Evicted: Pets and the Foreclosure Crisis
By Robert Forto, PhD
The house was ravaged – its floors ripped, walls busted and lights smashed by owners who trashed their home before a bank foreclosed on it. Hidden in the wreckage was an abandoned member of the family: a starving pit bull — this was the image of a home in suburban California a week ago.
The dog was too far gone to save – another example of how pets are becoming the newest victims of the nation’s mortgage crisis as homeowners leave animals behind when they can no longer afford their property.
Pets “are getting dumped all over,” said Traci Jennings, president of the Humane Society of Stanislaus County in northern California. “Farmers are finding dogs dumped on their grazing grounds, while house cats are showing up in wild cat colonies.”
The abandoned pets are overwhelming animal shelters and drawing fury from bloggers, trainers, activists and rescue groups, especially as photos of emaciated animals circulate on the Internet.
Denver Dog Works in Colorado has seen an influx of shelter-saved dogs at the training center in recent months. All of the new owners say the same thing: “I don’t know the dog’s history we just wanted to save his life,” as quoted verbatim from more than one client. While this is admirable at best, and a challenge nonetheless when it comes to training the dog to accept a new home the new owners are facing an up-hill battle.
The first people to enter an abandoned house, such as property inspectors and real estate brokers, have discovered dogs tied to trees in backyards, cats in garages, and turtles, rabbits and lizards in children’s bedrooms.
No one keeps track of the number of abandoned pets, but anecdotal evidence suggests that forsaken animals are becoming a problem wherever foreclosures are climbing. Denver is reported to have the highest number of foreclosures per capita. Colorado also has some of the highest number of dogs per household. The two combined equal a disaster on an epidemic scale for wayward pets.
Despite months of warning before a foreclosure, many desperate homeowners run out the clock hoping to forestall an eviction. Then they panic, particularly if they are moving to a home where pets are not permitted. Many of these people have no money, their credit is a mess and they cannot afford to move into an apartment and pay the extra fee for a security deposit for the pet, which is often hundreds of dollars.
The situation has become so widespread that the Humane Society urges home owners faced with foreclosure to take their animals to a shelter. Many shelters even have a no-questions-asked policy. In most cases, a pet owner is not required to give details about the reasons for turning over the animal. Some organizations even have drop off boxes where an owner can take a pet anonymously.
Shelters are trying to keep up, but the spike in abandoned pets comes at a time when fewer people are adopting animals. Home sales are plunging to their lowest level in decades, and new homeowners are often the most likely to seek a pet.
Even people who are buying homes are not adopting pets.
“People are not bringing home puppies because times are tough, and animals cost money,” says Dr. Robert Forto, training director for Denver Dog Works. “It is a sad fact that dogs in this country are disposable. That is uncalled for,” Dr. Forto says.
The mortgage crisis shows few signs of easing. Many real estate tracking companies announce that countless homeowners started to fall behind on mortgage payments in the past six months, setting the stage for a record-number foreclosures this year. While the government and even our President have adopted programs for people in trouble, many do not meet the stringent qualification procedures. For others, it is already too late.
Shelters all over the Denver area are fielding more desperate calls from animal owners about to be evicted. Many call as a last resort after being turned down by various rescue groups with no room for more animals.
“They’re usually breaking down on the phone,” said a shelter dispatcher recently quoted on a blog on the Internet. “I’m quite direct with them that there’s a 50-50 chance the animals might be put down.”
Still, shelter operators say, half a chance is better than none.
“They may be euthanized at a shelter,” said Stephanie Shain of the Humane Society of the United States. “But they’ll be fed and have water and have a humane euthanization, as opposed to spending the last days of their lives eating carpet or wallboard.”
Canine Behaviorists and trainers like Dr. Forto are furious with the “foreclosure pet” phenomenon, especially after seeing photos of emaciated animals on the Internet and those arriving at his training center in near feral condition. Some critics say the pet owners have already proved they are irresponsible by buying houses they could not afford or mortgages they did not bother to understand.
The problem is exacerbated because most people grappling with foreclosure are returning to rental housing or moving in with relatives – two situations where it can be difficult or impossible to bring pets.
What we’ve always known is that when times are hard for people, they’re hard for their pets as well.
Abandoning animals is illegal in most states under anti-cruelty laws, but the laws are not rigidly enforced. In most cases it is just a fine of a few hundred dollars or the prospect of a misdemeanor on your record. A relatively small price to pay when you are facing homelessness.
Occasionally, albeit rarely, a family will be reunited with the pet that they had left behind in their foreclosed house. In one case, a family was staying in a homeless shelter, and their dogs were being cared for by neighbors at the family’s behest. The family was able to find housing suitable for themselves and their dogs.
But happy endings elude a majority of foreclosure animals.
“Their best shot is for the owners to plan ahead some,” Dr. Forto said. “But they do not always plan for the unforeseeable circumstance of loosing their home. I do not see that happening anytime soon.”
Dr. Robert Forto, training director of Denver Dog Works, often trains many pets that are adopted from local shelters and offers discounts to those who call us and say they read this article. If you would like to schedule an evaluation with your dog please give us a call anytime at 303-752-2818 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Citation: American Humane Society website