Foreclosures Make Arizona Families Give Up Pets

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TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) - Maxx is losing his home and family. He doesn't know it yet.

The pooch was rescued as a pup from the streets seven years ago and has lived snugly in the Strohmeyers' southwest side home ever since.

That home went into foreclosure proceedings two weeks ago. The family has less than three months to move out and find a new home for themselves and Maxx.

The Strohmeyers are among a growing number of families hit by foreclosures in Pima County -- expected to hit 8,000 this year alone -- and among the many who can no longer keep all their pets.

"He's our big teddy bear," Kristy Strohmeyer said of the chow-shepherd mix. "It breaks my heart to get rid of Maxx."

Maxx isn't the only Strohmeyer pet who needs a new home. With seven dogs and 13 goats, the Strohmeyers, who also have three kids, knew they weren't going to find a rental open to 20 animals.

"Some of the ads say one or two pets are OK," said the 30-year-old who has already read through more than 100 listings. "A lot of them say, 'No pets allowed."'

Local shelters have seen an increase in animal drop-offs from families who can no longer afford to keep them or cannot take them when they move.

Some people have left their pets behind.

"A gorgeous husky with blue eyes was found abandoned in the front yard of a home," said Humane Society of Southern Arizona spokeswoman Sheena Stewart. "The neighbors found it and brought it in. How can anyone leave an animal behind?"

Animal abandonment and "cruel neglect" resulting from not furnishing food and water are class 1 misdemeanors under the state's animal cruelty laws, which carries a maximum penalty of a fine up to $2,500 or six months in jail or both.

"It's not only lack of food and water," said Tammi Barrick, post-adoption manager for Foundation for Animals in Risk, also called FAIR. "It's monsoons and extreme heat and predators, like coyotes. These animals can't fend for themselves."

Nearly 34,000 animals were dropped off at the Humane Society of Southern Arizona and Pima Animal Care Center in fiscal year 2007, which ended June 30.

This number has been fairly steady since fiscal year 2005, when the number of animals dropped at the shelters jumped about 6,000 from the previous year.

FAIR has seen a sharp increase in previously adopted animals coming back to them in the recent months, with reasons all pointing back to economics, Barrick said.

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"These animals are from established homes that have been there the past six, 10 years," she said. "It's heart-wrenching."

While the shelters do not track how many animals come in because of foreclosures, Stewart said you can read between the lines.

"Very rarely do people say they have to give up an animal because of foreclosure," Stewart said. "They will say the new landlord won't allow it or it's because of financial reasons.

"We definitely notice an increase of people giving up an animal along the lines of 'I can't afford it' or 'I have to move."

Even though the pets' food bill came to some $200 each month, feeding the brood of 20 was not what broke the Strohmeyer's financial back.

Since March, the family has been hit by a series of misfortunes.

Kristy Strohmeyer got sick and needed her gallbladder removed.

Daughter Sammy, 4, was hospitalized and stitched up after being attacked by a cat.

Dog Daisy was felled by an infection when she had puppies, leading to a vet bill for $2,500 and death to all but three of her litter.

Once the family got behind on their monthly $1,800 mortgage payments, the couple started making partial payments just to keep a cash flow going to the loan company, but it didn't help.

A neighbor, who already owns horses and burros, bought the 13 goats at $25 a head. One of them, a dairy goat, usually fetches some $300, and another, a buck, could go for at least $150, Strohmeyer said.

The Strohmeyers are keeping two of their basset hounds and are unsure where the third hound is going.

A fourth dog, which the Strohmeyers took in when a relative died, is going to a brother-in-law in California.

That leaves Maxx and two others, Australian shepherd mix Scrub and mutt Rocky, up for adoption.

FAIR adoptions have dropped at least 10 percent from its annual 1,000, Barrick said. The organization, which has no physical shelters, can only take in as many animals as it has volunteer foster homes for.

Adoptions from the Humane Society and Pima Animal Care Center have stayed steady in recent months, something Stewart also attributes in part to the economy.

"People want companion animals but maybe can't afford them at a pet store or breeder," Stewart said. "So they just come to us."

Humane Society adoptions start at $80, compared to hundreds - or thousands - charged at breeders or stores.

The Humane Society of the United States, which is not affiliated with the Humane Society of Southern Arizona, has also had an influx of animals. It has set up a Foreclosure Pets Grant Fund to help pay for the homeless animals' care.

Local shelters have not set up special funds, but they are always helped by donations.

Arizona has had nearly 2,000 foreclosures in the first quarter of this year, which is 118 percent higher than last year's first quarter, according to the Southwest Fair Housing Council, an organization with a home base in Tucson.

Arizona is near the top of the foreclosure list in the nation, ranking third behind Nevada and California for May foreclosure activity, according to the online foreclosure listing service RealtyTrac.

In Pima County, 1 in every 380 housing units is in foreclosure, according to RealtyTrac's May data, the most recent available.

"Now I'm officially a statistic," Strohmeyer said.

"We just have to move on, to go with the flow.

"Maybe somebody will learn a lesson from this. People may think it can't happen to them. We thought it couldn't happen to us."

Information from: Tucson Citizen, http://www.tucsoncitizen.com

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press. Active hyperlinks have been inserted by AOL.

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