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Family pets fall victim to subprime crisis

January 26, 2008
by Mira Oberman Fri Jan 25, 9:27 AM ET

CHICAGO (AFP) – Forget about the lost furnishings and finances, the most pitiful victims of the subprime mortgage crisis rocking the United States are the family pets.

Shelters across the country have seen sharp upticks in the number of people giving up their pets in recent months because they have been forced out of their homes. And — more tragically — neighbors, police and foreclosure agents are finding increasing numbers of pets left to fend for themselves in abandoned homes.

“We’re finding too many animals who have starved to death,” said Stephanie Shain, director of outreach for the Human Society of the United States.

While some people dump their pets on the street, others go so far as to lock the animal in a closet where their cries for help are harder to hear, she said.

It can take weeks for an animal to starve to death and desperate scratch and bite marks are usually found on doors and windows.

“They will eat anything — furniture, or carpet or wallboard — to try to ingest something,” Shain said in a telephone interview.

“It’s a very fearful and frantic and panicked situation for that animal to be in.”

While there are no national statistics tracking how many animals are abandoned or dropped off at shelters, Shain said anecdotal evidence has shown “huge spikes” in areas hardest-hit by the housing downturn that shows no sign of easing.

Nearly two million families lost their homes to foreclosure in the first 11 months of last year after failing to keep up with mortgage payments, a hefty chunk of which were subprime loans.

That’s an increase of 73 percent compared to a year earlier and represents one out of every 63 households nationwide, according to RealtyTrac which tracks mortgage data.

The Humane Society recently instigated a public-awareness campaign to offer tips on finding animal-friendly rental housing and remind people that pets are much better off in a shelter.

In one of the more shocking stories, more than 60 cats were found abandoned in a foreclosed home in Cincinnati last May, shortly after the foreclosure rate began to spike nationally.

Twenty of those cats are still being fostered while awaiting a permanent home, according to Foreclosurecats.org, a group which launched art projects to help finance the cost of caring for the kitties.

Most are not as lucky. Shelters across the country are habitually overcrowded and underfunded. Even animals which stand a good chance of being adopted are often euthanized in order to free up much-needed space.

That’s why one pet rescue group which used to only deal with finding homes for hard-to-place strays has started temporarily fostering the pets of owners in distress.

“Most of the calls we get are from people who really want to keep their pets,” said Melanie Roeder, the outreach manager at Chicago’s Tree House Animal Foundation.

“We try to counsel them and talk about the idea of fostering, or finding a place on their own.”

The group took in the cat of one woman who only needed a few weeks to find a new place to live and is open to helping others.

For others who are not able to find such a quick fix, saying goodbye is the only option.

“It’s pretty traumatic for everybody, especially the kids,” said Terri Sparks, a spokeswoman for Chicago’s largest shelter, the Animal Welfare League.

“It’s part of the family and they have no other options … people are telling us we’re losing our home and have to move.”

While moving has always been one of the top reasons why people give up their pets to shelters, Sparks said more people started mentioning foreclosures a few months ago.

About 15-20 foreclosed families are now coming into the shelter every week with their pets, and police bring in two or three pets a week found abandoned in foreclosed homes.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 6, 2008 2:21 pm

    Who the @#%! would lock their pet in a closet?! I have two cats that were abandoned at an apartment building – at least their previous owners gave them a fighting chance…

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  1. » Sub-Prime Crisis? Think of the …… pets! - ValueIreland.com : Ireland's Only Truly Independent Consumer Watchdog

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