Dog Bites Agent: The Legal And Ethical Issue Of Abandoned Pets


Dog Bites Agent: The Legal And Ethical Issue Of Abandoned Pets BLOG VIEW: REO listing agents, their buyer clients and field services contractors face many health and safety problems when visiting bank-owned properties. In addition to the usual dangers associated with left-behind waste, broken windows, loose stairs and railings, faulty electrical wiring and empty swimming pools, there is always the possibility of abandoned dogs and/or cats that may act aggressively toward visitors.

No one has to be reminded that certain dogs have been trained by their owners to be ‘unkind’ to strangers. When these abandoned dogs, which are often among the most aggressive breeds, become neglected and hungry, they sometimes become more dangerous to strangers.

Dog Bites Agent

In the ‘dog bites agent’ category, one agent I know, who asked not to be identified, was once bitten by an abandoned dog while showing a property, and her injuries caused her six months disability and surgery.

This same agent says that in the past, she has seen REO properties where animals were were caged, left without water or food, and in survival mode, clearly making them a danger to others. Local ordinances giving the property owner rights and restricting access without a court order only complicated the matter, she says.

Another issue is when pets are abandoned and die in the house. Sometimes, people leave their animals behind with intentions of rescuing them later, but never return. Not only does this result in malodorous ‘material’ in the home and unsanitary conditions, but the animal can go mad trying to get out, causing serious damage to the interior of the home.

A Legal And Ethical Dilemma

Joseph Alan Barreres with Great American Real Estate & Associates says from his experience as an REO listing broker in San Diego, ‘Pets or animals left behind by the previous occupant following a foreclosure pose a legal and an ethical situation for the REO listing broker and for the lender or servicer client.’ He points out that under California law, abandoned animals are the responsibility of the landowner.

California Penal Code 597f states that every owner of any animal, who permits the animal to be without proper care and attention, shall, on conviction, be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor. In addition, Penal Code 597s makes it a misdemeanor to willfully abandon an animal. Most other states have similar laws.

Although it can be argued that neither the REO listing broker nor the client performed the act of abandoning or neglecting the animal, the new owner of the property (lender/servicer/investor) and the representative of the new owner (REO broker) are nevertheless responsible for the entire property – and the animal – at the time of discovery.

‘The ethical situation is that any responsible person and/or entity encountering an abandoned animal at an REO property should immediately call animal control,’ says Barreres. ‘Furthermore, if the animal is confined to an enclosed area on the property, the discovering person should make sure that the animal has fresh water. Care should be taken when in proximity to the animal for the safety of both the person and the animal.’

Another agent I know, who asked to remain anonymous, says he once had an REO property where the only thing left behind was an under-nourished horse that was in the back yard. The horse apparently drank water from an old pool, so the agent called a special group that he knew would not put the horse down and told them he had seen a neglected animal.

In this case, the agent didn't meet the agency's representative at the property – nor did he leave his contact information – because it is the current owner's responsibility to remove such animals.

Steps To Take

Sometimes agents are forced to make such anonymous calls to protect the animals. If that's the case, there are a lot of good organizations out there that protect and/or remove abandoned pets based on anonymous calls regarding neglect.

Oh, and by the way, if a wild animal is on the property, agents generally call animal control. Â

Obviously, one of the main challenges when finding pets that have been abandoned is to have them properly cared for. According to Wayne Flanagan of Atlanta Communities Real Estate Brokerage, dogs and cats that he has found are usually hungry and frightened.

‘The SPCA is our main source for caring for the animals,’ says Flanagan. ‘When contacted, they ask us to remain or be at the property at an appointed time when they can come retrieve the abandoned animal.

‘Dogs, cats and a large bird have been our finds over the years,’ he adds. ‘The bird ended up being easier than expected as a neighbor helped us locate one of the two owners who left him along with the dogs and cats.’

A Happy Ending?

Fortunately, the discovery of an abandoned pet doesn't have to result in a sad ending. Flanagan says that one dog, ‘Bullet,’ who was found at one of the properties he had shown, ended up being adopted by an investor-buyer.

‘Bullet and our investor hit it off immediately,’ he says, adding that the investor worked through the proper channels in order to adopt the dog.

Most other abandoned pets – if not reclaimed by their owners – go on to find happy homes through various agencies and nonprofits.

Jeffrey Denholtz of Jersey Success Realty in Budd Lake, N.J., points out that when one finds an abandoned pet, the first step should always be to try to reach the prior occupant, as many of them will often return to retrieve their pet.

‘If you can't reach the prior occupant, either the owner or tenant, then your next step should be to contact an animal shelter,’ says Denholtz. ‘Some shelters specialize in snake and reptile rescues. Some are general pet rescues. If the first and second plans fail, your third option is to contact the animal control officer covering the municipality or county in which the subject REO property is located, as they will try to find a home for the pet.’

Although it is true that abandoned pets pose a potential threat to real estate agents and others who visit properties where they were left behind, it is equally true that many of these animals themselves are in potential danger � through no fault of their own.

Lynn Effinger is a 30-year veteran of the housing and mortgage servicing industries. He currently serves as senior vice president, institutional services, for RIO Software Solutions Inc.

(Do you have an opinion to share with MortgageOrb? Get in touch! Send an email to

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments