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Owners unable to keep pets turn for help

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Carla Waller believes in promises. She was married for 37 years, held one job for 35 and never adopted a pet she didn't keep for life. Until now.

Mrs. Waller and her husband, Dennis, moved to Las Vegas in 2006 and put $100,000 down on a $330,000 home. They adopted Jake, a 3-year-old, lean, shy cocker spaniel. They both sold furniture on commission and thought they were set for retirement and beyond.

Mr. Waller received a diagnosis of terminal cancer in 2008 and died in 2009. Mrs. Waller stayed home to care for him, but returned to work to make ends meet. She adopted Marilyn Monroe, a schnauzer-collie, to keep Jake company. A friend added Jewels the cat to the mix.

The recession stripped her home of a third of its value. Then health problems left her unable to work.

Foreclosure is just around the corner, said Mrs. Waller, 67. "I know I'm a couple of months out. I can't do it anymore. I don't have the income," she said. "I'm done. There is nothing I can do now."

The hardest call she had to make was to Foreclosed Upon Pets Inc. (FUPI) to arrange for homes for Jake, Marilyn and Jewels so she can move in with relatives.

"I am very depressed about it and very concerned about where they go because I took them for life," she said.

Mrs. Waller's story is all too familiar to Everett Croxson, who founded Las Vegas-based FUPI (rhymes with puppy) in 2008.

Mr. Croxson, 59, a retired business consultant, was guided by hometown headlines.

• Nevada had the worst foreclosure rate nationally for 62 months until March.

• Nevada has the highest unemployment rate in the nation at 11.6 percent.

• The Animal Foundation in Las Vegas runs the highest-volume single-facility shelter in the country. It takes in close to 50,000 animals a year. Nearly two-thirds have to be euthanized.

In 2009, Mr. Croxson bought a five-bedroom home to use as a transition house for the pets. FUPI placed 348 pets that year. In 2010, it was nearly 500; in 2011, 570; and this year it will be more than 600, Mr. Croxson said.

FUPI also works with the unemployed and those too ill or old to handle their pets, but about 30 percent of their pets are victims of foreclosures, Mr. Croxson said.

In Arizona, which bumped Nevada from the top of the foreclosure rankings in March, the Lost Our Home Pet Foundation in Phoenix does similar work. Founded in 2008, it also relies primarily on fosters, although it did open a small shelter in April.

There are about 40 animals in the shelter and 220 in foster care. More than 2,000 have been placed in four years, said founder-executive director Jodi Polanski.

As a mortgage loan officer, Ms. Polanski heard story after story, so she started the rescue in her spare time. There was too much work, so she became full-time director, and now she and two employees work with 120 volunteers and fosters.

In Arizona's Maricopa County, foreclosed homeowners have turned into renters. "Landlords can be pickier and not allow pets or they can require large pet deposits," Ms. Polanski said, forcing people to give up some or all of their animals. The problem will exist until people can qualify for home loans again, she said.

"The economy is looking better in a lot of places, but it's not better for the animals right now," Ms. Polanski added.

There is no charge to a person relinquishing an animal, but adopters pay $150 per animal at FUPI, $75 for cats and $195 for dogs at Lost Our Home. A veterinarian's exam, sterilization, shots and a microchip are included.

Ms. Polanski said the worst part of her job is turning away pets. "We do have limitations. We have a waiting list. It breaks our hearts every day when there are pets we can't help," she said.

In addition to a website and weekly adoption events, Mr. Croxson is taking part in county meetings designed to find ways to place more animals, and he does a weekly radio show to recruit volunteers and talk about pets.

For Mr. Croxson, the worst part of helping is the loss, guilt and remorse he sees when owners say goodbye to their pets. He works hard to find homes he believes would please them.

Mrs. Waller told him Jake needs someone by his side, day and night. "He's an old person's dog, though he's great with kids. His favorite thing to do is lie at your side."

No matter what, she said, "I hope my puppies are loved as much as I love them."

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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