Editor’s Pick
FEBRUARY 4, 2009 1:32PM

As Economy Crashes, We're Killing Our Pets

Rate: 29 Flag

As Americans are being forced to choose between buying food for their children or keeping their pets, or between paying for pet food or for their utilities bills, the economic crisis means death for thousands -- perhaps millions -- of abandoned dogs and cats

And as the foreclosure crisis spreads and homeowners are being forced to become renters, millions of pets are being left behind to fend for themselves.

Most of them will die. 

USA Today has reported that across the country, areas with high foreclosures are seeing increased rates of pet abandonment, and shelters are worried that even more could be coming as unemployment rates rise.

The Humane Society of the United States, which has initiated a program called the Foreclosure Pets Fund to help families keep their pets even in the event of financial hardship, points out that “Pets have been among the voiceless victims of the current economic downturn. Animals have been left behind in foreclosed homes, and shelters are reporting that families are struggling to keep and feed pets… Abandoned pets face a grim future. Many pets trapped inside abandoned homes aren't found until they're on the brink of starvation. Those lucky enough to reach a shelter have about a 50 percent chance of being adopted.”
A recent poll found that one in seven owners nationwide reported reduced spending on their pets and of those cutting back, more than a quarter said they considered giving up their pet.

The average annual cost of owning a dog is about $1,400, while the average annual cost of a cat is about $1,000, according to a survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association. The survey suggests there are some 231 million pets — excluding fish — in more than 71 million homes in America.

Here in Orange County, California, the number of abandoned dogs and cats euthanized at the county animal shelter hit a five-year high in 2008. There were 31,492 dogs and cats taken in by the shelter last year - a 13 percent jump from 2007.  Of those, nearly half - 15,265 - were killed, a 31 percent increase.

These lethal numbers are going to increase dramatically in 2009.

The Orange County Register also reports that “The grim picture is not Orange County’s alone. ‘We believe that the increases we’re seeing are a result of the economic crisis, and many shelters across the nation are facing many of the same issues,’ said Ryan Drabek, spokesman for Orange County Animal Care Services. ‘It would be a very easy cop out for us to say it’s the economy if it didn’t seem to be effecting anyone else, but everyone in the animal care world is being affected by this.’"

The New York Times has reported that at New York City’s main animal shelter, for example, monthly calls to the volunteers who can help people keep their pets through tough financial times doubled between January and September 2008.

The Times also quotes the animal control officer in Bridgeport, Connecticut, saying “People are coming out and saying that they’re losing their homes and can’t keep the pet. It’s such a big problem now, they seem to feel able to tell you the exact reason, beyond a simple ‘I’m moving.’ ”

At the Henry County Animal Care and Control in McDonough, Georgia, the number of abandoned pets was up 71 percent for the first four months of 2008 compared with the same period in 2007. 

Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of the Humane Society, told the Times that “In terms of relinquishment, I’d say this is the most serious circumstance that I can recall.  And as more pets are being turned in, he noted, cash donations to animal rescue groups have declined and fewer people are adopting pets. It’s a bit of a triple whammy."

According to the Associated Press, “The population growth at animal shelters in Connecticut, Nebraska, Texas, Utah and other states shows how the weak economy is also shrinking the pool of potential adopters. And it coincides with a drop-off in government funding and charitable donations. The effect has been cramped quarters for dogs and cats, a faster rate of shelters euthanizing animals and some shelters turning away people looking to surrender pets, according to interviews with several shelters and animal advocates.”

Of the estimated 6 million to 8 million dogs and cats sent to animal shelters in the United States every year, half are now euthanized.

That number will increase drastically as the economic crisis forces more and more families to choose between feeding themselves and their children or feeding their pets.




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Word. Our cat that came wandering in to us was fixed and had his teeth cleaned recently, according to our vet. Out in the country, where "barn cats" are common, I found this mind boggling. Someone had kept this lovely (OK, fucking insane) cat in such good condition and then just dumped him in this coyote-infested dangerland. Luckily MacGruber found me and my wallet, but I think about all those animals that don't find someone out here in the dead of winter. There was just a news story recently about the epidemic of mistreated horses out here, which are really expensive to care for. Many horses will have to be put down because there are just no funds to keep them alive.
Thanks for this interesting post. Anyone with horses should definitely get medical insurance for those horses (I made the mistake of not insuring my accident-prone equine and paid lots of money in vet bills). You can get insurance for dogs and cats too. Feeding them, of course, is another matter. This post is a good reminder to include animal rescue and human associations in the donations we make. Rated.
Peace Out, I live behind an orchard in Suburbia where homes cost more than my mother made in a lifetime. Much to my husband's dismay, I have resuced Pooty Tat, Squints Polidorous, and Tony Bennett (He loves to sing.) Three beautiful cats dumped unceremo iously to fend for themselves. Pooty Tat was still a kitten. Squints is a beautiful golden tip who sits inside in the warmth out of the snow of the Rocky Mountains and purrs like a Kenilworth all day long. Almost brought home a Sheltie yesterday who was being dumped at Wal-Mart by a father with two young children who were crying. No home, no dog. Fortunately, a young man in full camos wth his beret and boots stopped by with his fiancee. They took Lovey home. Rated.
I can honestly say that if I had to live in my car, I would live in my car with the three cats. Not just because I love them, but because I honestly believe that, having adopted them, I am as 100% responsible for them as I would be for a child -- all being small, helpless things who didn't ask for you to bring them into your home.

And it's infuriating to think of all the money that people wasted buying enormous, shoddily made $350,000 houses to keep their four plasma TVs in, only to lose said ugly, poorly built monstrosities to their own avarice, and then to say to themselves, "Well, shit, it's only an animal," as they dump off a living thing they'd purportedly taken responsibility for, because they don't have the common sense or common decency God gave the poor creature they're abandoning.

Grrr. Rated.
thanks for writing about this

I live in metro Atlanta, which has been hit pretty hard by layoffs, foreclosures and in result - many unwanted pets.
Great post. I, too, live in the Atlanta area where there has always (since I moved here in '99) been an excess of pets needing adoption. I'm a sucker for pets in peril, and it just breaks my heart to realize how many pets are being going to be sacrificed for financial reasons. I do understand the quandry, having been unemployed throughout the entire Bush administration, but I never once considered giving up any of our pets. I'd rather starve myself.
Terrible. And part of what happens. I wish I could afford to take on one more, but I'm scraping by for my pets, too.
Thanks for bringing this to the concern of readers. Here's my own plight. I was adopted by a wild cat several years ago, and I have the scars to prove it. We have settled in quite well and people are amazed that it's the same cat when they come to visit. Last year, this cat made a CONSCIOUS effort not to claw me to death when we "played." He actually kept his claws retracted. I was so impressed. Even proud.

I may have to move in with my parents because of financial reasons. My mother told me in no uncertain terms that my cat would have to "de-clawed." I will never, ever, have that done. When I pick up my cat, he loves to knead his claws in and out on my back while he's purring (it was about two years before he purred).

I would never, ever, surrender the trust of this cat to my parents. I'd rather live in my car while they protect their precious furniture.
@Lekkers: The big problem is not choosing whether to feed your child or your pet, but which one to house. If you own your house (even if it's mortgaged), you can have a dog or cat or loudmouth parrot or what-have-you. If you have to rent (and people who are foreclosed on often have to), you're at the mercy of the landlord, who is well within his rights to stipulate NO PETS in the lease.

You may choose to live in your car with your cats rather move into an available NO PETS apartment than relinquish them to a shelter and other than possible enforcement of vagrancy laws the cops would leave you alone, but if you had a child, CPS could (and should) come down on you like a ton of bricks for putting the welfare of an animal ahead of your child's.
I agree that new renters with a pet-hating landlord have a unique problem, but otherwise I have no sympathy for people who "have to" give up their pets because of "the economy." Something else is going on with people who find that okay. My parents both grew up during the Depression and both had family dogs, in the city. There was no question of not being able to afford pet care. The dogs ate what the family ate; though it sounds cheesy, I'm sure the dogs would have starved loyally with their owners if they had to. The elaborate pet care and veterinary industry was dispensable then, not the pets.
I started feeding one bedraggled, seemingly homeless cat... in addition to our own two........of course you know that now I am feeding three of the homeless variety..that's five cats!..my husband wonders where all of the cat food is going...he was told only about the one...today he noticed one of the others on the roof of the shed.."what's that cat doing around here? "...time to get another bag of feed...these friendly, adapted to humans are NOT feral cats, these are dumped cats!
I read this on Best of Craigslist before Christmas and I think it still applies. People were dumping pets like garbage long before the economic crisis. Far too many people think pets are disposable and are somehow not sentient beings. As bad as the situation is for dogs, it's much worse for cats. People who truly regard their pets as a member of their family will find a way to keep them. I have, and would do it again.

A Letter from a Shelter Manager

I think our society needs a huge "Wake-up" call. As a shelter manager, I am going to share a little insight with you all...a view from the inside if you will.

First off, all of you breeders/sellers should be made to work in the "back" of an animal shelter for just one day. Maybe if you saw the life drain from a few sad, lost, confused eyes, you would change your mind about breeding and selling to people you don't even know.

That puppy you just sold will most likely end up in my shelter when it's not a cute little puppy anymore. So how would you feel if you knew that there's about a 90% chance that dog will never walk out of the shelter it is going to be dumped at? Purebred or not! About 50% of all of the dogs that are "owner surrenders" or "strays", that come into my shelter are purebred dogs.

The most common excuses I hear are; "We are moving and we can't take our dog (or cat)." Really? Where are you moving too that doesn't allow pets? Or they say "The dog got bigger than we thought it would". How big did you think a German Shepherd would get? "We don't have time for her". Really? I work a 10-12 hour day and still have time for my 6 dogs! "She's tearing up our yard". How about making her a part of your family? They always tell me "We just don't want to have to stress about finding a place for her we know she'll get adopted, she's a good dog".

Odds are your pet won't get adopted & how stressful do you think being in a shelter is? Well, let me tell you, your pet has 72 hours to find a new family from the moment you drop it off. Sometimes a little longer if the shelter isn't full and your dog manages to stay completely healthy. If it sniffles, it dies. Your pet will be confined to a small run/kennel in a room with about 25 other barking or crying animals. It will have to relieve itself where it eats and sleeps. It will be depressed and it will cry constantly for the family that abandoned it. If your pet is lucky, I will have enough volunteers in that day to take him/her for a walk. If I don't, your pet won't get any attention besides having a bowl of food slid under the kennel door and the waste sprayed out of its pen with a high-powered hose. If your dog is big, black or any of the "Bully" breeds (pit bull, rottie, mastiff, etc) it was pretty much dead when you walked it through the front door.

Those dogs just don't get adopted. It doesn't matter how 'sweet' or 'well behaved' they are.

If your dog doesn't get adopted within its 72 hours and the shelter is full, it will be destroyed. If the shelter isn't full and your dog is good enough, and of a desirable enough breed it may get a stay of execution, but not for long . Most dogs get very kennel protective after about a week and are destroyed for showing aggression. Even the sweetest dogs will turn in this environment. If your pet makes it over all of those hurdles chances are it will get kennel cough or an upper respiratory infection and will be destroyed because shelters just don't have the funds to pay for even a $100 treatment.

Here's a little euthanasia 101 for those of you that have never witnessed a perfectly healthy, scared animal being "put-down".

First, your pet will be taken from its kennel on a leash. They always look like they think they are going for a walk happy, wagging their tails. Until they get to "The Room", every one of them freaks out and puts on the brakes when we get to the door. It must smell like death or they can feel the sad souls that are left in there, it's strange, but it happens with every one of them. Your dog or cat will be restrained, held down by 1 or 2 vet techs depending on the size and how freaked out they are. Then a euthanasia tech or a vet will start the process. They will find a vein in the front leg and inject a lethal dose of the "pink stuff". Hopefully your pet doesn't panic from being restrained and jerk. I've seen the needles tear out of a leg and been covered with the resulting blood and been deafened by the yelps and screams. They all don't just "go to sleep", sometimes they spasm for a while, gasp for air and defecate on themselves.

When it all ends, your pets corpse will be stacked like firewood in a large freezer in the back with all of the other animals that were killed waiting to be picked up like garbage. What happens next? Cremated? Taken to the dump? Rendered into pet food? You'll never know and it probably won't even cross your mind. It was just an animal and you can always buy another one, right?

I hope that those of you that have read this are bawling your eyes out and can't get the pictures out of your head I deal with everyday on the way home from work.

I hate my job, I hate that it exists & I hate that it will always be there unless you people make some changes and realize that the lives you are affecting go much farther than the pets you dump at a shelter.

Between 9 and 11 MILLION animals die every year in shelters and only you can stop it. I do my best to save every life I can but rescues are always full, and there are more animals coming in everyday than there are homes.


Hate me if you want to. The truth hurts and reality is what it is. I just hope I maybe changed one persons mind about breeding their dog, taking their loving pet to a shelter, or buying a dog. I hope that someone will walk into my shelter and say "I saw this and it made me want to adopt". THAT WOULD MAKE IT WORTH IT
I know there are circumstances where people absoultely can't keep a pet, but I think too many people don't keep their commitment when they get a pet. The way I see it, when you get a pet, you're making a commitment for lifetime of the pet.
Yes, some extremely poor people genuinely cannot afford to keep their pet because they are homeless, or their kids literally don't get enough to eat, so it is actually a choice between feeding the kids or the pet.

However, it seems like the majority of Americans who decide they "can't" keep their pet anymore are just unwilling to inconvenience themselves. When I see posts on Craigslist that say something like, "Please adopt our 7 year old cat. We are moving to an apartment that doesn't allow pets." I want to find those people and smack them. Hard.

First of all, nobody wants your abandoned 7 year old cat, no matter how cute or well-behaved he might be. Everyone wants kittens.

Second, I have looked for apartments with a cat and in most places, it is not that hard. You might have to give up a place you like, but you can find many more places that are just fine and allow a pet. It's a bit harder with a dog, but it can be done. Instead, it seems like people decide an apartment is "just perfect... too bad we can't bring the cat." If you valued your pet as a member of your family, you would limit your search to apartments that allow pets.

People don't want to think about what happens to their pet after they drop it off at a shelter because they decided they like an apartment that doesn't allow pets. They don't want to think about the animal that slept with them and sat on their lap and trusted them dying in a shelter, so they pretend it won't happen. It's despicable. If you aren't willing to inconvenience yourself for your pet, you never should have adopted one in the first place.
Thank you for posting this. It can't be said enough. If you want to do something simple to help consider donating pet food to your local food bank. Check with them to see if they accept pet food. Often they can give this to financially stressed pet owners. It might be just the little bit of help they need to keep their pet rather than giving it up.
I find it interesting that so many people just don't believe that pet owners in severe financial distress face a real "Sophie's Choice" over whether to feed and shelter their children or their pets. I believe that in this economy, many people are facing that kind of choice.

And while I am very much in favor of donating to animal shelters and humane societies, I don't believe that the solution to the problem is helping the abandoned pets -- but helping the people so that the pets will not have to be abandoned.

For that, we're going to need a massive jobs program from the federal government, along with far more meaningful and effective aid to homeowners in financial trouble.
So so sad. Our county commission actually just voted to change our two shelters to no kill... it was a great victory and quite surprising in these tough economic times.
The economy is scary enough. But if things go south I fear for my dogs. Both of them were kennel dogs originally, found on Petfinder. I made them a promise that they will always have a home. I'm terrified of not being able to keep that promise.
I live in Orange County, too. Fortunately, there are a few apartment communities, notably those managed by Brea, that allow 2 dogs with no weight restrictions.

In Colorado, I made an arrangement to trade painting, kennel cleaning, and graphic design with a woman who ran a dog kennel there to keep my third dog. The rented house I was at only allowed 2 dogs. I ended up leaving her at a no kill shelter in Colorado when I had to move for employment reasons.

The point is, you can be creative and sometimes work something out with kennel owners by trading skills for room and board for your pet.
Two weeks ago I rescued an adorable little miniature pinscher from a busy four lane highway. She was just running around in circles as cars dodged her. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I pulled over immediately and she came to me. I picked her up and we discovered that we were soul mates. I took her home and then tried to locate her owner. I called a local radio station known for matching owners and lost pets. I ran a six day ad in the paper. I hoped and prayed that no one would claim her. Even though I wanted to keep her from the moment we met, I didn’t want to deprive someone of their pet. She had been well cared for and is in great health. I have to wonder if she wasn’t abandoned due to the economy. I agree with Lekkers. I could never, ever, under any circumstances abandon my pet. I had two Dalmatians that died within the last two years due to old age. God, I loved those dogs and would have shared my food with them until the day we all died. I just don’t understand how people can be so cold hearted

I own two horses, a bird, and a cat. The crunch is really starting to hit Kansas. My horses are really expensive, and if it comes down to feeding them or keeping my heat on, their lives will be humanely ended with me by their side. I really want to start a free or low-cost clinic that would provide euthanasia and/or gelding for horses. Here's something that many people don't really think about. Stop breeding everything with a vagina or testicles!!! I mean goddam motherfucking stop breeding!!!!! No, you don't need to breed your stallion because he's a "perty" color!! No!! You do not need to breed your pet so the kids can see the "miracle of life"!!! Take your kids to the shelter and say: "listen here. If we breed Poochie, and Poochie has puppies, they will probably end up here if they aren't starved or hit by a car first". I feel better now.
Oh, and you won't make gobs of money breeding designer dogs or bizarre grade horses. Stop breeding goddammit!!
this is sad...what's sadder is where i am at, we don't even have rescue shelters.
There is a farm where I live with 50 horses that they don't really want to feed through the rest of the winter. Stupid asshats!! So, that means they have been breeding even when their foals from the year before didn't sell. They also are selling bred mares. What the hell is the matter with people? I know they aren't getting vet or farrier care either.
Oh! No! Not Orange County! I would think people live there are wealthy enough to keep their pets. However, I want to believe responsible people would find a way to keep their pets. On the other hand, I have seen panhandlers hustled on the street with their malnutrition pets... I don't know what is the best solution. I volunteer in a cat shelter, and what Emma Peel said about abandoned pet's destiny is true. All I can say is to encourage all of you to educate your friends and co-workers to be more responsible to their pets. I was asked by my co-worker two days ago to take her cat because they are moving to an apartment that does not allow pet... excuse? Who knows?
I see this EVERYDAY where i live in Live Oak, Florida. I have e-mailed this to over 110 people, even Oprah, with no reply....I wish someone would CARE ENOUGH to finally help. Took in 2 BARELY WEANED puppies just today, so small RUNNING DOWN OUR DIRT ROAD ! taking them to a no-kill 45 miles (the closest) to my home tomorrow, i have eight STRAYS and can not take on anymore....PLEASE READ and do ANYTHING YOU CAN......

The devastating economic crisis affects all American families. And for almost two-thirds of Americans, pets are valued members of the family and they need your help. Americans are struggling to put food in pet dishes, let alone the table.

Companion animals increase the quality of life for their owners as most pets are valuable members of many American families. But incomes are decreasing or disappearing and many families cannot afford to feed and provide proper care for their loving animals.

Americans need more help accessing food for their families, including their pets.

Please help to pass legislation that makes food more readily available for all Americans.

Due to the global economic crisis people are sacrificing a lot but they are not the only ones. Household pets, often considered to be a part of the family, are affected by financial hardship as well and are being abandoned in increasing numbers.

Owners of dogs, cats, rabbits, horses, chickens, even iguanas, pets of all kinds are finding it increasingly difficult to feed and care for their additional family members.

The health and safety of pets depend on loving care which sometimes has substantial costs. Pet food and regular veterinary care are necessities for companion animals, but the costs add up quickly.

Food and care costs have escalated while owners incomes remain fixed or are declining. Small pet care has become unaffordable to most, and owners are allowing their dogs, cats to stray.

But there is a glimmer of hope. Some area food pantries are recognizing the desperate need for animal care, and are distributing pet food along with their grocery donations. This is NOT yet available in EVERY COUNTY especially here in Florida.

Where I live in Suwannee County, Florida, my search for help with food or care has left me empty handed. The closest "Pet Food Pantry" is too far to drive, some 60 or even 200 miles. EVERY COUNTY in America needs to offer help so pet owners can provide and to make this help accessible to all.

My thoughts are that if help were provided to low income families to provide for their pets, this would free up worries and neglect, also help to provide in other areas of our lives.

EVERYONE let's tell Congress, County, City, State Commissioners, Local Humane Societies and shelters, Local Newspapers, churches, ANYONE who might care. Tell community officials of how this concern needs immediate attention, this I have done but with no reply.

Get the word out across America showing concern for this escalating dilemma of our needs for food and reliable basic, medical care for our pets during the current economic crisis.

Please help those struggling to accommodate their needs to provide better, and keep these hungry, sick and abandoned "underprivileged" animals off our streets.

God's Speed
This is hard to read but important to read. I want to donate in some way....
The best thing would be to introduce laws to reduce pet breeding. People who will abandon their pets didn't want them very much in the first place. Cats can make huge inroads on bird populations and all pets eat a lot.

Most of the no-pet rules in apartments are there because landlords have had experience with irresponsible pet owners. I had a friend whose roommate never wanted to get up at 6am to walk her dog out, so she put newspaper down in the kitchen. Needless to say, the dog got the idea that it was okay to pee on floors.
We are being foreclosed on and "if" we can manage to pass a credit check to rent ; we have an apartment picked out that the landlord has demanded an extra $500 deposit for our Chihuahua. By the way, anyone behind on their mortgage much less in foreclosure is going to have a bad credit report. We are going to scrounge the money up , do with out or beg , borrow , steal. I could never walk away from someone I love so much. Anyone who would leave a pet should have never had a pet in the first place. Not unless you actually have no money and no where to go.
It's amazing to me how the economic collapse has affected every single area of American life, including pet ownership. Will this runaway train ever be stopped? Excellent reporting on a sad, sad issue.
Thank you for this post, it weighs heavily on my mind every day. Our house is more like a shelter for the abandoned and abused (broken bones, missing limbs, pellet wounds) than a home for people, but we wouldn't have it any other way. I am extremely fotunate to have a stable job, and for this I am truly thankful, but my family and I have traveled cross-country no less than 5 times and every time, our "zoo" (which gets larger with each trip) has come with us. People who say "moving and can't take pets" are FOS. For goodness sake - take your animal to a shelter or your vet if you "can't" keep it - don't leave your family member out in the wilderness - be it urban or rural - to starve.
Definitely rated.
Bluesurly is right--even though "putting down" an animal isn't a painless process, it is far kinder than just leaving the pet behind to starve.

I guess the lesson that needs to be here is before considering acquiring a pet, consider what would happen to that pet if you had to move.

I'm not in danger of losing my home, but I live in New Orleans, where I have to consider the very real possibility of hurricane evacuation. I own two cockatiels and two parakeets. Though I would like more birds I won't acquire any more because realistically I can't evacuate with any more than that.

During Gustav, my number one and number two evacuation plans--both of which involved taking the birds with me--fell through at the last minute. I had to take option number three, which was evacuating with some friends, their three-year-old son, and their elderly, bad-tempered cat in an overloaded 20-year-old Volvo to an overloaded hotel room in Montgomery. This would not have been a good situation to bring the birds into, so they were sent to stay with a Katrina-holdout friend with a car who was planning on riding out the storm on high ground and leaving with the animals if things got bad and caring for them until I could come retrieve them. It wasn't an ideal situation and luckily Gustav missed us, but it was the best I could come up with.
Thank you for this post. I used to do animal rescue. The problem is I just kept keeping the animals. Now that I have read your post I think it is time to become a foster parent again.
Wow, heartbreaking. I bought a condo that doesn't allow pets but whose going to know that I have 2 cats? The guy who washes the windows once a year? And before that I rented an apartment that didn't allow pets. I asked if they could make an exception for my cats and it was no problem. I even had them write it into the lease. It doesn't take much, just ask. I think some people just aren't aware of what a responsibility it is to be a pet owner. And I'm sure this economy isn't helping. Great post, and great comments too.
Thanks to all who read, commented, rated. And thanks to the editors for the pick.
Before the big crunch I adopted three dogs; a Great Pyrenees from the local SPCA, a Golden Retriever who was a breeder in a puppy mill and a very shy dog of mixed parentage. God willing I will not lose my job but if I do I'd work whatever, wherever, throw myself on a family members mercy until I could get back on my feet but I'd not give up my dogs. If we all live in one room sharing our food it would be a happier time for me then if I kept my house and had more. This is a 'for better or worse' situation. We've had the better but if we need to face the worse then it will be together. You don't just have living things while it's convenient then dispose of them when it's tough. I've lost jobs before in the last 'recession' and worked 3 part time jobs but none of my cats suffered. When you're back is against the wall that's the time you show what you are made of. I'll keep them with me while I still have a breath.