Foreclosures' Other Victims: Abandoned Pets

Real estate agents have become frontline soldiers in a shadow crisis to the foreclosure mess: Pets are being abandoned by their owners in their empty houses. It isn't uncommon for an agent to open the door of a foreclosed property and find a starving dog or cat left behind when the family moved on.

Local animal shelters report a large uptick in the number of pets turned in by owners who were evicted in foreclosures. The families often wind up living with relatives or becoming renters and find themselves taking their house pets to local shelters. But the turned-in animals are the lucky ones.

Just last week, Phoenix real estate agent Cathleen Collins of Bloodhound Realty was showing a bank-owned property and discovered a black and white longhaired tuxedo cat that the family had abandoned outside. The pet, left to fend for itself for more than a month, had been sleeping on the front step and scratching at the door to be let inside. The cat was badly matted and clearly hungry, Collins said.

"All she wanted to do was get back inside her house," said Collins. "The poor thing had no idea what happened to her. She was starved -- and starved for affection." Collins fed her and called a local pet rescue.

Animal shelters and rescue groups say the surge of abandoned pets since the housing crisis began has further strained their already shrunken resources. The shelters are being asked to do more with less, said Dr. Stephen Zawistowski, science adviser for the ASPCA; municipal budget cuts have meant reduced staff, and donations are down in general since the recession started. Plus, he said, many people are struggling to stay afloat and don't feel that they can open their home to a new pet, so adoptions in general are down because of the economy.

But the problem of pets being let loose, tied up in the yard or left behind in the house when a family moves is even worse, said Zawistowski.