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How much to put that doggy in the window?

In a bid to reduce animal abandonment,shelters charge people who drop off pets.

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In the reception room of animal shelter here, Rose Vicars and her son are struggling to hold a puppy they found abandoned at the side of a road.

"We think he's lost," Ms. Vicars says of the fluffy canine. "We have two dogs already, so there's no way we could keep him."

Today, however, Ms. Vicars' good Samaritan act of saving the pup from starvation or worse comes at a price - $25 to be exact. Earlier this month, the Humane Society of Southern Arizona became one of the first in the nation to start charging people for dropping off unwanted pets.

The fee - meant to discourage people from simply discarding their dogs or cats - is one of several steps that animal shelters are now taking to deal with a burgeoning problem of unwanted pets in many parts of the country. It's estimated that US shelters admit 8 million cats and dogs per year. In this Tucson shelter alone, 20,000 animals have been brought through the reception room in the past 12 months.

"We hope this adds a value to the pet in people's minds," says Susan Wilson, the shelter's executive director. "We want to people to stop seeing animals as disposable."

Judging from the quiet reception room, it may be working.

"I knew about the fee," Vicars says, rubbing the squirming pup. "But we couldn't just let him get hit by a car."

The problem of overcrowded shelters varies from region to region - shelters in New England and California sometimes don't have enough animals to meet adoption demands - but "the rest of the country is not that lucky," says Martha Armstrong, vice president for companion animals with the Humane Society of the United States.

Uneven progress

These differences are reflected "in communities that have really progressive animal care and control programs in place, and those that don't," says Ms. Armstrong.

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