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This is a plea not to abandon your pet when times get tough.

We returned home this holiday weekend to find our neighbor's cat, and her litter box, on our doorstep. It appears as if our neighbor moved out. No note; just the cat.

A lot of us will pay dearly for the family pet, and most will say that the expenses are worth every penny -- but clearly, some people aren't so caring with their furry friends.

The cost of owning a pet can add up in surprising ways. The obvious expenses include: food, medical bills, pet-sitting expenses, and routine care. After that, you can add on incidentals like toys and treats. Occasionally, you'll pay for your pet to travel with you, pony up for it to live with you, or incur other unexpected "pet fees."

Unfortunately, there is a flip side of this cash outpouring. When times are tough, some people think the pet should be the first expense to cut. Suddenly, a pet's basic needs seem too expensive.

It is shocking that people will abandon their pets. But this happens too frequently.

A friend of mine in real estate tells me that she's seen people leave their pets at home when they move out. I've heard that nationally this is becoming more frequent as more people are forced to leave their homes. How cruel.

Luckily, there are things that can be done. First, you can

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take Jeffrey Strain's advice

about ways to reduce the cost of owning your pet.

Second, there are several ways you can help.

First, you can neuter your pet.

The cost is typically very reasonable, and your efforts help control the population of homeless animals. If you don't own a pet, you can adopt one from any number of charitable organizations. Avoid the pet store and other breeders.

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Second, you can contribute to organizations that care for abandoned animals.

The SPCA is a great one to help. There are also many other local organizations or breed-specific organizations. Share your favorites in the comments section. Monetary contributions are appreciated. However, donations of time and care items (like blankets) are necessary, too.

Last, you can help make it socially unacceptable for animals to be treated so poorly.

Raise your voice when you see animals in bad situations. It costs nothing. Doing so shows greater respect to your animal family members than any toy you can purchase.