Help is available for growing ‘foreclosure pet’ crisis

While growing numbers of foreclosures are forcing homeowners out of their homes, sometimes pets are left behind to fend for themselves. But veterinarians can help by recognizing an imminent foreclosure and helping clients arrange for their pets’ welfare.

Animal Welfare League of Montgomery County (Md.) volunteer Peg Webber said many of the people who bring their cats to her are doing so because of foreclosure.

“We don’t want to demean them,” she said. “They’ll just say ‘I have to move,’ but after a bit of talking with them it’s obvious why.”

A study released last month said that U.S. foreclosures were up 14 percent in the second quarter of 2008. The report, by online foreclosure marketplace RealtyTrac, said that foreclosure filings had increased 121 percent over the second quarter of last year.

“The problem is going to continue to get worse for probably the next two to three years,” said Cheryl Lang, president of Integrated Mortgage Solutions in Houston, Texas. “We’ll probably have another four million people going through foreclosure. That’s 1.25 million pets who are potentially at risk. … It’s kind of frightening to think of what might happen.”

Help clients help their pets

Veterinarians can help clients facing foreclosure by giving them access to information about no-kill shelters, rescue groups, and other organizations.

In response to the growing crisis of foreclosure-related pet abandonment, Lang started the nonprofit No Paws Left Behind in April. The organization’s website has links to more than 7,000 shelters and rescue groups, which are searchable by zip code. She said she hopes that people will use the site to deal responsibly with their pet if they can’t take it with them. 

“Finding a place to take your pet can be very time consuming, and people don’t have time,” Lang said. “That’s not an excuse, but that the reality of it.”

The No Paws Left Behind site also has links to American Humane Society tips for lenders, shelters and pet owners whose homes are in foreclosure.

Shelter volunteers say sensitivity is key to helping people who face losing their home.

The Animal Welfare League of Montgomery County operates a cat-only no-kill shelter in Gaithersburg, Md. Webber said the number of people giving up their cats this year has nearly doubled. Her shelter has already had to turn away almost 200 cats so far, due to the limited space and number of foster homes. Last year the shelter turned away about 210 cats for the entire year.

“We’re at full capacity at 90 now,” Webber said. “That’s 70 we have in foster care, and we only have 15 foster families.”

She said veterinarians can help their clients by being sensitive to their problem, and reminding them of shelters and foster care options.

“They can diplomatically give a little bit of counseling,” she said. “Let the people know there are places they can go to take their pets.”

Lang said veterinarians can also refer clients directly to her for help. People whose homes are in foreclosure may feel embarrassed, or may not want to talk directly to their family veterinarian, but they should know that there are resources available.

“I think it’s easier to talk to someone on the phone than your veterinarian, who you see at least once a year,” she said. “I know what these folks are going through.”

Monetary assistance

In addition to information on shelters and foster care, No Paws Left Behind also offers some direct financial assistance to pet owners. Lang said they will pay for some veterinary bills, and the nonprofit pays for IMS contractors to go out to homes to take care of the abandoned animals. People can also contact the organization to get help paying for pet deposits for rental properties. 

Lang said No Paws Left Behind, funded entirely by donations, has helped out 68 pets and animals since they opened in April. Animals helped include llamas, chickens, dogs, cats, and birds.

“All but two of those cases are foreclosure-related,” Lang said.

The Humane Society of the United States also has a Foreclosure Pets Grants Fund. Donated money goes to helping shelters and providing financial assistance for veterinary care.