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Tag: charities

Are dog rescue groups helping support big time breeders? It sure looks that way

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Are animal rescue groups actually helping keep big-time dog breeders — both good ones and bad ones — in business?

That’s the question raised in this blockbuster report that appeared in The Washington Post this morning.

The newspaper’s investigation found that rescue operations, traditionally the nemesis of puppy mills, have been buying dogs from breeders at auction, using donations from their supporters to buy dogs in what it described as a “nationwide shadow market.”

The result is a river of rescue donations flowing from avowed dog saviors to the breeders, two groups that have long disparaged each other. The rescuers call many breeders heartless operators of inhumane “puppy mills” and work to ban the sale of their dogs in brick-and-mortar pet stores. The breeders call “retail rescuers” hypocritical dilettantes who hide behind nonprofit status while doing business as unregulated, online pet stores.

But for years, they have come together at dog auctions where no cameras are allowed, with rescuers enriching breeders and some breeders saying more puppies are being bred for sale to the rescuers.

Bidders affiliated with 86 rescue and advocacy groups and shelters throughout the United States and Canada have spent $2.68 million buying 5,761 dogs and puppies from breeders since 2009 at the nation’s two government-regulated dog auctions, both in Missouri, according to invoices, checks and other documents The Post obtained from an industry insider.

Most rescuers then offered the dogs for adoption as “rescued” or “saved,” and charge adoption fees that range from $50 to $1,000 per dog.

The article reports that it is likely the success of rescue groups in reducing the numbers of dogs needing adoption that has led to an increase in such organizations turning to buying dogs offered at auctions by commercial kennels: “As the number of commercial kennels has decreased, so has the number of shelter animals killed in the United States: A February 2017 estimate put the total for dogs alone at 780,000, a steep drop from estimates for all shelter animals that were as high as 20 million in the 1970s.”

One golden retriever rescue group turned to the auctions after seeing 40 percent fewer dogs coming in as of 2016. At the auctions, such rescuers describe buying purebreds and popular crossbreeds such as goldendoodles and maltipoos as “puppy mill rescue,” the article notes.

Some rescue organizations have paid more than $1,000 for a single dog.

Animal-welfare groups, including the ASPCA, HSUS, say rescuers are misguided in buying dogs at auction because the money they pay only encourages more breeding on a commercial scale.

While they may be keeping some individual dogs from being purchased by breeders for a life of breeding, they are also lining the pockets of breeders and helping to create a “a seller’s market.”

JoAnn Dimon, director of Big East Akita Rescue in New Jersey, says that buying breeding-age dogs at auctions makes it harder for commercial breeders to profit in the long run: “That breeder is going to make thousands of dollars off that [female dog] if he breeds her every cycle. I just bought her for $150. I just took money out of his pocket. I got the dog, and I stopped the cycle.”

The majority of the $2.68 million The Post documented was spent since 2013 at Southwest Auction Service, the biggest commercial dog auction in the country, with some additional spending at its smaller, only remaining competitor, Heartland Sales.

As the last remaining government-licensed auctions, they let buyers and sellers see hundreds of dogs at a time and are a legal part of the country’s puppy supply chain. They are regulated by the U.S. and Missouri Departments of Agriculture and open to the public.

“I’m not going to lie about this: Rescue generates about one-third, maybe even 40 percent of our income,” Bob Hughes, Southwest’s owner, told the Post. “It’s been big for 10 years.”

“I honestly think there are very good, responsible rescues that just love the dogs and want to get them out of the breeding industry,” he added. “And I think there are malicious, lying, cheating rescues that are in it for the money and the glory and the funding.”

Rescue groups generally are organized as nonprofit charities and raise money through fundraisers, adoption fees, grants and bequests. Shelters and rescue groups connected to the auction bidders have annual revenue that runs from $12,000 to $1.5 million.

Hughes told the Post that what happens at auctions shows that nobody has the moral high ground in America’s puppy wars.

“In their minds, the rescuers think they’re better,” he says. “The industry is all alike. We’re all supplying puppies and dogs to the general public in some form or fashion.”

(Photo: Dogs being sold at an auction in Michigan))

Please help my sick, dying, fat, abused dog

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It’s no secret that a sad dog story, properly promoted on social media, can bring in some pretty huge donations — for an animal shelter, a rescue organization, or an individual.

Whether your dog needs life-saving surgery, or even an intense diet regimen, you don’t have to be a nonprofit organization to ask the public for help — and you shouldn’t have to be.

But with the rise of social media, and online fundraising tools like GoFundMe, IndieGogo, and all those other I-would-like- some-of-your-money-please websites, there are likely more bucks than ever before being donated directly to individual dogs in need.

With all that unmonitored money pouring in, what ensures that it’s going to the rightful place — namely, helping the dog in question? What ensures any surplus won’t end up going to the dog owner’s kitchen remodel? What’s to guarantee that the sad dog story is even true in the first place?

In a word, nothing.

Just as the Internet has made us all published journalists, photographers and autobiographers, it has given us an easy route to becoming professional fund-raisers.

What gets lost in that transition is knowing who we can trust.

We can only cross our fingers and hope that those engaging in outright fraud get caught, that those soliciting funds to help a dog don’t get too greedy, and that money sent in by good-hearted people seeking to help a dog actually goes to helping a dog.

It’s a fuzzy area — legally and morally. What accounting, if any, does a private citizen raising money to help a dog owe those who contribute?

In Oregon, at least, the answer seems to be some, at least in the view of the state  Attorney General’s Office.

Since January, the office’s charitable activities section has been looking into how Nora Vanatta spent, and is spending, all the money sent in to help Obie — the 77-pound dachshund she adopted and whose weight loss program became a much-followed story.

obienowVanatta, a veterinary technician who lives in Portland, never purported to be affiliated with a nonprofit, but she did seek and accept thousands of dollars from people around the world who were inspired by Obie’s story.

Vanatta initially fostered Obie, after reading about him on the Facebook page of Oregon Dachshund Rescue.

After Obie’s story went viral, the rescue sought to get the dog back, and filed a lawsuit. The case was later settled, and Vanatta was awarded permanent custody. (Obie is down to 22 pounds.)

Meanwhile, money — Vanatta won’t say how much — continued to come in, $15,000 of which Vanatta says was spent on lawyers she hired to fight the custody battle. Some of it went to pay for $80 bags of specialty food Obie required, and a $1,500 skin-reduction surgery.

Since January, Vanatta has been answering questions from the Attorney General’s office, which began looking into the matter after receiving complaints about how she was spending the funds, and is now in the process of working out an agreement with her.

“They wanted everything – copies of every penny in, every penny out,” she told the Oregonian.

The Attorney General’s office won’t identify the source of the complaint, and it says no wrongdoing was found in how Vanatta has spent the funds so far. (Apparently, nobody in that office full of lawyers had any problem with all the money that went to lawyers.)

But the office does disagree with how she plans to spend the rest. (Obie’s PayPal account was closed last year.)

Vanatta says the office objects to her using the money to help individual  dogs with medical needs, which is maybe a little ironic given the money was raised to help an individual dog with medical needs. The Attorney General’s office frowned upon her giving $2,000 to a family she met at the Tualatin veterinary clinic where she works to help them pay for their dog’s back surgery. Instead, the office wants her to give the money away to established nonprofits, and wants to set a deadline.

The case raises lots of interesting questions, and some disturbing ones.

We’re all for the attorney general keeping an eye on such fundraising drives; slightly less for that office dictating what good causes should receive the remainder of the money, and when.

We agree with Vanatta’s reasoning on that: “I strongly believe you do not have to be a nonprofit to do good,” she said.

What bothers us most, though, next  to Obie’s previous owners letting him get so morbidly obese, is how much of the money donated has gone to lawyers — $15,000 on the custody case, another $11,800 for lawyers to represent Vanatta in the attorney general’s investigation.

Obie may be becoming a slimmer dog, thanks in part to donations from the public, but, as always, lawyers — gobbling up the bulk of the donations — just keep getting fatter.

Ignoring Leona: Dogs have a bone to pick

If Leona Helmsley was betrayed as much in life as she is being betrayed in death, it’s easy to understand why she might have become the bitch — and we’re not talking female dog — she was so often portrayed as.

In the latest development with the wealth she left behind, a second judge has ruled, in effect, that the foundation divvying up her fortune among charitable groups need not follow her express wish that much of that money be spent on the care of dogs.

The judge denied a bid by the ASPCA, the Humane Society of the United States and other animal groups to get a larger share of Helmsley’s billions.

Although Helmsley directed a share of her massive fortune go to “the care of dogs” — that being in addition to the $12 million she asked be left to her own dog — the Helmsley Foundation’s trustees have seen fit to dispense most of the foundation money among organizations that have little or nothing to do with canines.

According to the animal welfare groups, only about $100,000 of the $450 million the foundation has given away has gone to dog causes.

The dog charities argued they should have standing to challenge how the foundation gives away its money in light of Helmsley’s written statements and last wishes. Wayne Pacelle, president of HSUS, called the $100,000 received so far “a trifling amount, and contrary to Helmsley’s intentions.”

Surrogate’s Court Judge Nora Anderson in Manhattan rejected the bid by the animal welfare organizations to intervene in the case, agreeing with a judge who ruled earlier that the trustees have sole discretion in how to distribute the money, the New York Post reported yesterday.

She said she feared the groups’ challenge could open the floodgates to countless lawsuits from dog organizations around the world.

It’s hardly the first time Helmsley’s last wishes have been overruled since her death: Of that $12 million she left in her will for the care of her Maltese, named Trouble, a judge reduced the amount to $2 million.

Beyond what she intended to leave for the care and feeding of Trouble, Helmsley had another $5 to $8 billion, according to estimates of the trust’s worth.

Helmsley, who died in 2007, wrote in a 2004 mission statement for the trust that she wanted that money used for “1) purposes related to the provision or care of dogs and 2) such other charitable activities as the Trustees shall determine.”

In 2009, though, the Surrogate’s Court found that the mission statement did not place any legal restrictions on what donations could be made from the trust.

Later that year, the ASPCA, the Humane Society and Maddie’s Fund, filed a motion asking the court to vacate its earlier order and allow them to intervene. The primary interest of those groups was not, of course, in seeing solely that Helmsley’s wishes were honored, but neither, it seems, are the foundation’s. The animal welfare groups’ goals seem more aligned with her wishes, though.

By all descriptions, the so-called “queen of mean” was a hard-hearted woman, with one soft spot — dogs.

The foundation doling out her fortune doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of respect for dogs, or for Helmsley.

I’m no legal expert, just a dog lover, and I’m not asking for Trouble.  But if I arranged to leave my fortune — non-existent though it may currently be — to my dog Ace, or anywhere else, and you didn’t carry out my wishes, you can be sure I’d be back to haunt you.

I’d show you mean.

Ricochet helps 6-year-old get over fears

Surf Dog Ricochet continues his amazing work in California, where he recently hit the waves with Ian McFarland, a 6-year-old boy who suffered a brain injury in a car accident that claimed the lives of his parents.

Ricochet, who we first showed you last year, was a service dog reject — he was just too prone to chasing birds — who went on to become a “surf-ice” dog, raising money for charities through surfing demonstrations and assisting people with disabilities in other ways.

Most recently, he helped Ian, who used to surf with his dad, overcome his fears and get back in the ocean.

On top of the individuals he has helped, Ricochet’s website says he has raised more than $30,000 in an 8-month period.

500 dogs seized at Texas puppy mill

Authorities seized about 500 dogs being housed in wire crates and pens in Montague County, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.

The Montague County Sheriff’s Department served warrants Tuesday morning at the 1,200-acre property near Bowie after complaints about the animals’ living conditions, said Sandy Grambort, a supervisor with the Humane Society of North Texas.

Grambort said the operation has been the subject of complaints for as long as 10 years, but in the past none of them have been able to be verified.

The property owners sold puppies to the public on the Internet and through newspaper ads.

Grambort said there were at least 25 different breeds on the site, but most were small breeds.

Some of the dogs were kept in wire crates that were double stacked in a series of outbuildings. Dogs were also kept in outdoor pens and kennels. Some of the animals had sores, open wounds and skin conditions in need of treatment, she said.

Chesapeake Energy donated use of a 4,000-square-foot warehouse in the Fort Worth stockyards to temporarily house the animals, and PetSmart Charities donated several hundred dog crates, dog food and water bowls. Volunteers with United Animal Nations will help care for the dogs.

Bequest besmirched: Leona and dogs snubbed

I don’t begin to understand the intricacies of estate law, or the intricacies of Leona Helmsley — but I do believe this: A person, even if they are certifiably insane, deserves to have their last request honored.

With the distribution of the first $136 million from Helmsley’s multibillion-dollar estate, its trustees have shown — like judges before them — they don’t give a squat about Helmsley’s wishes, or the nation’s dogs.

The bulk of the money went to medical centers; only $1 million of the estate was donated to the care of dogs, which Helmsley had designated as primary beneficiary of her $5 billion.

“This is a trifling and embarrassingly small amount,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States. “Mrs. Helmsley’s wishes are clearly being subverted.”

Pacelle added, “We are extremely disappointed that less than 1 percent of the allocation announced is going to animal-related organizations, and only one-tenth of 1 percent is going to animal welfare organizations … We are in touch with the interested parties and are hoping to have a satisfactory resolution — a much larger percentage than 1 percent.”

After Helmsley’s 2007 death, it was revealed that she had drafted a statement four years earlier listing poor people and dogs as the causes to which she wanted her money donated. She crossed out the poor a year later. In February, though, a Manhattan judge ruled that the trustees had sole discretion in disbursing her assets and that the entire estate did not have to go to the dogs.

Helmsley also left $12 million to her Maltese, Trouble, but a judge reduced Trouble’s trust fund to $2 million in negotiating a $6 million settlement with two of Mrs. Helmsley’s grandchildren who were left out of her will.

Tuesday’s grants went to a digestive diseases center at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center ($40 million) and Mount Sinai Medical Center ($35 million). The Mount Sinai money is to be used to create a center to study the electrical properties of cells and tissues and to establish a Helmsley Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center, according to the New York Times. The $1 million for animal welfare was divided among 10 charities, including the ASPCA and Guide Dogs for the Blind.

I’m not sure even the honor of having a “bowel disease center” named after her would make up for the total disregard for her wishes. The trustees have shown that they are not to be trusted — at least when it comes to doling out the dough in a manner that comes anywhere close to what she wanted.

It shouldn’t be up to relatives, judges or anyone else to reinterpret the instructions one leaves upon one’s death — even if the deceased is mentally incompetent, as some might argue leaving $5 billion to dogs indicates. I’m not one of them. Who’s to say probing the mysteries of human bowels is more important than animal welfare? The trustees, apparently, in a decision that shouldn’t even be their’s to make in the first place.  A person’s last wishes — if they’re not harming anyone — should be carried out, doggone it, even if they are stark raving mad.

Dogs miss out on most of Helmsley’s millions

Trustees of real estate baroness Leona Helmsley’s estate say they’re giving $136 million to charity — and only $1 million of that is going to the dogs.

Animal rights groups rejoiced last year at reports that Helmsley, who died in 2007 at age 87, wanted her entire multibillion-dollar fortune to go to dog-related charities

But a court ruled in February that the trustees had authority to decide which charities could receive funds. Apparently dogs — and Helmsley’s wishes — rated pretty low in the decision-making process. The judge’s decision did not affect the $12 million Helmsley bequeathed to her Maltese, Trouble.

Helmsley’s estate yesterday announced its first round of charitable grants. The largest, $40 million, went to New York’s Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. Most of the money went to health care systems across the country, Newsday reported today.

Helmsley’s estate distributed $1 million to 10 animal rights groups, including $100,000 to the ASPCA.