Life as an Animal Friends Humane Investigations Officer: Abandoned Pets

Photo by: Harry Giglio

It is a sad situation when owners move away and cannot take their pets with them.  Most responsible pet owners will leave their pets with a family member or friend or even take them to a local animal shelter.  Unfortunately, there are cases of owners abandoning their animals to fend for themselves.

This is where Animal Friends’ Humane Investigation Officers step in and take charge.  Our Humane Investigations Coordinator, Valerie Polka recaps just some of the abandonment cases Animal Friends’ Humane Officers have had to tackle in the past.

We hear about this kind of thing happening all over the county.  Frequently, the animals are simply left behind in a rental property, which may not sound as extreme as leaving a dog out in the woods or to fend for itself on the street, but it is just as dangerous.  Death by dehydration and/or starvation is a horrible death and can happen to any animal left anywhere without proper care.

Since some rentals do not accept pets or charge extra for them, not all tenants admit to having a pet.  So when they leave a property, it may not be checked on immediately, leaving the abandoned animal in a very dangerous predicament.  Also we seem to get many animals abandoned in basements and it can be hard to tell if there is an animal in there.  Because many basements either have no windows or have glass-block windows, visual confirmation that there is a pet inside is not always possible.  If the dog doesn’t bark or it is an animal that doesn’t bark, sadly, the abandoned animal could go unnoticed for quite a while.

As a prime example of animals left in a basement, Officer Kathy Hecker had a big case in 2009 where cats were abandoned in a locked basement by the owners.  It was a gruesome discovery for the officers. None of the cats from that case survived.

Although being left without food and water is extremely dangerous for any type of animal, cats and rabbits may succumb more readily because of their anatomy. Cats who are not eating can develop fatal liver issues (“fatty liver” or hepatic lipidosis).  Rabbits need a constant source of food to keep their digestive system functioning properly.  That system can shut down when they cannot eat and the rabbit can die.  Animals that are very young, older, or medically compromised are also at a greater risk when they are abandoned.

Cats, dogs, and rabbits are not the only victims of abandonment.  Humane Investigation Officers have also found fish, snakes, turtles, and hamsters left behind without provisions.

In addition to tenants who purposefully leave their animals behind, Animal Friends’ Humane Investigations also gets complaints of animals that were left without care when an owner was arrested or hospitalized.  Although it may not have been the owner’s desire to leave abruptly, they still have a duty of care for the animals and should let someone know that they have pets if they can.  Unfortunately, some people never mention their pets and the animals suffer.

It seems like there was a spike in abandonments when many people began struggling with foreclosures.  Even though they may not want to, landlords do have a duty to care for animals left behind on their property. They cannot ignore the situation and simply releasing the animals outside is not a legal option.

Regardless of why the pet was abandoned, it’s simply unacceptable (and illegal) to leave an animal without food or water, especially with the many shelters and rescues in the area who are available and willing to help.

If you see or suspect animal abandonment, call Animal Friends’ Humane Investigations office at 412.847.7066. Please leave a voice mail with a complete address and description of the situation so that we can respond immediately.

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