MIAMI, FL 10/28/2011 — Animals left in abandoned homes with no food is a scenario that has become more common since the real estate market tanked and triggered soaring foreclosure rates, say real estate agents, mail carriers and animal rescue groups on the front lines of the problem.
These pets have not only been left behind, but are locked in foreclosed and abandoned homes by their owners.
They suffer a slow death from starvation and dehydration, unless someone finds and rescues them in time.
“They are the silent and unfortunate victims of this,” said Suzanne Sherer of Re/Max Realty in Cape Coral, Fla. “Most of the time when the Realtor gets involved, it may be too late.”
It was almost too late for the big orange tabby that Carolyn Herman, a mortgage broker, found on the lanai of a foreclosed home.
“When I first peeked in the sliding glass door, I thought the animal was dead. There was nothing but fur with some bones stuffed inside of it,” she said.
Then the cat opened its eyes. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, that animal is still alive,’ ” she said.
Herman, a former cardiac nurse, had an emergency kit with an IV in her car. “I was literally driving from this house to my house with one hand holding the IV needle between his shoulders.” The cat survived and was adopted by a loving home, Herman said.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimated in 2009 up to a million animals would be abandoned at shelters, outdoors and in foreclosed homes. There is no updated estimate or a centralized database tracking the problem, though, said Joan Carlson-Radabaugh, ASPCA community initiative director.
Some real estate agents across the country have banded together to help.
Cheryl Lang, president of Integrated Mortgage Solutions in Houston, formed the nonprofit No Paws Left Behind in 2008. Now a nationwide network, the group has rescued at least 1,000 animals.
“I can certainly help the collateral damage that has been left behind through these borrowers through ignorance,” Lang said.
Denita McCarty, who works at the Lehigh Acres, Fla., post office, steps in when mail carriers report abandoned animals.
There was one Labrador retriever that was so hungry the dog had eaten some of his tail.
“These people -- there are times I just bawl my eyes out. It’s just so sad. You have to stay strong and move on to the next one,” McCarty said.
While there is no excuse for abandoning an animal, rescuers say, area shelters are bursting with animals.
“You have to be realistic,” said Ria Brown, Lee County Domestic Animal Services, of those who know they’re facing foreclosure. “Try to rehome them yourself. If you’re desperate, you need to tell somebody and not move away and leave them inside the home, regardless.”
Animal services will take animals abandoned in homes, but the process is long and full of red tape. Animal control officers have to post warnings, document the evidence of neglect and not trespass on the property unless accompanied by law enforcement. To get into the home and take the animal, they need a search warrant.
Betty Hughes, board member and treasurer of the Animal Refuge Center, a no-kill shelter in North Fort Myers, Fla., said the top three reasons animals are sheltered are foreclosure, job loss and divorce. Rescuers say pet owners, afraid their animals will be euthanized, will leave them in homes with food and water, believing someone will come in a couple of days to find them. But it can be weeks or months before someone enters the home.