PONTIAC — Evan Deutsch keeps a watchful eye on the backyards as he drives avenues looking for evidence — dogs chained to trees, dogs barking, windows boarded.
He travels in an SUV loaded with straw and 10 or so donated bags of Kibbles ‘n’ Bits. By the end of the day they’re gone — given away so owners can feed their dogs. Deutsch, a 50-year-old advertising copywriter, is a volunteer with the Animal Care Network, a Ferndale agency that focuses on helping animals in Pontiac and Inkster.
The work often involves cajoling those who aren’t taking care of the animals to give them up. He’s seen something else in recent months — dogs trapped in abandoned houses, in yards or roaming the street, their owners nowhere to be found.
“We’re seeing more dogs being left behind,” said Deutsch, of Oak Park. “We’ll call the police. We’ll call animal control and hopefully they’ll take care of it. It’s not unusual for someone to leave seven dogs behind when they leave.”
Complaints about abandoned animals are soaring amid Metro Detroit’s listless economy and foreclosure crisis. Sometimes, the pets are given to a shelter. Sometimes, they’re just let out the door and face sickness and starvation.
Often, they breed, creating another generation of problems.
Complaints to the Michigan Humane Society about abandoned animals have nearly tripled since 2003 to 1,381 last year. They come as foreclosures have jumped 68 percent statewide in one year to 136,205 filings in 2007, according to RealtyTrac Inc., an Irvine, Calif.-based group.
Last year, Michigan ranked third nationwide in foreclosures behind only Nevada and Florida. Filings fell 7 percent in January from a year ago. Now, Michigan ranks 10th — an improvement.Still, the phone rings constantly at the Animal Care Network, said Marie Skladd, president. Tips come from people who hear strays barking in abandoned homes or suspect abuse. Often, they come from the owners themselves, who simply can’t afford to keep their pets anymore.
“It’s virtually a daily occurrence now, Skladd said. “Over the last year with people losing their jobs, now all of the sudden they’re stuck because foreclosures are almost imminent now.”
Financial troubles forced Raynail Mayes to give away her two dogs — a 1-year-old pit bull and another year-old mixed breed. The Pontiac resident recently moved to another rental in the city to save money. The landlord doesn’t allow dogs.
“My son is very attached to the dogs,” said Mayes, 35, “But I just can’t afford it anymore.”
Shelters are seeing an influx of atypical canines, said Elaine Greene, executive director of the Dearborn Animal Shelter. It’s a sign the financial crisis has crept into the higher income brackets.
“Typically, we get the not-so-adoptable, unwanted dogs. We get a lot of pit bulls,” Greene said. “Now were seeing a different type of dog come in — purebred and small-breed dogs.”
The shelter last week had a purebred golden retriever. The dog even has a tracking chip imbedded under its skin.
“We’ve had no luck finding the owners. The phone numbers are disconnected. I’m fearful they may have moved on,” Greene said last week.
The owners were never found. But the golden retriever was adopted by another family, who picked him up Friday.
Officials at the no-kill Last Chance Rescue in Howell, are turning pets away. There are about 30 dogs in the kennel. Another 45 or so are with “foster” families.
“They’re very, very sad to have to leave their dog behind, but many times, they have to either move out of state or into an apartment,” said Mary McIntyre of Last Chance Rescue.
There are small but frequent successes. Pam Porteous of the Animal Rescue League in Pontiac recently convinced a resident to give up a Rottweiler kept in a backyard.
The dog was about 50 pounds underweight and had about a week to live, Porteous said.
Now, the dog has put on 15 pounds and has a home lined up when it’s healthy.
Foreclosure agent Debbie Raider became a rescuer herself about a month ago.
She taped a foreclosure notice to a house in Monroe County and discovered something strange — a purebred German shepherd trapped inside, left behind by his owner a week or so earlier.
Raider contacted sheriff’s deputies and had neighbors get in touch with the former owner. He gave her permission to take the dog, and Raider became a savior to Champ. She spent about $1,000 to get veterinary treatment for the underweight, unhealthy dog.
It has been CAPS’ pleasure to have the assistance of Evan Deutsch and Marie Skladd with investigations, rescues and other work in Michigan. Animal Care Network is part of Michigan Animal Adoption Network (MAAN). We look forward to a continued association with such a wonderful nonprofit organization. For more information on MAAN and Animal Care Network: www.mi-aan.org.