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Cynthia Kimball Humphreys
Elisha Bunting cuddles Smokey, one of the charges at Bunny House. Best Friends helps a wide variety of homeless animals.

ANGEL CANYON, Kane County — As more Americans are filing bankruptcy and foreclosing on their homes, there's a secondary effect that is often going unnoticed.

Foreclosed and homeless pets are being dumped in places such as the Arizona Strip, in closets, garages or backyards of abandoned homes, and even in the trunks of cars.

But Best Friends Animal Society in southern Utah has an initiative — Six Small Steps to No More Homeless Pets, to help these family members left behind.

"We started the No More Homeless Pets program … to share resources and teach people how they could be part of the solution," said Liz Finch, manager of Best Friends' community assistance department.

"It's been harder. It's not the normal animal issues," said Karen Lieberman, assistant manager of the department. "It's the issues that people create that become problems for the animals. We're also caring for the human element, which can be difficult."

As a result of the economy, Best Friends is noticing its phones are ringing a lot more than ever before.

"We get 1,500 calls a month. A third of them are critical where a dog is going to be euthanized or 'I'm moving in three weeks.' What we're hearing from e-mails is that, 'I've lost my job and I don't have any money and my cat or dog is sick.' A lot of them also have multiple cases involving more than one animal," Lieberman said.

One statewide group that is making a huge difference and also happens to be sponsored by Best Friends is No More Homeless Pets Utah. "They've got a big van that goes around Utah and does spay and neuter for cats and dogs," Lieberman said.

If you've got the money, buying a foreclosed home is an investor's dream. The story is the same for these foreclosed and homeless pets. The difference between the two?

The foreclosed and homeless pet issue can be eradicated largely without money.

"We are seeing the necessity now more than ever of all of us working together to solve the homeless pets problem," Finch said. "Yes, these are especially difficult times, but Best Friends knows that solving the homeless pets issue is a miracle of many small choices."

"Contact Best Friends and we'll help in any way we can," adds Lieberman. "We focus on empowering people to help themselves, giving them tools and resources, but we'll do whatever, short of taking in every and any animal here."

With a mission to work together to bring about a time when there will be no more homeless pets, Finch outlined the six small steps of the program:

Make a small donation to your local rescue group or shelter and get five of your friends to do the same. Small amounts add up fast.

Volunteer at your local shelter or rescue group.

Foster a homeless pet and promote it for adoption.

Spay/neuter your pets. If you can afford to do so, donate the cost of a spay/neuter for a neighbor who cannot pay to have a pet altered.

If you can, consider adopting one more dog or one more cat.

Donate to the local pet food bank (in many communities there are organizations dedicated to distributing pet food, and some traditional food banks also accommodate pet owners).

The initiative has been very successful nationwide and even boasts 55 member groups with 61,271 individual members.

"There are great groups all over the country," said media relations manager Barbara Williamson. "It's so important for people to get involved at the local level."

"Half a day, twice a month. It doesn't take a lot to make a difference," Lieberman said.

"Here is what we know at Best Friends: the people in this country have an amazing ability to reach out and help. How many times have we seen people turn out in force after a hurricane or tornado?" asked Finch.

For more information, visit www.utahpets.org and www.bestfriends.org.

E-mail: [email protected]