The housing crisis may not be the first thing that comes to mind on your list of worries as you try to balance out your class, hectic schedule and job. However, the consequences of it may be closer to you than you think. Foreclosures effect not only homeowners but also the pets who live there.

Astounding number of homeless dogs and cats has risen since the housing crisis and is continuing to affect the Bay Area. In 1994, the San Francisco SPCA and Animal Care Control teamed up through a formal pact to reduce the number of pets that are being euthanized each year. This past February is the first time the San Francisco SPCA has offered an entire month of free spaying and neutering services— which resulted to 550 altered and owned dogs and cats.

A typical afternoon in the diverse Bayview-Hunterspoint neighborhood seems lively as people plague the streets. A few hours later, when the sun comes down, the neighborhood suddenly feels like a new area as numerous residents can be seen walking their “unaltered” dogs.

“Unaltered” is the term the SF SPCA uses to describe pets that are not spayed or neutered. The reason some people choose not to ‘fix’ their pets is because the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a breed-specific ordinance that made it mandatory for any city and county dweller with a pit bull to have their pets altered, unless they obtain a breed permit.

Pit bull is defined as “an American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, or any dog displaying the physical traits of any one or more of the above breeds, or any dog exhibiting those distinguishing characteristics,” according to Section 43 of the ordinance. If they do not follow the ordinance the dog owner can be fined up to $,1000.

[pullquote author=”Donna Reynolds, executive director of BAD RAP”]“In many cities, it’s nearly impossible for low or middle-income people to find a pit bull friendly rental units” .[/pullquote]

“So having to relocate forces an overwhelming number of owner to surrender [their pets],” she said.

BAD RAP is a small non-profit based organization based in Oakland that is compiled of pit bull owners, trainers, educators, rescuers and supporters. The mission of this group is to address issues facing the breed and provide support to pit bull owners. One of the ways they do this is by building trust and creating a community of dog owners.

“That trust allows us to talk about spaying and neutering as one of the many things people can do to keep their pets healthy,” says Reynolds. BAD RAP also provides free resources, including spaying and neutering.

According to Rebecca Katz, Director of the San Francisco Animal Care and Control, the number of surrendered pets varies from season to season. “Nonetheless, our records for 2010 indicate that we received approximately fifty-eight to fifty-nine owner-surrendered cats per month and fifty-seven to fifty-eight owner-surrendered dogs per month.” Katz also says it is difficult to know if a person is telling the truth about whether the animal is a stray or not.

More than 3 million cats and dogs are euthanized in this country each year, according to Laura Routhier.

[pullquote author=”Laura Routheir, Adoptions Director, San Francisco SPCA”]“Spaying and neutering is one of the most important things all of us can do to save lives”[/pullquote]

“Many animals who die as a result of pet overpopulation could have made wonderful, loving pets,” she said.

Jennifer Lu, community manager at San Francisco SPCA, says that spaying and neutering can add one to three years to your dog or cat’s life as well as eliminating the chance of cancers in the reproductive organs. She also says it is a benefit for some behavioral issues like spraying or aggression. “Eighty-eight percent of dogs euthanized are surrendered due to behavioral issues.”

This is a statement that hits close to home for Reynolds. “The city shelter labels pit bulls as a ‘high risk breed’ on their website for homeless dogs and puppies,” she says. “Language that makes anything or anyone appear different or somehow ‘risky,’ is a sure-bet to promote fear and misunderstanding among the property owners who might otherwise welcome them into their buildings.”

BAD RAP believes there are other options to a addressing behavioral issues. She also acknowledges that there are a variety of reasons, such as cultural differences, for why people do not alter their pets. Reynolds suggests a different approach of building trust within communities rather than demanding people to alter their pets because this may cause rebellion with the dog owners.

“We do this by going out to low income neighborhoods and holding events that celebrate pit bulls,” says Reynolds. “We provide free resources including spay/neuters, but more importantly, we’re supporting dog owners rather than shaming them.”

In addition, the SF SPCA is able to provide reduced services for spay/neuter surgeries to clients who cannot afford the procedure through the Leanne B. Roberts Animal Care Center. “There are several payment and charity programs which will cover the costs of these surgeries,” says Lu. In fact, the SF SPCA has declared March “Pit Fix Month” and they will offer free spaying and neutering for pit bulls and pit bull mixes.

“We are committed to reducing overpopulation through our many community service programs including Feral Fix.”

According to The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), feral cats are the offspring of lost or abandoned pet cats or other feral cats who are not fixed. “Female [feral cats] can reproduce two to three times a year and their kittens, if they survive, will become feral without early contact with people,” says Routhier. “Cats can become pregnant as early as five months of age, and the number of cats rapidly increases without intervention by caring people.”

The San Francisco SPCA supports Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs to reduce the growth of the feral population, while monitoring colonies to ensure their health and welfare. The TNR humanely collecting feral cats, neutering them and returning them to the environment where they were caught. “These animals are often unhealthy due to their exposure to the environment and the lack of vaccinations,” says Lu.

However, abandoned pets can also come from over breeding pets, which seems to follow trends according to Reynolds. “Right now the small dogs, including Chihuahuas are the most common types of dogs to become homeless,” says Reynolds. “Many predicted this trend when Paris Hilton made designer Chihuahuas popular–complete with full wardrobes and bags.”

Reynolds explains that puppy breeding is not a new source of income. “When times get tough, puppy production naturally goes up,” she says. “Right now, it’s easier to sell a litter of small dogs than pit bulls, so some of the backyard breeders are switching gears and going with a new money maker.”

This “business” is one Mickaboo Companion Bird Rescue does not support. Mickaboo is a non-profit in the Bay Area that rescues neglected, abused and abandoned companion birds such as parrots, and rehabilitates them until they are ready for a new home. Last summer, other animal welfare organizations began meeting with the Animal Control and Welfare Commission to discuss a possible ban on pet sales, except for fish.

[pullquote author=”Karen Watkins, volunteer at Mickaboo in a July 2010 article on SFGate.com”]“The unwanted pet crisis is a community problem for which we need to find a collective solution.”[/pullquote]

Although, a decision has not been reached about the possible ban. Routier has similar sentiments and encourages people to adopt their next pet from animal shelter or rescue group to help stop overpopulation.

Reynolds, of BAD RAP, believes communication is key to solving issues of pet homeless, overpopulation and the spay/neuter debate. “Once we drop our agenda so to speak, we can have a two way conversation with a dog owner and learn how things are going with him and his pet,” she says. “By helping people with their more urgent challenges–housing obstacles, training, affordable vet care–we build a bridge that may prevent them from having to give up on their dog. After all, isn’t that our goal?”