Animal relinquishments climb with housing forclosures

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Apr 01, 2008

NATIONAL REPORT — Real-estate foreclosures for February were up nearly 60 percent from the same period a year ago, and pet relinquishments aren't far behind, officials report.

According to RealtyTrac, a private company that monitors foreclosure activity nationally, Nevada, California and Florida are posting some of the highest foreclosure rates in the country. While reliable relinquishment statistics nationwide are hard to come by, the real-estate crisis is fueling increases in pet relinquishments, according to leading animal-welfare organizations.

In Detroit, during the last four years (beginning with 2004), abandonment complaints increased every year, reports Stephanie Baron, a spokesperson with the Michigan Humane Society, considered the largest animal-welfare organization in southeast Michigan.

"In 2007, abandonment complaints were up 24 percent compared to 2006; up 70 percent from 2005; and up 151 percent when compared to 2004 numbers. There is an increase in people abandoning their animals," Baron says.

In 2007, the Michigan Humane Society Cruelty Investigation Department responded to more than 1,300 abandonment complaints — or 25 percent of the total 5,400 responses that year.

The trend is similar on the other side of Michigan, which ranks sixth nationally in foreclosures.

According to a report in the Grand Rapids Press, the Kent County Humane Society recorded a 63 percent increase in relinquished pets in the last two years. From March 2005 to February 2006, 2,998 pets were given up for adoption. The number jumped to 4,872 between March 2007 and February 2008.

"Unfortunately, this is not on people's priority list," says Carol Ebert, president of the Florida Humane Society, referring to owners finding a new home for pets when they are dealing with foreclosure.

In some cases, owners "have just up and left. People have gone into foreclosure, and the neighbors call and say an animal is still (in the home)," she says. "A lot of the stress with the economy can have an impact on people's relationships, and a lot of couples have split up and are turning in animals."

A majority of relinquishments are cats that come from lower-to mid-income families and areas.

While Ebert didn't have hard numbers about the trend, shelter workers are hearing the word "foreclosure" much more frequently, she says.

Currently, the Florida Humane Society places all relinquished animals in foster homes, because it does not have a running shelter. It has a 9,000-square-foot building earmarked as the home of the future shelter facility, but is working to raise $800,000 to $1 million more in funding to cover the project's construction costs.