Foreclosure Pets: Furry Victims of Financial Crisis

BlogHer Original Post

As capitalism implodes, a related item in today’s Denver Post caught my eye. Apparently, Greeley resident Paula Harding could no longer afford the vet bills for her sick 15-year-old dog and, after trying OD him on anti-anxiety pills, she shot him. (Ironically, The Humane Society offers euthanasia starting at $35 and Harding is being held on a $5,000 bond.) This sad story is yet another facet in this desperate financial crisis and a new term is born: "foreclosure pet."   

The cold facts of this case sound cruel but the fact is, none of us knows what kind of financial hardship Ms. Harding faced. The reality is, putting a sick animal down via firearms is not a new method, nor is it outdated. But, to those of us who do not live in the wilds of Montana or the remote farms of North Dakota, it seems cold, harsh and well, ... loud. When police arrived, Harding was sobbing and highly distraught after burying the animal in a grave she had dug at the side of her house. I imagine she was at the end of her rope and saw no other solution.

Unfortunately, Harding is not alone in her predicament. As Americans look to scale back, we are taking a long hard look at our lifestyles and making painful cuts. For some that means riding a bike to work, for others it means more meals at home but for many, the changes are going to be more dramatic, such as getting rid of the family pet. As the cost of human food and healthcare rises - guess what? The same thing is happening to pet food and vet care.

Today, the Associated Press reported that the city of Albuquerque is trying to prevent pets from being abandoned by those having a tough time making ends meet. Petco Animal Supplies Inc., through its foundation, will donate two tons of pet food each month to The Storehouse, an Albuquerque organization that helps low-income people with such things as clothing and household goods. Cost to taxpayers? Zero.

Albuquerque's mayor, Martin Chavez, had read a news item about the gnarly economic mess forcing people to give up their pets. Mayor Chavez imagined folks being forced to make "those terrible choices" between feeding their pet or feeding themselves and created this solution.

Jeanine Patterson, director of the city's animal welfare department, said, "We're trying to keep people from having to give up that animal. ... They should be lifelong members of the family." As the AP reported:

Petco Foundation, the charity arm of Petco, said this summer it was establishing a national program to provide up to $5,000 in grants to shelters to train, care for or find new homes for pets abandoned during the foreclosure crisis. The program also was designed to supply food to disadvantaged homeowners who want to keep their animals.

So, not only is that beautiful SUV in the driveway in danger of being offloaded, so is Fluffy. For example, Sacramento, which ranks fifth in national foreclosure numbers, saw a 130 percent spike in pet abandonment from September to December 2007 compared with the same time span in 2006. Meanwhile, animal shelters across the country face their own crisis: The number of abandoned pets is increasing while donations and adoptions are decreasing. (For posting an animal for adoption or to rescue a pet, a great place to start is Petfinder.com.)

Scout, a two-year-old pit bull in Eugene, Oregon, is another foreclosure pet whose owners considered euthanizing the dog before the Luv-a-Bull Pit Bull Rescue and Sanctuary stepped in. Now, Scout spends her days at the 55-acre sanctuary while awaiting adoption.  She's joined by other dogs, including two puppies, that are also victims of the bad economy.  (They were abandoned in a park because their owner couldn't afford to care for them.) "We get 10 to 15 e-mails daily from people forced to give up their pets because they've lost their homes," said Patrick Leiser, a volunteer with Luv-a-Bull.

 The real estate site, US REO Properties, which sounds dry and dull, is actually very  frank about the problem in their post, "Foreclosures Affecting Pets":

"Foreclosures are gobbling up houses and destroying families. It is not just about facts, figures and statistics but the tears of individuals. One of the worst affected are the pets – dumb sufferers of this man-made catastrophe. The foreclosure pets caught in this crisis net are paying for beastly economics ... Generally the excuse given for leaving a pet in the shelter is that the family has to move. Today the crisis is hitting those who would never have ever thought of giving up pets. Those who are forced to be evicted do not have much choice before them. They often have to live in cramped space with friends and relatives. Then there are landlords who do not permit tenants with pets. Suddenly the country is finding that America has no room for pets."

Muttnews Mascot, Ben, is mighty worried about the situation, but as a dog - without English skills or the ability to type - he had no outlet. So, Ben asked the Muttnews admin, Kate Blake, to post about this issue. The result is "Animals around the country feel the economic crunch- Ways to keep your pets and do right by them" - a great checklist for a desperate pet owner to consider before abandoning or putting down an animal due to economic concerns. I especially like the optimism of Tip #4:

"Don’t be shy- ask for help. Is there a friendly neighbor who has always liked your animals? Do you know a fellow dog owner whose dogs your dog gets along with? When you see them,  tell them what is going on and your worries. Your neighbor will kick themselves if they find out you abandoned your animals or sent them to die and they were not given the chance to help out. There are more people out there with hearts of gold than lumps of coal- you will be surprised what can happen if you reach out- no matter how painful it is. Your pride can take a few lumps- your animal’s life may depend on it. If you don’t have to move- but vet bills and pet food is becoming too great a burden- ask for help."

Finally, a thoughtful and biting post penned by ‘Shocko from Seattle’ at Daily Kos, entitled: "Cats & Dogs as Economic Indicators, or, People Just Ain't No Good" He talks about the sudden rise in abandoned pets in his Kentucky community:

"It is telling, to me, however, that people are dumping animals in increasing numbers just now (ours is not the only story along these lines). And it doesn't speak well for the people doing the dumping. But what it really suggests is how desperate times are here, and how much worse they can get. The cat and the dogs dumped on us had been well-tended, and probably well-treated; you can tell when an animal's been abused or neglected, and they're dangerous to rescue. Something happened, and the furry ones had to go. Maybe it was a marriage gone south, but far more likely it was an ugly choice between feeding animals and feeding children, or maybe homes lost to the mortgage crisis and landlords unwilling to house critters.

I just wish they had the basic decency to do something more responsible with them than dump them at the side of the road. That seems a metaphor for our whole society, just now. But it's a good thing I'm a pacifist, and it's a better thing that I'll never know who dumped those poor little animals."

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