FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Like many other Americans, Madeleine J. Calder was crushed when she lost her home, a 5-acre ranch in Palm Beach County, Fla., to foreclosure. But she hadn’t counted on also losing her most prized possessions: six ostriches named Rhett Butler, Miss Scarlett, Bob, Gallagher Bird, Ken Doll and Little Bit.
Calder last saw the small herd of ostriches, featured in national and local stories on ostrich breeding, when she moved out of her Blue Heaven Ostrich Ranch in Loxahatchee, Fla. She left the ostriches, some of which she had nurtured for 21 years, with plans to find a new place for them to stay.
But before she could claim them, Calder says, they disappeared, and no one will tell her where they are.
She’s been fighting to get them back ever since filing several lawsuits, the latest in September. “We’ve been together through everything, those birds and me,” Calder said.
The ongoing foreclosure crisis has forced some homeowners to leave pets and livestock behind.
Dogs are the most common, but horses, cattle, pigs, goats, rabbits, turtles and even fish have been left as well. Broward and Palm Beach County, Fla., deputies serving eviction notices also have reported encountering the more exotic chinchillas, llamas, emus and snakes.
“You never know what you’re going to walk into,” said Capt. David Walesky, spokesman for Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control. He once found 56 animals, including a box turtle, during an eviction.
The animal control agency recently came upon two South American oscar fish, which can grow to as long as 18 inches, left in an aquarium without food. One died and the other is with a family.
In some cases, deputies try to help families out, said Dani Moschella, a spokeswoman for the Broward Sheriff’s Office.
For example, deputies worked out an agreement to allow a Parkland, Fla., family to keep their horses in the pasture of their foreclosed property while they searched for a new home.
“We do the responsible thing,” Moschella said.
Sometimes, homeowners such as Calder try to work out similar deals on their own. Most animals that end up in shelters, however, are never claimed by their owners, according to the American Humane Association. Few go as far as Calder to fight in court to get their pets or livestock back.
Blue Heaven’s website is dotted with pictures of Calder and the ostriches. A former Manhattan real estate agent, Calder turned to ostrich breeding as a new livelihood after the market collapsed in 1989. She began raising them in Connecticut and then moved to North Carolina, where she opened a combination ostrich-breeding farm and bed-and-breakfast that was featured in Southern Living magazine.
Recently, Calder complained to a judge that Nicholas Arsali, president of Northwood Trust, which bought her foreclosed property, still had not given her the name and address where the ostriches had been moved, as the judge had instructed.
“I asked him outside the court, and Mr. Arsali’s response was, ‘I have 150 properties and can’t remember the address,’ ” Calder wrote to the judge.
Calder said she had worked out an agreement with an investor to buy her ranch in a short sale, submitting the paperwork to the lender, Chase, three times. But Chase did not get the completed paperwork in time to call off the foreclosure, Chase spokeswoman Maribel Ferrer said.
The property was foreclosed on in June 2011, and the ostriches were moved almost four months later to an undisclosed place. But Calder said they were not part of the mortgaged property that she was foreclosed on.
In a telephone interview, Arsali said he didn’t know where the ostriches were. They had stayed at the foreclosed ranch until September 2011. An out-of-state woman, whom Calder described as an investor — but who, Arsali said, he thought was the ostriches’ new owner — had paid for their food and a caretaker to watch over them. But Arsali said he and the woman couldn’t come to an agreement over the cost of housing them on the ranch’s land.
So Arsali said a good home was found for the ostriches in September by the caretaker.
“I don’t know where,” he said.
The caretaker, Patricia Quinn, said she couldn’t comment on where the ostriches were.
Calder said she has worked out an arrangement for her ostriches to live on 25 acres owned by someone else. The owners even have a big truck to transport the ostriches to their new home, Calder said.
She worries that her ostriches, who can live to be 70 or so, aren’t getting the special food — “alfalfa, grains, and protein supplements,” according to the Blue Heaven website — that they need.
“I have to protect them,” she said.