It hasn’t even been three years since Hurricane Katrina struck, launching the largest pet rescue efforts ever in the United States. And very sadly, some of the pets rescued in the aftermath of that horrendous storm are still very sadly waiting in animal shelters and foster homes across the land, still hoping to find a permanent home.
And now, we already have an entire ‘new breed’ of tragically left behind pets in this country – pets now being left behind by thousands of Americans because of the current massive number of home foreclosures in this country.
Very sadly today, shelters and animal rescue organizations across the country are once again being packed cage-to-cage with new dogs and cats and birds and reptiles that have been ditched or dropped off by their owners as scores of foreclosed-upon homeowners are now forced to relocate.
It’s another very disturbing trend, and a sign of the very tough economic times that has prompted a number of animal welfare organizations to once again create hotlines for pet foster homes and to now implore pet owners to seek help for their animals before they head off to their new homes.
Today, thousands of pets are being horrendously left behind in abandoned foreclosed homes to fend for themselves; being dropped off at animal shelters and city pounds all across America; and even worse, many pets are being dumped in the woods and on the side of the road.
There are no national statistics on pet abandonment or on the number of pets found in vacant properties, but Stephanie Shain, director or outreach for the Humane Society of the United States, says America’s shelters are once again reporting full capacity, and rescue organizations tell of much sharper increases in the numbers of animals now coming in.
"The economic times are making everyone pull their belts in a little tighter and people are having trouble taking care of their pets or keeping them if they've lost their home," she said. As consumers face foreclosures they often move first to rental apartments or homes that won't allow pets. They're also likely to give up their pets if they find themselves imposing on a family member for housing.
Vivian Kiggins, executive director of the Liberty Humane Society in New Jersey, said her center has an extraordinarily large number of mature cats in need of adoption right now. That's atypical of most early springs that are relatively quiet until ‘kitten season’ kicks in.
"We should be at a low point right now, but we're packed with adult cats," she said, noting that it could be a reflection of the economy.
"We've had people say they can't afford their pets, and we do everything in our power to make sure that they can keep them with free-food programs and low-cost veterinarian appointment opportunities," she said.
Animal shelters and rescue centers all across America rely heavily on donations for their programs, and most of them are now stepping up efforts to increase giving.
The Humane Society, which cares for some 8 million pets annually, is starting a fund that will provide grants to animal shelters and rescuers to help them keep up with requests for help. "Their resources are getting tapped very quickly," Shain said.
It's also launching awareness programs to promote its food-assistance and foster programs as well as other plans to support animal-friendly help groups.
Meanwhile, the 1-800-Save-A-Pet.com Web site is setting up an online database on which people can offer to provide foster care for animals whose owners may not be able to keep them for as long as a year.
"It can work if it's done properly and the people who are fostering the animals understand they are providing a temporary home," said David Meyer, president of the nonprofit adoption group. More than 5,000 animal shelters post pets for adoption on the Save-A-Pet site.
Meyer, who was among those involved in finding families for pets left homeless amid the destruction and flooding in New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina, said this latest wave of needy pets is as great a concern, but without the heart-wrenching pictures that motivate the greater public.
"The message hasn't gotten out," he said. "When Katrina happened people were seeing images in their homes of pets being rescued in boats in New Orleans. There was a dramatic message that got out. It was a clear and compelling issue and people understood that there was a need to provide for these pets."
"This is like a silent, creeping flood that has moved across the country but has not created the images that has spurred the public into action," he said. "But it's still an imminent crisis."
If you can find it in your heart to adopt one more pet; now is the time.
If you can find it in your heart to foster one more homeless animal; now is the time.
And if you can spare a few dollars, or if you can donate some volunteer time or much needed pet care supplies to your local animal shelter; now is definitely the time.
Please help us help this new wave of left behind orphans, any way you can.