When Bankers Become Crooks and Homeowners Get Greedy, Cats and Other Animals Pay the Ultimate Price
"In a sense, animal rights is not really about loving animals, but respecting them. We believe animals have basic rights: the right to life, the right to live their life (sic) free of human exploitation and abuse. So, conversely, we do not have the right to use animals for any real or perceived need, whether it be food, clothing, entertainment, medical issues."
-- Janine Motta, New Jersey Animal Rights Alliance
If there is a smidgen of truth in the old adage that whenever the rich get the sniffles the poor catch pneumonia, what then do the animals contract under analogous circumstances? In the case of the subprime loan scandal, the answer is increasingly either abandonment or death at a shelter.
"What we've always known is that when times are hard on people, they're hard for their pets," Stephen Zawistowski of the ASPCA told the San Francisco Examiner on January 29th. (See "Hidden Victims of Mortgage Crisis: Pets Abandoned by Their Owners.")
Although there are not any reliable statistics available, the number of cats and dogs left homeless by housing foreclosures must surely already number in the thousands. Smaller animals, such as lizards, turtles, and rabbits, are also being abandoned in droves.
Farm animals also are getting caught in the crunch. For instance, the Catskill Animal Sanctuary in Saugerties, New York has been forced to build additional barns in order to house abandoned horses and mules.
At present, the sanctuary has thirty large animals awaiting homes with additional horses and mules arriving on an almost daily basis. "This has blindsided us." Director Kathy Stevens told Albany's Times Union on January 14th. (See "Loan Crisis Leaving Pets Homeless.") In addition to foreclosures, Stevens also cites steep price hikes in both hay and petrol as contributing to the abandonment of farm animals.
Besides surrendering animals to shelters and sanctuaries, some callous owners are also dumping them alongside roads and locking them inside their foreclosed houses. By leaving their pets behind and trashing their former residences it is as if they are attempting to stick it to their creditors for giving them the heave-ho in the first place.
Real estate agents and property inspectors are therefore making some rather grisly discoveries. The Chicago Tribune, for example, cited the following egregious examples of animal abandonment and cruelty in a January 22nd article: three dogs and twenty birds found in a house in Lorain, Ohio; twenty-four horses on a ranch in Bixby, Oklahoma; sixty-three abandoned cats in Cincinnati; and, the corpses of twenty-one Great Danes locked inside a house in Bradford, Pennsylvania. (See "Dogs, Cats Latest Victims of Subprime Mortgage Mess.")
Although seven of the felines abandoned in Cincinnati have since died, a newly formed organization known as Foreclosure Cats has found homes for all but nineteen of the survivors. Those waiting to be adopted, such as Mickey, are meanwhile biding their time in foster homes.(See photo above.)
A few of them are still suffering from lingering maladies brought on by the squalid conditions in which they were forced to subsist but all of them are expected to recover in time. Moreover, they all have been tested, vaccinated, sterilized, and microchipped.
Since there are already so many of them, cats and dogs have been hit especially hard by the subprime loan scandal. "(Pets) are getting dumped all over," Traci Jennings of the Humane Society of Stanislaus County in northern California told the Examiner in the article cited supra. "Farmers are finding dogs dumped on their grazing grounds, while house cats are showing up in wild cat colonies."
Dumping a domestic cat is a particularly heartless deed. Often declawed, sterilized, obese, and elderly, these cats not only do not have any way of surviving on their own but are also sometimes shunned by their feral cousins.
Even in boom times cat owners have been seen nonchalantly dumping their companions outside old clothes bins at supermarkets. The only concession that they have been known to make to sentimentality is to wait until the day after Christmas in order to commit their dastardly deeds.
This reprehensible conduct certainly is not unique to Americans. When the Israelis pulled out of the Sinai in the early 1980s and Gaza in 2005 they left behind thousands of cats and dogs to fend for themselves. This was in spite of the fact that they were given new houses and hundreds of thousands of dollars by the United States. (See Cat Defender post of November 7, 2005 entitled "Israeli Colonialists in Gaza and the West Bank Leave Behind Thousands of Cats to Die of Thirst, Hunger, and Predation.")
It is a well established fact that most animals either trapped by Animal Control or turned over to shelters are systematically slaughtered even during the best of times. Now, with shelters overflowing, adoptions declining, and home sales sagging, the carnage is only going to increase.
Moreover, the worst is yet to come. According to David Olive of the Toronto Star, the foreclosure crisis is not expected to peak until sometime this summer and shelters will be flooded with the annual influx of feral kittens well before then.
None of these considerations have deterred the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) from recommending that pet owners caught in a bind surrender their charges to shelters. While readily admitting that most of these hapless animals will be killed, Stephanie Shain nonetheless told the Examiner, "But they'll be fed and have water and have a humane euthanization (sic), as opposed to spending the last days of their lives eating carpet or wallboard."
It is small wonder that the animals are treated so horribly when the HSUS indulges in such self-serving sophistry. There is nothing worse for either a cat or a dog than to wind up in the clutches of either the shelters or Animal Control! To their credit, even individuals who cruelly abandon animals are cognizant of that petit fait.
In a series of videos posted on its web site exposing the unspeakable cruelties and shameful abuses that cows and pigs are subjected to at slaughterhouses, the HSUS is only able to muster enough compassion and courage in order to condemn the abuses but not the killings. (See Washington Post articles of January 30th and January 31st entitled, respectively, "Video Reveals Violations of Law, Abuse of Cows at Slaughterhouse" and "Meat Company Fires Two Over Cruelty to Livestock.")
In both words and deeds, the HSUS is too much like the thoroughly disgraced PETA to have any real credibility. In a January 10th press release, the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) revealed that during 2006 PETA had a kill-rate of ninety-seven per cent at its Norfolk shelter.
In particular, of the 3,061 companion animals that it took in only twelve made it out alive. (See "PETA Killed Ninety-Seven Per Cent of 'Companion Animals' in 2006, According to VDACS.")
While it is certainly no lover of animals, CCF nonetheless does a good job of publicizing the fact that PETA has absolutely no interest in finding homes for cats and dogs and instead has always taken the easy and cheap way out by operating a killing factory. (See Cat Defender posts of January 29, 2007 and February 9, 2007 entitled, respectively, "PETA's Long History of Killing Cats and Dogs Is Finally Exposed in North Carolina Courtroom" and "Verdict in PETA Trial: Littering Is a Crime but Not the Mass Slaughter of Innocent Cats and Dogs.")
Since it is axiomatic that no animal ever comes out of a slaughterhouse alive, the best that can be said for the Humane Society's positions on both shelters and slaughterhouses is that they are consistent.
While there are no easy solutions for pet owners facing eviction, foreclosures usually take several months and this provides a window of opportunity for them to make alternative arrangements. Advertisements for new homes can be placed in newspapers and animals can sometimes be boarded on a temporary basis with friends and relatives.
Moreover, most landlords, with the notable exception of nursing home operators, usually allow renters to have pets. It is therefore conceivable that some pet owners are merely using their evictions as a convenient excuse in order to get rid of their cats and dogs. Or, perhaps they simply do not want them under foot in a cramped apartment.
The bottom line is that individuals need to realize that adopting a pet is a lifetime commitment. Cats, dogs, and other animals become intricate members of any household and just as it would be unthinkable to abandon a child the same holds true for abandoning a pet.
Once this intellectual nexus is made, abandonment ceases to be an option and all attention and resources can be focused on alternative solutions. The same logic should be applied to the slaughtering of cats and dogs at shelters.
So far, high adoption fees, forced sterilizations, and follow-up home visits have not had any measurable effect in reducing surrender rates at shelters. Besides, escalating adoption fees discourage many responsible individuals from adopting animals.
Perhaps, a better solution would be the enfranchisement of all animals. "In a sense, animal rights is not really about loving animals, but respecting them," Janine Motta of the New Jersey Animal Rights Alliance told the Asbury Park Press on July 23, 2007. (See "Spreading the Word. New Jersey Animal Rights Alliance Focuses on Animal Rights and Legislation.")
"We believe animals have basic rights: the right to life, the right to live their life (sic) free of human exploitation and abuse," she added. "So, conversely, we do not have the right to use animals for any real or perceived need, whether it be food, clothing, entertainment, medical issues."
To that otherwise exemplary list, rights to housing, food, and veterinary care must be added. The empowerment of the animals will likewise require corresponding restrictions on both pet sales and ownership.
As detrimental as the housing crisis is, it is not the only economic factor impacting upon the lives of companion animals and their owners. For example, sharp increases in the cost of pet food, supplies, and veterinary care have necessitated the creation of pet food banks.
In Hartford, Connecticut, Lorie Reardon operates the Aid-A-Pet program which provides pet food and supplies to low-income pet owners. Operated out of the Charter Oak Health Center, it relies upon donations from the public in order to provide assistance to hundreds of individuals.
In some instances its assistance has enabled individuals to retain pets that they otherwise would have been forced to surrender. "Many folks don't have families. They only have pets," Reardon told the Hartford Courant on January 26th. (See "A Pet Owner's Lifeline.")
One family benefiting from the pet food bank is fifty-one-year-old Janice Comstock and her five cats, Lucky, Jessie Jane, Velvet, Chippy, and Tuxedo. (See photo above of her and Lucky with friend Angel Sanchez.)
Speaking of her feline companions, Comstock told the Courant, "They are right there when I come home. They love me unconditionally."
While housing construction may have bottomed out in most areas, it and commercial development are continuing unabated elsewhere. For example, in Hares Corner, Delaware thirty-five cats are being evicted by developers from their home in the woods alongside Du Pont Highway. (See photo above of one of them.)
Consequently, Faithful Friends is prevailing upon farmers in the area to take in the waifs. "What we need is five or six farmers to take four or five each," the nonprofit's Jane Pierantozzi told the News Journal of New Castle on January 29th. (See "Feral Cats Fall Prey to Development.")
With the bulldozers and the tree-killers set to begin work within a week, time is running out for the cats. "We don't normally move cats but this is a situation with no options," Pierantozzi added sang-froid.
The situation in Hares Corner and elsewhere demonstrates that the observation made by the ASPCA's Zawistowski is only half true. As far as cats and other animals are concerned, they always get the short end of the stick regardless of economic conditions.
Photos: Foreclosure Cats (Mickey), Rick Hartford of the Courant (Comstock with Lucky and Sanchez), and Emily Varisco of The News Journal (Hares Corner cat).