Times are tight for Americans. Around every corner lurks more news about rising fuel prices, expensive food and families forced to leave their homes to make ends meet. According to RealtyTrac, home foreclosures in the first quarter of 2008 increased 23 percent from the previous quarter and jumped 112 percent from the first quarter of 2007. These increases in foreclosures have given rise to an unexpected problem: pet abandonment.
There are no figures to estimate the number of animals being abandoned or surrendered due to current economic hardships, but animal shelters across the country are taking in more animals every day as families find themselves without other options. Some families are taking advantage of shelters to temporarily board their pets with the hope of picking them up in a few days or weeks. Meanwhile, local authorities are seeing an increase in the number of pets being abandoned by their owners.
In Arkansas, three dogs were found starved to death in their kennels. The homeowners had left the dogs behind when they moved. Two dogs in San Diego were left at a vacant home for several months, but survived. In Downy, Calif., four birds were found abandoned in their cages.
But abandonment is never the answer, animal welfare experts say. Whether its asking a friend to pet sit, finding an apartment that accepts animals, finding a local shelter that can help or asking your veterinarian for low-cost boarding, theres always a humane option, says Allie Phillips, director of public policy for the American Humane Association, the 130-year-old child and animal welfare organization.
To help struggling families find options, American Humane has put together a list of tips to help homeowners either relocate with their pets or find other safe placement options for them. Some of those tips include:
- Look for apartments and rental homes that will take pets.
- If you cannot take your pet, ask your veterinarian if you can receive low-cost boarding for your pet or set up a payment plan.
- Check www.petfinder.com for a list of shelters and rescue organizations in your area that can help board your animal or will accept it for adoption. One highly-regarded group in our area is Friends of Homeless Animals of Northern Virginia: Go to www.foha.org.
- Strongly consider taking your pet with you. The comfort and companionship of pets can help ease the strain of a move.
“There’s a lot of news about the stock market and a struggling economy lately, but it’s not the economy that’s struggling. It’s you, us, our friends and neighbors,” says Marie Belew Wheatley, president and CEO of American Humane. Its a tough place for any family to find themselves. Bills need to be paid and in order to make ends meet, sometimes sacrifices have to be made. Its not easy, but pet abandonment isnt the answer.
Tip sheets for homeowners looking for ways to keep or care for their pets during a foreclosure can be found at www.americanhumane.org. Also available online are tip sheets for bank and mortgage companies that may find abandoned pets in vacated homes. In addition, local animal shelters may be eligible for grants from American Humane to help families stay with their pets.
Neighbors Can Help, Too
Often a neighbor can help authorities and animal welfare groups spot an abandoned animal before its too late. Neighbors should listen for animal sounds, look in windows, check with other neighbors and be on the lookout for signs that the previous homeowners had pets. If pets are known or suspected to be on the property, animal control should be called immediately. With a neighbors help, animal control can get a search warrant to enter the home and check for pets that are abandoned or neglected.
American Humane is quick to point out that animals left behind or simply set free will probably not survive. It can be weeks or months before a bank or mortgage company will visit an abandoned home to make an assessment or a neighbor notices that pets are trapped in a house. Thats too long for any animal to go without food and water. If abandoned, there is also a chance that the state criminal animal-cruelty laws might apply, even if arrangements are made for somebody to feed and water the animals after the home has been vacated.
Its a terrible situation for any family to find themselves in, but to leave an animal behind only makes it worse, says Belew Wheatley. It seems when times are tough we find the best in our friends, family and neighbors. If theyre unable to help there are always other options, from a vet to a local animal shelter. These are our family pets, and they count on us to take care of them.
Visit www.americanhumane.org for more information.