Nov 022011

Animals left in abandoned homes with no food is a scenario that has become more common since the real estate market tanked and triggered soaring foreclosure rates, say real estate agents, mail carriers and animal rescue groups on the front lines of the problem.

These pets have not only been left behind, but are locked in foreclosed and abandoned homes by their owners.

They suffer a slow death from starvation and dehydration, unless someone finds and rescues them in time.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimated in 2009 up to a million animals would be abandoned at shelters, outdoors and in foreclosed homes. There is no updated estimate or a centralized database tracking the problem, though, said Joan Carlson-Radabaugh, ASPCA community initiative director.

Some real estate agents across the country have banded together to help.

Cheryl Lang, president of Integrated Mortgage Solutions in Houston, formed the nonprofit No Paws Left Behind in 2008. Now a nationwide network, the group has rescued at least 1,000 animals.

Animal services will take animals abandoned in homes, but the process is long and full of red tape. Animal control officers have to post warnings, document the evidence of neglect and not trespass on the property unless accompanied by law enforcement. To get into the home and take the animal, they need a search warrant.

Betty Hughes, board member and treasurer of the Animal Refuge Center, a no-kill shelter in North Fort Myers, Fla., said the top three reasons animals are sheltered are foreclosure, job loss and divorce. Rescuers say pet owners, afraid their animals will be euthanized, will leave them in homes with food and water, believing someone will come in a couple of days to find them. But it can be weeks or months before someone enters the home.

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