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Columnist
Pets the forgotten victims of foreclosure crisis
By Lee Litas | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 9/2/2008 12:03 AM

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The devastation of Hurricane Katrina three years ago affected more than just people and property. So many animals also perished or were left to endure prolonged suffering due to abandonment, lack of food, water, or exposure.

Today, my thoughts turn to another type of storm brewing in our back yard - one of a financial nature with a similar effect.

Facing home foreclosure, humans are leaving their companion animals behind, exposed to the elements, or worst yet, locked inside abandoned homes with no food or water.

There are more than 53,000 properties in pre-foreclosure in Lake County alone, and 272,171 foreclosures across the U.S., a 55 percent increase over one year ago, according to an Irving, California-based broker, RealtyTrac Inc.

What was once a remote experience that happened to 'other people,' has entered the every day vernacular; its effects are suffered not just by humans, but by the companion animals they had committed to and are now relinquishing.

"About one out of every five dogs is coming into the shelter because of foreclosure and homelessness," said Frank Corbi, executive director of Save-A-Pet in Grayslake. That's a 20 percent increase since January. Humans have domesticated these animals and taught them to depend on man for survival and now that constant, which once offered safety, is teaching them a whole new lesson. Leaving the animal in an abandoned home with no food or water or, if they are an indoor animal, leaving them outside exposed to the elements and dangers "is the worst possible thing you can do," Corbi said.

He noted the inability to deal with guilt over their financial situation may be what is driving people to do this.

"They are too embarrassed about their situation, so they think out of sight, out of mind. They leave and leave the animal behind and then the neighbors hear the dog barking or the cat and the police become involved," he said.

Corbi urges anyone in this situation to reach out for assistance. "Say 'look, I'm in a tight spot. Can you watch our dog, can you watch our cat until I can get back on my feet or find housing that will accept these animals?'"

The Lake County Animal Care and Control facility accepts relinquished animals on Tuesday and Thursday of every week. The animals are taken to available shelters the day after they arrive; not all are no-kill.

"The majority of people are good pet owners struggling through hard times. It is unfortunate that there is a select amount of people that have to give up animals because of foreclosures and the economy," said Chief Warden Len Hackl.

Shelters are working proactively with families struggling to keep their animal by offering items such as food, cat litter or even foster care.

If it is true the heart of man can be judged by his treatment of animals, "Let's try a humane approach. If you can't take care of your animal make sure that you take it to, preferably, a no-kill shelter so that they can have a chance," Corbi said.

If you have to relinquish your companion animal, here's a list of local shelters:

•Save-A-Pet Adoption Center, 31664 North Fairfield Road, Grayslake, IL 60030. Phone: (847) 740-7788

•Orphans of the Storm, 2200 Riverwoods Road, Riverwoods (Deerfield), IL 60015, Phone: (847) 945-0235

•Animal Care and Control facility, 29278 N. Highway 83, Mundelein, IL 60060. Phone: (847) 949-9925