March 2009 Issue

Foreclosures: Cats in Peril

Abandoned pets are another offshoot of our troubled economy. Here's what you should know ó and how you can help.

With the numbers of foreclosures rising on a daily basis in some areas of the country, realtors and foreclosed-property inspectors relate that they are making an alarming discovery: Pets have been found locked in the home without food or water, abandoned in the streets or let loose in yards. It is obvious that foreclosures are not just affecting people; they are also affecting the pets of evicted families. With an estimated 34 percent of all home owners owning one or more cats (2007 AVMA US Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook), and more than 1.6 million foreclosures recorded in the month of December 2008 alone, the potential for displaced cats is enormous. Just how many cats are being affected by foreclosures is more elusive than estimating the impact on pet dogs, notes Janet Scarlett DVM, MPH, PhD, professor of Epidemiology and director of Maddie's Shelter Medicine Program at Cornell Universityís College of Veterinary Medicine. A dog that is left behind is usually spotted and found. "A cat that has been put in the yard isnít going to be found by a realtor. For that reason, itís much harder to measure the problem accurately," she notes. Recent intake numbers (the number of surrendered, stray or abandoned pets that are taken into a shelter) from areas hardest hit economically support the theory that many pets, including cats, are suffering from the first wave of foreclosures. For example, the Los Angeles Animal Services experienced a 20 percent increase in intake numbers in 2008. One Atlanta, GA shelter reported a 71 percent increase in intake numbers last year; and, a shelter in Fulton County, GA tallied a 250 percent intake increase in 2008 during an eight month period (March through December).

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