10/26/2010 at 11:00 PM EDT
In the summer of 2008, as the housing market collapsed and families found themselves dealing with banks foreclosing on their homes, Laura Pople heard that animal shelters were overwhelmed with the unwitting victims of the real estate crisis: pets.
"I thought, 'There's got to be someone doing something about foreclosure pets,'" Pople tells PEOPLE. "As an animal owner myself, the thought that I would have to give up my animals was devastating to me."
The 48-year-old textbook editor and social justice volunteer looked around New Jersey, where she lives, for such organizations. When she came up empty-handed, Pople decided to do something herself. In January 2009, she founded Seer Farms
, a 3-acre property with existing farmhouses that she fixed up. The aim was to give struggling pet owners a way to resolve their personal crises without having to surrender their pets.
"We want to provide someplace safe for the animals," she says, "but we want to provide hope for their owners, that they would get through this crisis and someday get their animals back."
Since Seer Farms opened, Pople and her rotating staff of 75 have helped 77 families, who among them have brought her 166 cats, 55 dogs and even a rabbit. The animals are housed on the property, which is open for visitation by the families. So far, 53 pets have been reclaimed by their owners.
Though there are a few "long-termers," most of the animals get "turned around pretty quickly," according to Pople. In the interim, she and her staff at Seer Farms are providing a one-of-a-kind service.
"I've never heard of anything like this," says Adam Goldfarb, director of the Pets at Risk Program at the Humane Society of the U.S. "I think it's great there's a resource like this available for pet owners who need help with some long-term assistance for their pets."For more about Laura Pople and her work at Seer Farms, check out the latest issue of PEOPLE Magazine, on newsstands now.See more heart-warming stories on PEOPLEPets.com:Inmates Rescue Injured Kitten Found in Prison Yard It Takes a Kitty Village: Caboodle Ranch in Need of More Manpower