Recently, at the animal shelter where I volunteer, a family whose home was being foreclosed on the next day came in to surrender their cat. They had no place to live, and the 5-year-old cat had been a treasured member of their family since she was a kitten. The whole family was heartbroken but especially the little boy, whose face was streaked with hot tears. The shelter staffers longed to reassure the boy that his kitty would find a loving home, but it was a promise they couldn’t make. The subprime mortgage crisis had already taken the boy’s home; now, it was taking something much more dear to him—his beloved companion.
Sad scenes like this are being repeated at shelters across the U.S. as the mortgage crisis forces thousands of Americans from their homes and into apartments or other living situations in which companion animals may not be welcome. In an attempt to help prevent more people from losing their homes, Washington recently announced a plan called “Project Lifeline” that would give borrowers a reprieve from impending foreclosures.
But what can we as individuals do to help the families whose worlds have been turned upside-down by foreclosure? We can give their animals a lifeline by spaying or neutering our cats and dogs.
As many of Hurricane Katrina’s human victims proved by risking their own lives rather than abandoning their animals, when people have lost everything else, their animals are often their only source of comfort. Being forced to give up a cherished family member can be much more painful and traumatic than losing a home. Spaying and neutering our animals can give foreclosure victims hope by reducing the number of animals already in shelters and increasing the likelihood that their animal companions will find loving homes.
Before there was a mortgage crisis, there was (and still is) a raging companion animal overpopulation crisis. Most shelters have all they can do just to pick up, house and care for dozens of homeless animals every day. Thanks to breeders, pet shops and people who don’t spay or neuter their animals, there is never a vacant cage at the animal shelter where I volunteer—as is the case with most shelters.
People who have no choice but to part with their animals should try to enlist trusted friends and family members to care for them temporarily. Or look for rental properties (especially houses) that do allow animals. Local animal shelters often have information and resources for finding animal-friendly housing.
If no other suitable arrangement can be made, however, taking animals to shelters is the kindest option. Giving animals away to strangers or abandoning them are never acceptable. Some animals have simply been left behind like old pieces of furniture when their guardians were evicted. Authorities have reported finding starving cats and dogs locked inside abandoned homes or chained in backyards; in desperation, some have tried to eat drywall, plastic and garbage just to survive. Other abandoned “foreclosure pets” have starved to death before authorities discovered them—including 21 great Danes in Bradford, Pennsylvania.
If we would all spay or neuter (which, with 6 to 8 million animals being abandoned in shelters annually—and half of them euthanized for lack of homes—we should be doing anyway), fewer homeless animals would enter shelters. This would free up space for animals during crises such as the current mortgage mess—and it would free up shelters’ resources to work with rescue groups and foster homes, increasing the chances that the animals’ original families could reclaim them once their housing situations were resolved. It would decrease the likelihood that surrendered animals would be euthanized to make room for more animals. In short, it would give animals a lifeline.