Central Valley

Foreclosure's smallest victims: family pets

TURLOCK -- On a quiet residential street, the front lawn of a beige tract house is growing more weeds than grass, the screens covering the windows are shredded and a broken-down sedan sits in the driveway.

Only one family member is still around to deal with the aftermath of this foreclosure -- a male pit bull, fenced into the dusty back yard with a small, purple bucket half full of water.

Neighbors said they haven't seen the owners for a week. So, 48 hours after animal control officer Carrie Rhodes stuck a pink notice on the door, she returned Thursday afternoon to pick up their pet.

"We've got 70,000 people, they've all got pets and people are losing their homes," Rhodes said, trying to coax the pit bull into her truck. "It's just bad."

Dogs are the most common animals left behind during a foreclosure, animal advocates say. People moving into smaller apartments or into houses with family members often can't take their larger pets with them.

But dogs aren't the only problem for workers at the Turlock Animal Shelter. For the past three months, the shelter has been overrun by cats -- nearly 250 strays came through their doors in July alone. That's nearly twice the July 2007 number, and senior animal control officer Glena Jackson said employees are euthanizing about two dozen cats and kittens every day.

"We're just killing more animals to make room for something else," Jackson said. "It's a lot for this little shelter."

Jackson said summer is a more active breeding season for cats. She blames owners who don't spay or neuter their pets.

Since May, workers at the Stanislaus County Animal Shelter in Modesto said they have noticed an additional

20 to 50 animals each month being given up because of foreclosures. But client services supervisor Mavis Williamson said she believes that number is low since owners may not give the real reason for leaving their animals or choose instead to dump them at the shelter or elsewhere without filling out the paperwork.

Animal services workers in Modesto and Turlock agree that owners who bring their pets into the shelters after a foreclosure are often the most devastated.

"I think it's the last straw for a lot of people," Jackson said. "It's heartbreaking. Losing their pet is like the separation of the family."

A chain-link cage at the Turlock Animal Shelter will be home for the pit bull left behind in the Turlock back yard for now, unless someone decides he's still a part of the family.