Subprime Humans

Posted by Scott Heiser, Director of ALDF's Criminal Justice Program on February 25, 2008

As the Director of ALDF’s Criminal Justice Program, Scott Heiser has been busy fielding calls about pets left behind after families abandon their foreclosed homes. Often left trapped in the family home without food or water, the abandoned pets have little or no chance of survival. Although animal abandonment is a criminal offense, these cases often go uninvestigated. Scott give us his take on this epidemic and its silent victims.

We Americans like to "live large."  For less than admirable reasons, we continue to buy vehicles that get terrible mileage, we supersize our meals and we use our houses as ATMs to temporally ease the load of consumer debt we incur while unsuccessfully attempting to satiate our lust for overconsumption.  Given the underlying moral code embodied by these behaviors, it should come as no surprised that when the interest rates on our "subprime" mortgages for our oversized homes reset and we decide that we can no longer afford our houses, many of us simply choose to just walk way…  Walking away from a contract to repay a debt is one thing, but there is a special place in whatever form of the afterlife you choose to believe in for those who leave their pets behind when they blow off their mortgages. 

This profoundly irresponsible behavior has been widely reported on and it reminds me of a line from a pretty decent Train song from a few years back: "In a world that what we want is only what we want until it’s ours…"  We want the big house, the big car and the cute adoring dog/fluffy cat.  However, when the going gets tough, we just move on.  Endurance, sacrifice?  Not for the humans, but certainly for the animals left in the wake.  The fact that animal abandonment is a criminal offense seems a token societal gesture given that most of these cases go uninvestigated, let alone prosecuted.  

Take the case of Monty for example.  Monty, his wife and kids moved into a house that this truck driving, law school dropout, could barely afford under the best of circumstances.  They lived there for a few years–the yelling wasn’t too loud so the neighbors minded their own business.  Soon enough, the inevitable became the reality and it was foreclosure time.  The marriage ended–Monty moved into an apartment, his ex-wife and kids settled in at a family member’s place. 

As Monty was packing the last of his personal items, a somewhat nosey neighbor asked Monty about the family cat, Roo, who was still in the yard.  Monty replied that he would be back the next day to get Roo.  You know the rest.  Several days passed and it became fully apparent that Monty had left Roo to rot. 

The somewhat nosey neighbor knew that the local police would, if they had time to take the call at all, simply deliver Roo to the animal shelter where the odds of avoiding over-population induced euthanasia were less than favorable–no meaningful investigation would ever be conducted.  So, she borrowed a cat trap (despite repeated feedings by the neighbor, Roo was less than well socialized by this phase of his life given the lack of care Monty had dispensed over the years) and took him to the vet. 

Roo was infested with parasites, substantially under weight and suffering from a scratched cornea. The somewhat nosey neighbor already had three cats and was not able to assume responsibility for a fourth.  The vet, however, had a son who would come to the office from time to time after school.  Just by luck, the vet’s son was in the same day as Roo and for no apparent reason, Roo took an immediately interest in the vet’s son–they just made an instant connection.  This was completely out of character for Roo, who had to be tricked into a cage just to get him to the vet.  Roo now lives with the vet’s son and this story, unlike so many others, actually has a happy ending.

The point to all this? Honestly, I’m not really sure.  Perhaps it’s a reminder to appreciate what you already have and stop wishing for more–geez, I just know I’d be truly happy if I only had…  Or, maybe it is a simple nudge to be the somewhat nosey neighbor when the circumstances dictate.

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