Any person who willingly takes a pet into their home has accepted the responsibility of caring for the pet no matter what the circumstances are. Losing a home to foreclosure is a devastating loss for any family to have to go through, but once it’s been discovered a pet owner walked away from their home and their moral obligation to their pet/s; that’s where sympathy for that family should end. There is nothing more callous and cruel than to leave a dog or cat locked inside an abandoned home or leave a dog chained up in the backyard. Cats abandoned outside to fend for themselves have a slim chance of surviving on their own. The pet certainly wasn’t the cause for the foreclosure, yet they are the ones whose lives are put at risk because a pet owner used stress as an excuse to abandon their pet. It’s animal abuse and it’s illegal in every state. Neighbors can help abandoned pets in foreclosed homes, but it’s important to work with law enforcement to make sure you don’t get into to trouble trying to help someone’s abandoned pet.
Trespassing on private property
A pet is considered personal property and belongs to the home’s former owner; along with any other personal property left in or around the home. The bank owns only the home and land and in most states, personal property must be held for a certain period of time before it can be sold. That includes pets left on the property. Even if you know a pet has been left inside or outside the home, you can be arrested for trespassing if you try to do the right thing and go on the foreclosed property to feed and water the pet. And if you take a neighbor’s dog or cat into your home, that can be classified as theft if the pet’s owner wanted to file charges against you. It’s time laws were changed to protect neighbors who are simply trying to save a pet’s life by doing the right thing.
Get written permission
If you have the pet owner’s permission to care for their abandoned pet/s, you can feed and water them. Make sure to get their signed permission in writing, but that may not be enough if a bank or mortgage company decides to file trespassing charges. The rightful owner could be the lending company and that may make it more difficult to get permission. To them, a pet is nothing more than a piece of furniture and all personal property must remain until a foreclosure is complete to avoid implications of theft. They have the right in most states to keep anyone from caring for the pet even if it means the pet dies a slow death from starvation and dehydration. The pet owner is wrong for leaving the pet, but so is the bank or mortgage company by refusing to let the pet be rescued. Both should be charged with animal abuse.
Check the property – staying within the law
Neighbors are on the front lines and can do something to help a pet who has been abandoned by their owner. If you believe a pet has been left inside the home, work with your local police, realty company, if one is listed, rescue organizations or animal groups by letting them know a pet has been left at a foreclosed home. Police and animal control officers can get a search warrant, if needed, to check inside a home and rescue pets left behind. The realty company has a right to enter the home. Listen and watch for signs of life in and around the home. It’s easy to spot a dog or cat that’s outside, but sometimes the only way you can tell if a pet is inside is to look in the windows. Never try to break into a foreclosed home to rescue a pet inside. Call your local law enforcement authorities and let them handle it. Follow up to make sure they have checked the property. Most people aren’t going to complain if someone sets food and water out for an abandoned pet that’s been left outside. Never assume the former owner of the home did the right thing because that assumption could be deadly for a pet.
Talk to the homeowner to make sure they are thinking about their pet/s
Don’t be afraid to ask a pet owner who is about to lose their home if they’ve made arrangements for their pet if they can’t take them to their new home. No pet should ever be left behind and if we don’t step up to ask questions to someone who is losing their home, then we are just as guilty as the pet’s owner if we don’t speak up and the pet is found emaciated or dying inside or outside their abandoned home. The homeowner has plenty of stress to deal with and they may not have thought about their pets. I’d rather make the pet’s owner angry by reminding them what the legal reprisals could be for them and what the consequence of abandonment could mean for their pet/s. Suggest shelters in your area for short term or permanent care, recommend breed specific rescues if the pet is a purebred, ask if they’ve checked into foster homes, have they talked to the vet for low cost boarding, have they talked to family members or friends who might be able to foster their pet/s, ask if they have considered rental property that will allow pets. Most pet owners don’t want to abandon their pets, but when someone has reached the end of their rope, they may welcome someone who can help them work through a problem with ideas they hadn’t thought about it.
In 2008, the state of California passed a law making lending institutions responsible for pets left on foreclosed property and requires them to make arrangements for a pet’s care. It’s sad when politicians have to pass a law to make sure banks and mortgage companies do the humane thing when it comes to pets. Every state needs to follow California’s law and enact their own legislation.
A homeowner who leaves their pet/s behind can and should be charged with animal cruelty and abandonment. I understand the hardship and heartbreak people go through in losing a home, but the pet should not be punished because of it. Don’t wait if you know a pet has been abandoned in or outside a foreclosed property. By acting immediately, you’re saving them from a horrible and lingering death that doesn’t need to happen. The pet’s owner may not have done the responsible thing, but we can. Home foreclosure is a nightmare for homeowners, but it doesn’t have to turn into one for their abandoned pet/s.
Animal Abuse Laws and Animal Rights
Home Foreclosures and Abandoned Pets
Silent Voices of Animal Shelter Pets: Death Sentences for the Innocent