www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-tue_foreclosepets_0121jan22,1,187663.story Dogs, cats latest victims of subprime-mortgage mess Animals lose families as owners lose homes By Mary Umberger TRIBUNE REPORTER January 22, 2008 The tentacles of the foreclosure monster reach all the way into a Naperville animal shelter, where McKenzie and Rocket are its collateral damage. The doggie duo -- a black Labrador retriever and a shiba inu -- wound up there a few days ago, when their owners, facing the loss of their home, gave up the pets to the shelter. "We're seeing quite a few animals being surrendered due to economic reasons, including foreclosure," said Angie Wood, assistant executive director of the Naperville Area Humane Society, which, in addition to McKenzie and Rocket, is sheltering Bailey, a foreclosure cat. "We're seeing people in bad financial situations who are moving to places where they can't have pets," she said. "There definitely has been an increase in the past six months to a year." Though numerous shelters say they're not seeing a correlation between foreclosures and animal surrenders, others report a definite spike. "We're probably getting 25 [animals] a week coming to us for those reasons," said Terri Sparks, a spokesman for The Animal Welfare League in Chicago, which works with 53 municipalities on animal-control issues. "It's probably increased a lot in the past six to seven months." Linda Gelb, president of Community Animal Rescue Effort, which works through the Evanston Animal Shelter, said her group has taken in four dogs in the past three weeks because their owners were losing their homes. "We have listings of apartments that do take dogs or cats but, a lot of times, those are higher rent, they need to put a deposit down and they just don't have the money." And so, those pets are ending up in shelters -- or worse, left to starve when their owners walk away from foreclosed properties. Large-scale losses Authorities around the country in recent months have reported numerous findings of cats, dogs, birds, horses and other animals at foreclosed houses and farms. Among the more notorious cases, animals were found in large number -- three dogs and 20 birds in a house in Lorain, Ohio; 24 horses on a farm in Bixby, Okla.; and 63 cats in a house in Cincinnati. It was too late when authorities got to a foreclosed house in Bradford, Pa., to discover the bodies of 21 Great Danes. The owner on Thursday pleaded guilty to 21 counts of animal cruelty. In the third quarter of 2007, the number of homes in some stage of foreclosure in the U.S. more than doubled from year-earlier levels -- one for every 196 homes, according to RealtyTrac, an Irvine, Calif., company that tracks mortgage data. Illinois saw about 20,000 homes in foreclosure in the third quarter, up 80 percent from the year earlier, the company said. With these numbers in mind, the Humane Society of the United States issued a public statement this month that it's worried about the situation. "This isn't the first time we've seen people abandoning their pets; it's a problem throughout the year, when people move and can't take their pets," said Stephanie Shain, director of outreach for the Washington-based humane group. "But with this increase in foreclosures, we're going to see more of it." Shain said it's not necessarily intentional cruelty. "I'm sure their reasons are many: They presume that people are going to find the animals [left at the house] or they're too embarrassed" by the foreclosure to take them to a shelter, Shain said. "Far too often, those animals die in those homes, and it's a better scenario to get them to a shelter so that their last days are not spent alone, trying to eat wallboard or whatever they can find," she said. Foreclosure-related abandonment seems to vary in severity around the country, she said. Some Chicago-area animal-welfare groups say they haven't seen a particular surge, but they're noticing more apparent foreclosure casualties. It's not a number that shelters specifically track, said David Dinger, acting president of the Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago. Jenny Schlueter, director of development for Tree House Animal Foundation in Chicago, a no-kill shelter for cats, said her volunteers are starting to hear about foreclosures. "We just helped a woman who had lost her home find a foster home for her cats for about a month," Schlueter said. "She told us she was losing her house and needed a month to get back on her feet." Schlueter said placing animals who have been raised as pets with foster caregivers is a preferred alternative to caging them in a shelter. Dinger said pets traditionally pay a price in tough economic times. And foreclosure is the latest to emerge on the animal-shelter radar, he said. Last week, the topic came up at a meeting of the Chicago Animal Shelter Alliance. The group of a dozen animal-welfare organizations discussed adding it to such concerns as domestic abuse, human medical emergencies, house fires and other situations in which people may need help providing for their animals, Dinger said. Happy ending Some foreclosure stories end relatively happily, with the animals being adopted or their owners retrieving them from foster care after putting their finances in order. Take the 63 cats -- many starved, sick and near death -- found in a Cincinnati house weeks after their abandonment in May. Their story sparked a local outpouring. Robin Moro, a Cincinnati artist, took in two of the cats and created a Web site, ForeclosureCats.org, to provide updates on the animals. She also contacted other artists around the country, who agreed to create portraits of each of the animals. The portraits, dubbed the Foreclosure Cats Project, are being sold through a silent auction and on eBay to raise funds to pay the animals' veterinary bills and other expenses, she said. A couple of the cats found in the urine-soaked house didn't make it, though most have new homes. Twenty remain for adoption, Moro said. Shain said many people in foreclosure may walk away from their animals because they presume their new landlords won't accept them. However, the rental-apartment industry, in general, is more accepting of pet-owning tenants, she said. "We're trying to reach out to people and say to them, 'If something like foreclosure is coming into your life soon, start planning,'" she said. "[Shelters] have resources that can help you."