As real estate experts forecast 2011 to be the highest year of foreclosures and property abandonment in history, a Valley pet rescue group is increasingly finding that more than homes are being left behind.
In many cases, homeowners have to find new homes for their pets while others simply leave them locked in empty homes without food or water or chained in yards for long periods of time.
"I'm worried," said Jodi Polanski, executive director of Lost Our Home Pet Foundation, which is nearing its third year of rescuing pets. "People are getting a little more desperate. We tell people who are losing their homes to give themselves some time. Think about your pets."
The foundation, a no-kill pet rescue group of about 35 active volunteers, saves pets abandoned in foreclosed homes and finds transitional homes for them until the owner can move into a pet-friendly place.
In 2009, Lost Our Home rescued 400 pets, but last year, that number jumped to 540, according to Polanski. Right now, the pet rescue group is fostering about 130 pets (30 dogs and 100 cats) with 80 needing new homes and the remainder belonging to owners who hope to get them back.
But the group's volunteers who foster the pets are maxed out, leaving 47 pets on a waiting list. The group is seeking more foster homes for pets and donations to help with its pet food bank and to cover the animals' medical costs.
To better help pet owners in foreclosure, Lost Our Home also is creating a link on its website, www.lostourhome.org, to feature pet-friendly apartment complexes and homes.
As recently as Tuesday, Mesa homeowners who lost their home to foreclosure were able to find a home for Mocha, a chocolate lab adobe mix, but Riley, a healthy and well-cared-for seven-year-old black border collie mix from the same home hasn't been as lucky. The family has yet to find a home for him.
On Dec. 2, Gizmo, a dachschund, was discovered with two cats locked inside a home on Alonzo Avenue in east Mesa, all without access to food or water. Gizmo also recently was adopted.
"We rescue a lot of pets, but we can't do it without the help of the community," Polanski said. "The fosters we have already have multiple pets in their homes. If people don't have the time to volunteer, can they be a foster? If people can't foster a pet, can they make a donation?"
Last spring, Lost Our Home received a former rental home in northeast Phoenix as a donation from Blair Ballin of the Scottsdale-based Blair Group, a real estate company, to use as a shelter. Ballin, who loves animals, has two dogs and cat. However, the home is permitted to keep a limited number of dogs and cats at one time. Although the shelter has a wooden fence around the backyard, it has deteriorated, and the group still is seeking someone who can donate a concrete wall to replace it.
Lost Our Home also is taking a pre-emptive approach in hopes of enlisting more fosters for pets: On Sunday, the rescue group is hosting a foster orientation program at Country Inn and Suites, 808 N. Scottsdale Road in Tempe.
Pet fosters are being asked by Lost Our Home to attend two pet adoption events a month, write a biography on the animal as they get to know the pet, take pictures and feed them. Lost Our Home picks up the animal's medical costs.
"A lot of times," Polanski said, "a foster home is the best place to help get a pet quickly adopted because that foster best knows the pet."