Struggling homeowners grapple with what to do with family pets

Some families can no longer afford their pets.
Some families can no longer afford their pets. Susan Valot/KPCC

Some family pets are ending up at Orange County animal shelters. Animal rescue groups say as owners leave their foreclosed homes, they leave their cats and dogs behind, too. Melodie Turori has the story.

Melodie Turori: In the back corner of the OC Marketplace swap meet, rescued animals – mostly dogs and cats – wait quietly for shoppers to stop and play. [Sound of dog barking at pet fair] They're part of a pet adoption fair hosted by the Animal Assistance League of Orange County.

Some of the animals here were left behind at foreclosed homes, often sick and starving. Kathy Thorsell volunteers with the Animal Assistance League, one of the groups that helps deal with those deserted animals.

Kathy Thorsell: We’ve gone and picked up a lot of abandoned animals that were left in homes, and fortunately a neighbor would see and they would call one of their local kennels, and we’re one of them. They would have been in the backyard for weeks and they’re very emaciated. No food, no water, just running around.

Turori: The Animal Assistance League houses more than 100 animals, but they can't take any more because they're full right now. Thorsell says that doesn't stop people from dropping their pets over their fence at night, after the shelter closes.

Thorsell: Many of our animals that you see here today have been tied up to our front door, thrown over our fence. They come to us from an array of ways. And we do a lot of trapping, out in the field, if they're running around in the neighborhoods.

[Sound of dogs in shelter]

Turori: At OC Animal Care in Orange, rows of kennels hold dogs, cats, and even chickens. [Sound of chicken in shelter] Officials say impounds are up here, too – and adoptions are down. Last year Orange County's animal shelters put to sleep nearly three out of every four cats. That's the highest rate in five years.

Fewer dogs are put down, but that number's still pretty high. To help combat that problem, the Humane Society of America has created a special Foreclosure Pets Fund. Dawn Lauer of the Humane Society says they've already doled out thousands of dollars.

Dawn Lauer: We initially seeded the fund with $15,000 and since then, thanks to the generosity of the public, we have been able to sustain the fund. To date, we’ve actually been able to give over $100,000 in grants to organizations all across the country.

Turori: The money goes to local animal rescue organizations, which use the cash for programs – everything from pet food banks to helping with veterinary care.

[South of Kathy Thorsell on mic at pet fair]

Turori: At the Pet Days adoption fair in Costa Mesa, Kathy Thorsell tries to get the crowd excited about adopting a pet. But most people aren't interested and continue on to their shopping at the nearby swap meet. For people who already have pet and are struggling financially, Thorsell says there are options. She says there's no need to give the animal up.

Thorsell: In most cases, there’s always an avenue. Right now the kill rate is very, very high because there’s so many pets being relinquished, so we’re trying everything we can to prevent that.

Turori: Thorsell says the best thing to do is contact the closest shelter to find out what resources are available. Some even offer free food programs so you can keep your pet, even if you can't keep your house.

[Sound of dogs at pet fair]

Note: The Humane Society's Foreclosure Pets Fund has been temporarily suspended because of demand. It's not taking new applications, but it is continuing to distribute grants based on applications it's already gotten.

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