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Foreclosures also hard on family pets

Expositor Features Editor

The sharp increase in foreclosures in Fulton County is affecting not only homeowners but their pets.

Facing an eviction notice often means scrambling to find alternative housing. That doesn't bode well for dogs, cats, hamsters and other domesticated fauna that are not welcome at rental properties. But thinking ahead of the problem can often result in keeping your pet or ensuring it finds a good home.

It's heartbreaking to watch those with homes in foreclosure drop off pets they can't take with them," said Pete Skeldon, county dog warden.

"It's extremely emotional for them. They're having to give up a family pet. It's tough, and it's tough for us," he said. "We have people who will bring in the dog's toys, blankets, bed and leftover dog food. They just walk out of here bawling."

Calls from people who tell Skeldon they're facing foreclosure and can't keep a beloved pet are increasing.

"It's horrible. The last thing we want to do is take someone's family pets. And this is just the beginning of it," he said. "It's going to get worse."

The facility charges $50 to accept a dog. The amount is less than the cost to shelter and feed the animal, and to euthanize it if necessary.

Richard D. Wells Apartments rents units in Swanton, Metamora, Delta and Fayette. Pets are accepted with a $150 deposit in some of its ground-level units, but not in multi-unit buildings.

And despite an influx of calls from people who have been displaced through foreclosure or other reasons, the company can't change its pet policy, office manager Bonnie Holdeman said.

"We've tried to accommodate a lot of people the best we can," she said.

The same pet policy has been in place for 20 years, and probably will remain in effect, owner Mike Wells said.

"I really hate doing that," he added. "It's not that we have anything against pets, there's just no room for them."

He also must consider the havoc a pet can wreak upon an apartment, and the cost of repairing the damage.

"We're hard-pressed. It's not a big business. I'm like everybody else struggling to pay their bills," Wells said.

Clay Meadows Apartments in Fayette accepts pets but charges a $300 non-refundable deposit. A representative said the 48-unit complex has not fielded calls from people facing foreclosure. Nor does the business plan to adjust its policy to accommodate prospective tenants with numerous animals.

There is hope for dogs abandoned locally in the form of Molly LaMountain. The Planned Pethood volunteer regularly scours the county dog pound and the few area rescue centers for adoptable pets. In 2008, she saved about 300 from unknown fates.

When LaMountain visits the dog pound a couple of times each week she always finds several good candidates for foster homes. Her persistence has given the facility an 80 percent placement rate.

"If the dog's a nice dog the odds are pretty good," she said. "(2008 was) a really good year."

Owners faced with the dilemma of moving should plan ahead for their animals, LaMountain said.

"Do what you can to keep your pets. Your dog wants to stay with you," she advised. "There are options out there, but people wait until the last minute."

If you're being forced to move, call ahead to help your pet, she added.

"If you don't, you're making it harder on us, and that's lowering your chances of success."

Fulton County residents also can turn to the Henry County Humane Society. Although it is not yet a "no-kill" facility, it accepts all types of domestic pets and makes an effort to find them homes.

An estimated 60-75 percent of animals left there are adopted, rescued or fostered, said Stacy Bressler, executive director. The organization asks for a donation of usually $20 or more to accept animals, but will not turn any away.

Bressler said calls have increased from people who must move or relocate and can't take pets with them. Pets also are brought by owners who can't afford them in tough economic times.

"They have to make cuts somewhere. When it comes down to putting food on their plate or the dog or cat's plate, they have to make that choice," she said. "There is quite a bit of crying. It's very emotional. It's tough, and we don't make any promises to them because we can't. We have many avenues that we use to try to find homes for these animals. We do our best."

To help place a pet, visit Petfinder.com.