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For One Industry Exec, Aiding Foreclosure's Silent Victims is a Full Time Job

Dealing with difficult situations is what Cheryl Lang does for a living, but some things always tend to hit closer to home than others. For Lang, president of Integrated Mortgage Solutions, a Houston-based national property preservation and field services company, her largest sense of dread is reserved for a "Paw Alert." Another dog left inside a foreclosed property with nothing but a large bowl of dry dog food. Or a pair of cats, left to roam a house that has been vacant for weeks on end. "It just breaks my heart whenever I see an animal left behind," she said. Personal property laws, which can complicate matters in a foreclosure -- pets are considered personal property in most states, and are therefore subject to some stiff regulations -- often make the situation even more gut-wrenching for pet lovers like Lang. Determined to do something about it, Lang recently created a national non-profit organization dedicated to caring for a growing number of animals that have all of a sudden found themselves out of house and family amid the worst foreclosure crisis in recent memory. The nonprofit, called No Paws Left Behind, is her way of tackling a problem that many industry participants say has reached epidemic proportions. "There's no real data out there on how prevalent this is, but it's a real issue," she said. She estimates that her company alone deals with at least one Paw Alert each day. According to the 2007-2008 National Pet Owners Survey, 63 percent of U.S. households own a pet, which equates to 71.1 million homes. Lang estimates that the volume of foreclosure activity already being seen, as well as the foreclosures that are yet to occur, will put more than one million animals at risk of abandonment over the course of the next twelve months or so. "We'll feed the animal, care for the animal, and take it to a pet shelter if need be," Lang said. "We work with local animal control as well as helping locate no-kill shelters the animals can be taken to." Reaching for an industry-wide solution While the motivation for No Paws left Behind may be rooted in what she calls her "other job" at IMS, Lang's passion for making the non-profit an industry-wide initiative usually becomes crystal clear within the first minute of speaking with her. "We'll work with anyone that has an affected pet, no matter who is managing the property," said Lang. "It doesn't need to be [IMS] at all. The goal here is to work to find the right solution for the pets." Fannie Mae has expressed an interest in supporting the program. So, too, have industry conferences -- one has already offered No Paws Left Behind a free booth to promote what it does, and to raise industry awareness and funds for ongoing operation, Lang said. She's also in early discussions with HOPE NOW officials to drive local awareness for the program among troubled borrowers attending sponsored homeownership clinics in key housing markets. So far, lenders haven't yet supported the program with donations. "Thank you is pretty much it," she said, although she expects lenders will support the cause more formally in the months ahead. No Paws Left Behind plans to update its Web site at the end of this month, making it possible for borrowers and industry professionals alike to locate local help for pets caught in the foreclosure mess by using the same technology that IMS uses to manage local properties and contractors. "These are mostly good people, going through tough times," Lang said. "Many move in with a friend, or into an apartment complex, and can't take the pet with them. They just don't know what to do." "I just want to be able to help." Seeing fewer Paw Alerts cross her desk in the months ahead would be a welcome change, too. Editor's note: To learn more about No Paws Left Behind, including information on how you can support the non-profit agency's efforts to help pets abandoned in foreclosure, email Cheryl Lang directly at cheryl@nopawsleftbehind.org.

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