Foreclosure, Pets, and Bankruptcy

February 28, 2011

The economic downturn has had a far-reaching affect. The mortgage crisis created a new victim: the family pet. As more families lost their homes to foreclosure, more pets were abandoned or left at animal shelters. USA Today reports that some pet owners are leaving pets in empty houses and garages with some food and water. Often these abandoned animals aren’t found for days or weeks and are dead or dying.

Before you decide to walk away from a home and turn your back on a family pet, consider how the federal bankruptcy laws can help your financial situation. First, there are options to keep your home during bankruptcy by paying arrearages over time, stripping away an unsecured second or third mortgage, or buying needed time to qualify under a home loan modification program.

Contrary to widespread misinformation, you do not have to give up your pet when you file bankruptcy. The judicial trend is to recognize pets as more than property. In a recent case from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Maryland, a Chapter 13 debtor was allowed to claim pet care expense in his bankruptcy plan over a trustee’s objection. The judge in that case found that a family pet should not become “a helpless casualty of a family’s financial crisis,” and “as long as the Debtor is ready and willing to provide the pet with a loving home, the Debtor should not be prevented by the bankruptcy process from continuing to do so.”

Family pets, or “companion animals,” are not limited to dogs or cats. In the case of In re Gallegos, a U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Idaho held that a pet horse, although residing outdoors, could qualify as a “household pet.” In Gallegos the judge held that “[i]t is more the fact that an animal is held primarily for the enjoyment and companionship of its owners, and not for some other reason, that makes the pet a member of a debtor’s household.”

Like any other monthly expense, pet care expenses must be reasonable. One bankruptcy court found that spending $100 for the care of two dogs was reasonable, while another court found that $750 per month for pet care expense was not reasonable.

If you are struggling with debt and need help with your finances, consult with an experienced bankruptcy attorney before making any important and long-lasting decision. You owe it to your loved ones to consider all the available options before deciding on a course of action.

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