Saturday, January 26, 2008

Am Sobbing Wreck Now

Reprinted without permission. Please donate what you can to your local animal rescue league.

Owners lose home, and pets suffer, too

The wreckage of the subprime mortgage crisis has caused human pain far and wide, but its victims also include a band of seven gentle, woolly-coated huskies.

Their owner was a recent widow facing eviction from her foreclosed home. She had brought the dogs to the Animal Rescue League of Boston where she reluctantly signed paperwork surrendering them for adoption.

"Those dogs were her life," said Melissa Cox, assistant manager of the Animal Rescue League of Boston. "She lost her husband, her house, and then her beloved dogs."

Across the region, dogs and cats are arriving at shelters in growing numbers, as their owners face foreclosures and head to temporary homes, such as rental units or relatives' houses, where pets are not permitted or may not be welcome.

The separations are putting a strain on shelters already strapped for space and are making for teary scenes from Boston to Brockton, from Lowell to Worcester, as owners relinquish their longtime pets to uncertain futures. Some shelters euthanize animals that cannot be adopted.

Shelters say they began noticing an uptick in the number of animals being given up because of foreclosures over the summer and say that the trend has escalated since then. Most do not keep formal records reflecting animals surrendered for foreclosure, but shelter officials say that the evidence is clear.

In the last three months, owners displaced by foreclosures surrendered some 30 animals, including a Chihuahua this week, at the Animal Rescue League of Boston. At the Brockton MSPCA Shelter, officials estimate that half of the dozen dogs brought in for surrender this month were from foreclosed homeowners.

At the Worcester Animal Rescue League, so many dogs and cats from foreclosed homes have been surrendered, including 10 cats last week, that the director created a policy that permits the animals to remain in the shelter at no cost for 90 days while their owners search for pet-friendly housing. If the owners are not able to find suitable homes in the time period, the animals go up for adoption.

"We'd much rather see them go home to their owners, where they belong," said Doreen Currier, director of the Worcester Animal Rescue League.

Once an animal has been adopted, the previous owner has no claim to the animal. A pet owner who surrenders an animal also runs the risk, in some shelters, that the animal will be euthanized if a home can't be found.

Some shelters try to minimize euthanization by capping the number of animals they take. Several said they have run up against those limits this year, even in the typically slow winter months, as owners are forced out of homes.

The toll on the surrendering pet owners is immense, shelter officials say.
But it can also be traumatic for the pets.

Many animals have spent years with their owners. Some animals have a hard time with the stressful, leaderless life in a shelter. Sometimes, these dogs are transferred to foster homes to regain their composure before they can be put up for adoption.

Such was the case with a 9-year-old German shepherd surrendered to the Lowell Humane Society. Liz Shaw, interim director, said the dog was well trained and much loved by its owners, who had lost their home. When the dog came to the shelter, he fell into a slump.

"He was like: What's happened to me?" Shaw said. The shelter transferred him to a foster home.

Most troubling, shelter officials say, are pets deserted by homeowners in the upheaval of foreclosure and found later by neighbors and strangers who can't relay their medical and family histories.

Mortgage companies foreclosed on 7,653 Massachusetts homes last year, about seven times the number in 2005, when the housing boom peaked, and more than twice the number in 2006, according to the Warren Group, a Boston-based publisher of real estate data. The figure represents the largest number of foreclosures in a year since the early 1990s, the last time housing prices went into a prolonged slump. Analysts warn that 2008 could see an even greater number of foreclosures.

Those numbers worry shelter officials, who are already scrambling to find space for the animals arriving daily. The seven huskies brought to the Animal Rescue League of Boston were divided between the League's shelter space, a Dedham affiliate shelter, and a Huskie rescue group.

In Salem, N.H., the animals arriving at Salem Animal Rescue League because of foreclosures is ballooning and taking a toll on staff there. One particularly hard surrender, staff recalled, was the case of a mother and daughter who brought their infirm and elderly dog to the shelter last month after being foreclosed.

"It was just heartbreaking," said Deborah Vaughn, the Salem shelter manager. "They were sitting there crying their eyes out, and they were hugging the dog and saying their goodbyes and wanting to be assured that the dog would be OK." She said the foreclosure separations are unlike anything her staff has experienced. She said she emphasized to her staff that their focus should be on caring for the uprooted animals.

"They are the ones who don't understand what's going on, unlike the people," she said.

Sarah Schweitzer can be reached at schweitzer@globe.com.
© Copyright 2008 Globe Newspaper Company.

1 comment:

punky said...

I just read a story about this today in our local paper, I really want to just take home all those dogs. Its too sad.