The ever-worsening story of foreclosures in America now counts among its victims the family dog, the pet cat and even the farmer's horse.

Animal rescue volunteers say they're seeing more animals abandoned or dropped off at shelters as families are forced to move from homes that they can no longer afford.

"I'm getting skinny horses in here that people have walked away from," said Drew Fitzpatrick, director of the Minnesota Hooved Animal Rescue Foundation, based in Zimmerman, Minn.

It used to be that for every abandoned horse there was a story of mental illness, divorce or cancer of its owner, said Fitzpatrick.

"Now it's bankruptcy and ARM foreclosure. Rural America is really starting to get punched."

More than 13,600 Minnesotans lost their homes to foreclosure last year, double that of 2006, according to RealtyTrac.

Nationally some 2 million Americans are headed into foreclosure because of subprime loans.

No one keeps records of foreclosure abandonment, but many shelter said the problem is growing.

The Humane Society of the United States even issued a statement this month urging pet owners to take their animals with them when they move.

Of the 150 animals turned in during the past two months at the Rice County Humane Society at least 51 were because of foreclosure. "That's so far," said Michelle DeWeese, who works at the shelter.

"We have owners who are so upset that they have to give up their animals because of foreclosure," she said. One returned nearly every day for two weeks before her black Labrador, named Sarabi, was adopted.

The stories of woe get worse: A Faribault family lost its home in a foreclosure, then its business in a bankruptcy. The final blow: leaving the family dogs of 8 and 9 years at the local shelter before moving to California to live with a relative.

"The family was absolutely in tears," said Sadie Wakal, director of the Safe Sanctuary in Faribault. "Everyone came to say goodbye. It was like they were leaving their children behind."

That story had a happy ending. The yellow and black Labs, named Toby and Mocha, found good homes, Toby to a family with a small child and Mocha to a woman who lived alone and now dotes on her dog.

But the number of animals coming in due to the foreclosure crisis has pushed the shelter to its limit, said Wakal.

"We're foster based, so we're stretched for foster homes. We're begging and pleading and poking dogs in corners."

The problem has been exceedingly acute for horse owners, who were already facing high feed costs because of rising commodity prices and the recent elimination of horse slaughterhouses in America. That market -- a federal ban recently closed the last three such slaughterhouses in the United States -- once provided horse owners with an option that paid about $600 per horse, when there was nowhere else to turn.

Reports have cropped up of horses wandering the Florida Everglades and coal mines in Kentucky, where owners too poor to care for them have set them free to forage on their own.

A horse owner recently euthanized more than 80 horses, most of them Shetland ponies, in Grey Eagle, Minn., northwest of St. Cloud, because of rising feed costs and her own poor health.

"I loved my horses, I was their mother, " said the owner, Gail Carlson, who said she was spending $2,000 a month on hay. "I couldn't just keep doing that." She called the decision to put the horses down difficult, but didn't trust anyone else to care for them properly.

Others are seeking help. "All of our rescue groups are overwhelmed with horses," said Stephanie Valberg, director of University of Minnesota equine center.

Fitzpatrick, of the Hooved Animal Rescue Foundation, said she took a call this week from the sheriff in Morrison County in central Minnesota, who reported a herd of horses running free in the area. "He just said it looks like another foreclosure," she said.

Fitzpatrick said she has about 90 animals in her care, about double the number she had at this time a year ago.

State officials say they've seen enough problems that they plan to launch a series of roundtable discussions later this winter to look for answers.

"Our U of M horse team is well aware of unwanted horses right now," said Krishona Martinson, an agent with the extension service of the University of Minnesota. She said talks are scheduled for March in Bemidji and Morris.

Matt McKinney • 612-673-7329