Call it reckless abandonment. Shelters and animal rescue organizations across the country are packed cage-to-cage with dogs and cats, even birds and reptiles, that have been ditched or dropped off as scores of foreclosed-upon homeowners relocate. It is a disturbing trend and a sign of the tough economic times that has prompted a number of organizations to form hotlines for pet foster homes and to implore pet owners — or what the industry calls “pet parents” — to seek help for their animals before they head off.
“There are a lot of people who are just walking away and leaving their pets behind, which breaks everyone’s heart,” said Windgassen, the president of Anthem Pets, a nonprofit animal welfare organization in her community.
The number of abandoned pure-bred dogs in her neighborhood alone has jumped 10-fold just since Christmas. “It just boggles my mind,” she said. “It’s cutting across all income levels and age levels.”
There are no national statistics on pet abandonment or on the number of pets found in vacant properties. But Stephanie Shain, director or outreach for the Humane Society of the United States, said shelters are reporting full capacity and rescue organizations tell of sharper increases in the numbers of animals coming in.
“The economic times are making everyone pull their belts in a little tighter and people are having trouble taking care of their pets or keeping them if they’ve lost their home,” she said. As consumers face foreclosures they often move first to rental apartments or homes that won’t allow pets. They’re also likely to give their pets up if they find themselves imposing on a family member for housing.
Vivian Kiggins, executive director of the Liberty Humane Society in New Jersey, said her center has an extraordinarily large number of mature cats in need of adoption now. That’s atypical of most early springs that are relatively quiet until the “kitten season” kicks in.
“We should be at a low point right now, but we’re packed with adult cats,” she said, noting that it could be a reflection of the economy.
“We’ve had people say they can’t afford their pets and we do everything in our power to make sure that they can keep them with free-food programs and low-cost veterinarian appointment opportunities,” she said.