News & Politics  
comments_image Comments

The Soaring Rate of Abandoned Animals Is the Latest Sign of a Deep Economic Crisis

Abandoned animals and "foreclosure pets" are the innocent victims of our financial downward spiral.

Beginning last year and well into 2009, a disturbing media trend emerged, as local news outlets across the country began reporting different versions of the same sad tale: Dogs, cats and other animals were being found abandoned inside and outside of shuttered homes, the "silent victims," apparently, of the foreclosure crisis.

There were the three dogs found dead in Arkansas that had been locked inside pet carriers without food or water; the "emaciated" German shepherd left chained to a tree in the backyard of an abandoned home in Arizona (he was later euthanized); the starving pit bull in Stockton, Calif., discovered in the wreckage of a ruined house, whose owners had "trashed their home before a bank foreclosed on it." (One Animal Protective League officer in Cleveland calls this "part of the revenge process: They leave these animals to defecate in the house to destroy the furniture and to urinate on everything to make it difficult for the mortgage company to clean up.")

As more and more Americans have lost their homes to the wave of foreclosures that has swept the nation, a shocking portion of them, whether due to an inability or an unwillingess to find homes for their animals after being rendered homeless themselves, have simply left their pets behind.

"This has really become an epidemic," Allie Phillips, director of Public Policy at the American Humane Association told the Detroit News earlier this month. According to her estimates, with some 8,000 houses going into foreclosure every day, from 15,000 to 26,000 more animals are in danger of losing their homes daily.

Not all pets have been left to fend for themselves, of course. After all, most states consider it a crime abandon animals (although such anti-cruelty laws are not strictly enforced). But an untold number have been given up because the owners had no other choice.

The Detroit News tells the story of a woman who came in with her son to give up a 9-year-old purebred Yorkshire terrier after losing their home. "They were just bawling, but they had no place to live," said Kayla Allen, director of the Michigan Animal Rescue League in Pontiac.

And the New Haven Register recently told of a Connecticut woman who was forced to move in with her parents after losing her home, and in the process had to give up her two cats (sisters) as well.

"She had gotten them from a shelter when they were really, really tiny," said Mary Mellows, who runs a local cat rescue and picked up the cats in a gas station parking lot. "This woman had bottle fed them, and she had had them for 11 years, and she and her husband were being foreclosed on. She was devastated." The obviously well-cared-for cats "came equipped with everything -- cat trees and litter boxes and photo albums. They were definitely a part of the family."

In the news and on animal-rescue listservs, stories like this one are ubiquitous. They are also not going away. This past February, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimated that the number of cats and dogs at risk of becoming homeless due to the economic crisis stands between 500,000 and 1 million.

'When times are hard for people, they're hard for their pets'

"What we've always known is that when times are hard for people, they're hard for their pets," Stephen Zawistowski, vice president at the ASPCA told the Associated Press last January. But with the unprecedented foreclosure crisis now compounded by a broader economic catastrophe, the landscape is looking particularly bleak. "According to national financial estimates, approximately 1 in 171 homes in the United States is in danger of foreclosure due to the subprime mortgage crisis," Zawistowski said in a statement released by the ASPCA in February. "And considering that approximately 63 percent of U.S. households have at least one pet-plus, hundreds of thousands of pets are in danger of being abandoned or relinquished to animal shelters across the country."