Foreclosure Pets: Throwing the Puppy Out With the Mortgage

By: Karrie Rose

The six-bedroom, four-bath home in South Florida looked much like the other expensive homes emptied because of foreclosure, with one difference. A Labrador Retriever was left in the large, fully fenced backyard, pawing an empty water bowl. Luckily, neighbors heard "Buddy" whining and called the SPCA, saving him from the slow starvation that had already dropped him to 55 pounds from his former 70.

Buddy was just one victim of a silent wave of cruelty sweeping the nation as spiking interest rates have ousted people from their homes. All over the nation, people who have had their houses taken by the bank are relocating. The problem that rescuers see is that they are relocating without taking their pets or, at the very least, surrendering them to a local shelter.

"It's horrific", said one realtor who declined to give her name for this article, "I rescued a Chihuahua and her litter of three pups from a foreclosed home three weeks ago. She had hidden them in a closet. If they hadn't been whimpering when we were doing a walk through in preparation for showing the house, they would have died."

Other agents have had to call animal control for dogs left in the houses and yards of foreclosed homes, who were still on guard and refusing to let strangers on the property. Worse stories can be had from realtors and bank representatives who have found pets dead because they were left with no food and no water. In these cases, notes explaining that the former owners couldn't take the pet with them do nothing to mitigate the disgust that animal lovers feel when faced with a dead or dying animal that could at least have been tied to a shelter's steps. At the very minimum, it could have been given a quick, painless death instead of suffering for days, even weeks.

Realtors and other professionals who deal with foreclosed homes have more problems than just the reprehensible cruelty involved. When abandoned, a pet can cause thousands of dollars worth of damage to a house and yard. The feces and urine left by a pet trapped in a house can leave carpets unusable. Damage done by pets trying to get out of the house can mean that doors, windows and walls need to be completely replaced. Yards can be laid waste to by a bored/starving/lonely animal. It's not just an animal cruelty issue, it's also an issue of millions of dollars.

SPCAs and shelters are desperately trying to stem the tide of foreclosure pets with free food, low or no-cost spaying and neutering programs. The Humane Society of the United States (hsus.org) has actually started a "Foreclosure Fund", with $15000. Shelters can apply for grants of up to $2000 to help financially strapped families keep their pets. Some shelters are adding "foreclosure" to their list of reasons for surrendering pets to help determine the impact of this new phenomenon.

Shelters and rescues are also encouraging more landlords to accept pets. If you find that a property you represent has an abandoned pet:

- If the pet is friendly, it may be possible to take it to a shelter with a minimum of fuss. Be aware, though, that abandoned pets can have parasites and other issues that make transporting them in your vehicle a messy proposition at best. When in doubt, it is always best to contact Animal Control or the SPCA.

- If the pet appears in any way aggressive or afraid, DO NOT APPROACH IT! Fearful and/or aggressive animals will bite and scratch! Animal Control officers are more equipped to deal with this type of situation.

- Before you leave the premises, leave a container of water available for the pet if in any way possible. In hot climates, especially, access to water is imperative.

If you are representing a foreclosed property:

- As soon as possible do an inspection. Make sure that all areas of the house are covered and make sure that nooks, basements, sheds and other out-of-the-way areas are fully checked to make sure that a domestic animal has not hidden itself away.

- Ask people in the neighborhood if the family kept pets and, if so, what kind were they and did the family take the pet when leaving.

- Contact your local SPCAs, shelters and rescues for more information and to know who to go to if you find a foreclosure pet in distress

- Make people facing foreclosure aware of the "Foreclosure Fund" and direct them to their local animal shelter/SPCA for help in re-homing/surrendering their animal

- Make a donation to the Foreclosure Pets Fund

- Support stronger legislation against abandoning pets on relinquished property.

By working together, real estate professionals and animal advocates can save abandoned animals left with foreclosed properties. This not only prevents animals from suffering and death, it also can save properties from damage that would take thousands of dollars to repair.

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