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From Howling Mad to Howling Glad: How Mortgage Servicers Can Help “Foreclosure Pets”

A dog barking as you pass by, a cat sunning itself in the window—these are signs of a house still occupied, right?

Wrong. Though many mortgage servicing field contractors have been operating under the assumption that if an animal is present at a property, it means it’s occupied, that is not always true. With the foreclosure crisis has come the phenomenon of “foreclosure pets,” animals that have been abandoned by owners who have lost their homes. Sixty-three percent of the 3.5 million people likely to go through foreclosure this year will have pets. This leaves more than 2 million animals in jeopardy. Stress and Bad Decisions

When a family leaves a foreclosed property, they frequently find themselves moving into a rental that either doesn’t allow pets or that has a restrictively expensive pet deposit. In some cases, they live with friends and family who simply can’t handle taking on new animals in addition to new people.

Unfortunately, many homeowners mistakenly believe if they leave their pet it will be found quickly or that the once-beloved dog, cat, or sometimes horse or llama can fend for themselves. Some fear that taking their pet to a shelter will mean they will be euthanized.

Pet = Occupied, Not Always!

Realtors, field service reps, or door-knockers cannot assume that an animal present at a property means it hasn’t been vacated; this only leads to already-abandoned animals being further neglected. In order to combat the foreclosure pet problem, mortgage servicers must hire experienced, educated contractors, rather than the cheapest option just to save money.

A good contractor will take the time to determine whether a property is vacant or occupied by getting out of the car and checking the house’s utilities or by talking to the neighbors to get more information. If a contractor has an order to rekey or do preservation work, they can enter the home and make a few quick observations.

Can you hear an animal? Do you smell an animal? Is there pet food in the house? Take a look in the refrigerator to see if there is fresh food. The expiration date on a milk carton tells a contractor more about the property’s occupation status than whether or not there is an animal on the property. A Word to Lenders and Mortgage Servicers It is crucial for lenders and mortgage servicing companies to thoroughly vet their contractors for experience and customer commitment, to provide them with genuine training and to pay them in full and on time. Mortgage servicers should include in their orientations how to address the foreclosure pet issue and provide their team with guidelines for handling abandoned pets.

Listen to your borrowers about how contractors interact with them, and make sure that borrowers’ claims and concerns are followed up on in order to avoid costly and damaging mistakes. Mortgage servicers must quality control check 100% of what they do; in exchange, you will know immediately when there is a problem. Contractors who are treated like a respected and valued extension of the organization can become your eyes and ears in the field. Found a Foreclosed Pet? First, contractors should visit properties frequently in order to know as soon as they become vacated. It may take longer to check with neighbors or look at the utility bills than to simply drive by and look for superficial clues. The return in quality control and piece of mind more than makes up for the investment in time. Contractors should be aware of the status of every property they service, so that no abandoned animal is left neglected for an excessively long time. If they do come across an animal, they should proceed with caution, as it may be hungry, defensive, or confused.

At No Paws Left Behind, we recommend that field service contractors keep a box of dog biscuits in their truck, so that they can give a hungry dog something to eat. This also distracts the dog, so that the contractor may exit safely in the event of it being unfriendly. Contractors should never overfeed or overwater a hungry or thirsty animal, because in its agitated state it often won’t know when to stop and can make itself sick. If a pet appears threatening, most states will allow the contractor to enter with animal control in order to have it removed. However, animal control often takes animals to shelters where they will likely be euthanized.

We recommend instead that contractors call us at No Paws Left Behind to find out whether the presence of an abandoned animal constitutes permission to enter a home. We can then mobilize a rescue crew that will take the abandoned pet to a “No Kill” shelter, where it will not be in danger of euthanasia and that will attempt to put the animal into foster care until it finds a permanent home.

We also encourage mortgage servicers to engage in a dialogue with their borrowers in order to avoid a foreclosure pet situation. If you know a borrower is struggling, ask about any pets they might have and put them in touch with No Paws Left Behind. The organization sometimes can provide foreclosed homeowners with the little extra cash for a pet deposit in a new rental situation, a resolution that benefits everyone.

The vast majority of mortgage servicers, field contractors and borrowers care about foreclosure pets and don’t want to see them suffer. Through education, awareness and diligent action, we can work together to ensure that these unfortunate animals find safe and happy homes. Cheryl Lang is founder of No Paws Left Behind Inc., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing awareness to and finding solutions for the growing phenomena of “foreclosure pets.” She can be reached at 281-994-4538 or at cheryl@nopawsleftbehind.org.