pet shop in Caracas.
    "Thank God, we have been able to make contact with several foundations that are dedicated to picking up these animals and putting them up for adoption, but there have been many, many, many dogs and many abandoned kittens."