Pets Can’t Help Pay the Mortgage–But Can Find Themselves Homeless

Homeowners aren’t the only victims of the high U.S. foreclosure rate–their pets are also finding themselves homeless at an alarming rate.

After Hurricane Katrina, news of animals left behind–or rendered homeless by the storm–were everywhere; but stories about cats, dogs and other pets stranded when their owners flee suddenly from their about-to-be foreclosed homes are just now making their way to the media (via newswires and blogs like this one.)

Dogs are starving; cats find themselves unable to blend with feral felines who recognize the domesticated animals as being different.

Unfortunately, although a recent Associated Press article said no concrete numbers exist that track the number of abandoned animals, shelters–such as the MaxFund Animal Shelter in Denver, which recently took in nine dogs who were abandoned for over a month on a local ranch–are feeling overwhelmed as owners drop off unwanted pets. (Read or see the Denver 9News story on MaxFund’s foreclosure situation here.)

Fewer homeowners are coming in for adoptions as the economy slows–another result of the housing decline, AP says. Pet ownership costs money; and cash is tight these days.

The decision is a tough one for homeowners facing foreclosure: Either leave your pets to
fend for themselves in an empty house or risk putting them in a shelter
in which there is a high chance they will be put to sleep if they
aren’t adopted.

However, pets’ chances of being found and saved once homeowners vacate is rocky. People are rushing out of their homes quickly to avoid the bank swooping in, leaving almost everything beind, and those who take over the home often don’t–or can’t–help the pets. According to the ASPCA, bank employees and other lenders who enter foreclosed homes are often
required by law to leave all property untouched–including pets–until
foreclosure proceedings are finished.

A shelter is undoubtedly the more responsible choice of the two to ensure a pet’s safety. If the pet is euthanized, while heartbreaking, it’s better than the pet starving or freezing, alone and and afraid, waiting for its owners to return. That’s just plain cruel.

“It’s not unusual for animals to be left behind, even abandoned, during
difficult times,” says ASPCA President and CEO Ed Sayres. “The loss of
a home is devastating and can only be made worse by having to also
leave behind a beloved family pet.”

Which is why the ASPCA recommends at-risk homeowners take the following steps to protect their pets if foreclosure is imminent:

  • Check with friends, family and neighbors to try to arrange
    temporary foster care for the pet.
  • Confirm pets are allowed in the rental property you are moving to–and get it in writing.
  • If a shelter agrees to
    take in a pet–and it’s important to check ahead of time, because space at shelters is usually limited–provide medical records, behavior information and
    anything else that might help the pet be placed quickly in a
    new home.

In a perfect world, lenders would supply at-risk homeowners a document or handout with that information along with all warnings and notices about the impending foreclosure. That one piece of paper could help save countless pets; but it’s true, it’s not necessarily a bank or broker’s responsibility, and they have plenty of things to worry about wrapping up with a defaulting homeowner. But maybe someday distributing pet placement tips and information will be the industry norm–it would be a big step, but an admirable one.

The best we can do now is try to house the abandoned pets who are already out there. If you’ve been thinking of adopting a pet, now is a great time–like the number of homes on the market, there are more available than you might imagine. The Web site Petfinder.com can help you locate and shelter and/or specific animal up for adoption in your area.

And lawmakers, it’s time to consider altering that legal stipulation that whoever takes possession of the house can’t remove or care for any pets inside. We wouldn’t say the same thing if a homeowner had left a child behind.

Thankfully, there haven’t been any reports of that yet–and hopefully, there won’t be–but letting animals suffer because paperwork is taking awhile to process isn’t the smartest system we could be promoting, is it?