A kitten awaiting adoption at Lort Smith.

A fun-loving kitten at Lort Smith Animal Hospital. Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui

FOR all of his five years, Diesel the Staffordshire bull terrier lived in a western suburbs backyard. It wasn't an especially interesting life but it's what he knew. A couple of weeks ago, his owner, as part of a Christmas clean-up, decided Diesel was akin to some lawn ornament whose novelty value had gone stale.

One can imagine the dog's excitement as he was led to the car.

At the counter of The Lost Dogs' Home, Diesel's owner explained he didn't want him any more. He was having children over the next day and didn't want the dog in the way. ''The inference was they were having a Christmas do and the dog was inconvenient,'' says general manager Sue Conroy.

Missey.

Looking for love: Missey. Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui

Diesel doesn't know what's going on and is undergoing behaviour therapy. ''He's been fretting,'' says Ms Conroy.

There are 150 dogs with similar stories sitting in The Lost Dogs' Home in North Melbourne - and hundreds more in shelters across Melbourne. Their owners have decided the four-legged member of the family has to go. Christmas - the season that speaks of humanity at its best - is the most popular time of year to ditch the family pet.

Since December 15, 280 dogs have come into The Lost Dogs' Home, many picked up as runaways. Only 125 have since been claimed by their owners and taken home; the others remain languishing, evidently victims of dumping. Some of them have identification, most of them are microchipped.

Diesel.

Diesel needs a home. Photo: Ken Irwin

''People call the council and say they have found a dog they want picked up because it's a stray,'' says Ms Conroy. ''When we scan the microchip we find the same address from where the dog was picked up. Once the owners are caught out they'll invent stories like 'we gave him away last week'. It's shameless.''

Often owners won't pick up when they recognise The Lost Dogs' Home number on their phone.

''We use different phones to trick them into picking up. The prime time for catching people out is on a Friday night, because they think it's someone wanting to go out for drinks and they are disappointed when they hear it's us wanting to reunite them with their dog.''

Liz Walker, the shelter manager at Lort Smith Animal Hospital, has had many calls from people wanting to give up their animals ''because they've been able to secure holidays at short notice and there are no boarding facilities, because the kennels and catteries are booked out.

''But they don't come back and retrieve them after their holiday so … they really just wanted to get rid of them.

''We see seven and eight-year-old dogs being surrendered simply because the owners don't have time for them any more.

''We see the same thing with cats. It happens all year round but at Christmas time the calls triple. It's heartbreaking that people see a family member as disposable.''

The Lost Dogs' Home - ''full to overflowing,'' says Sue Conroy - is running a half-price drive on adoptions.

■dogshome.com