Left Behind: Pets Abandoned in Foreclosure

When they lose their houses to foreclosure, some cruel pet owners walk out on their four-legged friends.
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The Sad Truth

On a hot June day two years ago real-estate agent Cecily Tippery turned a key and entered an empty house. She had specialized in selling foreclosed properties in Northern California for nearly two decades, so she was used to the heartbreaking scenes that often awaited her: rooms trashed and full of graffiti, lawns overgrown with weeds, toys left behind when families were forced to leave their homes.

But nothing could have prepared her for what she found that day. When she opened the door three parched and hungry dogs -- a dachshund, a basset hound, and a Chihuahua -- were on the other side. She later found a dead turtle in the backyard and a frightened calico cat hiding on the property. Their owner had left all of them to fend for themselves.

"It was awful," Tippery, 58, says. "Those dogs were just so happy to see somebody."

With the current national economic crisis, this is a scene that has become increasingly common. Across the United States the number of pets abandoned because their owners can't afford to care for them is on the rise, according to reports from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Humane Society of the United States. Many of these animals will be euthanized, but a far less humane fate awaits those left to starve in empty homes.

Fortunately, in one of the hardest-hit areas of the country, there's Tippery. When she found those abandoned animals on that summer day Tippery knew immediately that she had to help. But she couldn't just take them home with her since her husband has severe allergies and the couple already had two Kerry Blue terriers, a breed that causes fewer problems for some allergy sufferers. Instead, she called a local no-kill animal-rescue/relocation agency and started to work with them to find homes for the pets. Then she hit another roadblock: A vet found that Abigail, the basset hound, had cancer. She could not qualify for adoption without costly surgery. Tippery didn't flinch -- she and a coworker fronted the $1,200 for the procedure. In the end each of the four refugees found a new family, and Tippery, who manages a team of Realtors in an office outside San Francisco, found a new calling.

Tippery got to know local pound and animal-rescue organizations, and her whole staff decided to join the effort. So when the foreclosure crisis started to pick up speed, they were ready. Now, when one of the agents finds an abandoned animal, they all work together to hit up friends, family members, and anyone else who might want to adopt the pet. Last year they even helped place two large turtles in a local preschool. "Once I tried to give a cat to a home buyer as a bonus," Tippery says with a laugh.

Rescuing foreclosure pets sometimes isn't easy. In many states animals are considered personal property until they have been abandoned for a certain length of time -- in California, until a new law went into effect at the beginning of 2009, it was over two weeks. "Without water a cat or a dog probably wouldn't last more than a week," says Robert Reisman, DVM, a veterinary medicine expert with the ASPCA.

Continued on page 2:  Tippery's Calling


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