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Tag: donations

This Salvation Army bell ringer has 4 legs, and he seems to hit just the right notes

As any good panhandler knows, a cute dog can help boost donations.

There’s no reason that street wisdom shouldn’t be applied to the kettle as well.

In Indiana, a family raising money for the local Salvation Army has called upon their Leonberger, Alvin, to help the cause — and trained the 155-pound dog to be the bell ringer.

alvinJulia and Steve Roberts say it took just a few minutes to train Alvin to ring the bells on a special stand they made for him.

And when he does, they note, he draws the kind of crowd they alone can’t.

The volunteers bring Alvin along for their two hour shifts, such as one last week outside a Kroger, and another one coming up Friday at Walmart.

“People can’t resist,” Julia says. “That’s the plan.”

This is Alvin’s fourth year to ring bells for Salvation Army and he’s still drawing a crowd.

To keep him on task the couple rewards him during the shift with treats of venison, cheese, cookies and turkey, according to the Palladium-Item in Richmond, Indiana.

In addition to being a fund raiser, Alvin, 5, is a therapy dog, and works at local hospitals and rehabilitation centers, and in school programs focused on anti-bullying, reading, and pet care and safety.

Those who recognize Alvin from his therapy work often dig a little deeper and throw a little extra in the pot, the couple says.

Last year, a woman stopped and put several bills in the kettle for herself and her mother each time Alvin rang bells. Alvin had visited her mother while she was hospitalized.

“She said it made her and her mother feel so much better that she wanted to repay us,” Julia Roberts said.

In 2013, Julia said, the couple and Alvin raised about $100 per hour for the Salvation Army during the holiday season.

Alvin also has his own Facebook page called Alvin’s Therapy Fan Club.

(Photo: Joshua Smith / Palladium-Item)

Does Bentley really have a wish list?


As America’s first quarantined dog of an Ebola patient, Bentley’s fame may be spreading as fast as the deadly virus he may or may not have.

So much so that we suspect the Cavalier King Charles spaniel is receiving more attention, donations and expressions of support — at least online — than his sick human, Dallas nurse Nina Pham, who contracted the disease while caring for the first Ebola victim to be diagnosed in America.

This being America, a dog-crazy land, that wouldn’t be too surprising.

That funds are being raised in his name isn’t too surprising either.

That he already has a “wish list” set up on Amazon? That’s a little surprising.

bentleyxAs soon as Bentley was moved Monday to the undisclosed (at least initially) location he’s being quarantined and monitored in, the campaigns to raise money in his name began — ostensibly to help pay for his care, in reality for much more.

“Poor Bentley the Dog Needs You to Buy 67 Items From His Amazon Wish List,” reads the headline on a Dallas Observer blog post.

We’re sure Bentley — being a dog, as opposed to a human — isn’t as selfish and greedy as his alleged wish list makes it appear.

We’re sure he doesn’t truly need a $239 Lawn Boy lawnmower; or a Hamilton Beach Smooth Touch Can Opener, in black and chrome; or a thermal label printer; or a $299 microchip reader; or a Bluetooth portable GPS navigator.

But between the news media delighting in tugging our heartstrings, and some savvy sorts at Dallas Animal Services who know a fundraising opportunity when they see one, that’s the way the story is coming across.

It started where all things start, or at least end up — on Facebook.

bentleyphamDallas Animal Services posted a picture (left)) wih a list of ways people could help support Bentley while he is in quarantine. The post pointed out that any extra donations — of paper towels, pee pads, toys and rawhide chews — would go to other dogs awaiting adoption.

It’s a pretty common practice among animal shelters — seizing upon the case of one sympathy-inducing dog to raise funds for more than just that one dog. It’s not an evil practice. It’s well-intentioned. While it may be a tad deceptive, it’s effective.

And given the total lack of foresight, knowledge and protocol when it comes to Ebola victims and their pets (we’ll talk more about this Monday), such fundraising techniques could prove highly necessary in the months and years ahead.

Bentley has served as a wake-up call — as, in a way, did Excalibur, the dog of Spain’s first Ebola patient. Excalibur was quickly destroyed, even though there’s no proof dogs can get Ebola or pass it on to humans.

While Dallas Animal Services is overseeing the care of Bentley — now sequestered at a decommissioned Naval air base nearby — the Dallas Fire Department’s Hazmat Response Team is doing the hands-on (and gloves on, and hazmat suits on) work, feeding and cleaning up after the dog.

Dallas Animal Services is continuing to keep the public posted on Bentley, mostly through its Facebook page, but its campaign to seek donations in his name apparently was toned down, if not halted, at least temporarily.

CBS in Dallas, which reported on the campaign, later reported that Dallas Animal Services has suspended its request for donations and pulled the Facebook post. Whether that’s because someone deemed it deceptive or exploitative isn’t known. No reason is given.

As for that Amazon “wish list,” it’s still up, but, just to be clear, those are items Dallas Animal Services need — not exclusively for the care of Bentley.

At the end of last week, a more formal funnel for donations helping the dogs of Ebola victims was set up. The city teamed up with Dallas Companion Animal Project, a nonprofit organization, which has created the Dallas Pet Emergency Transition Services fund to help pay for the care of pets affected by emergency events, including Ebola exposure.

(Photos: Dallas Animal Services)

Please help my sick, dying, fat, abused dog


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.

And if you need a more revolting “challenge”

An animal sanctuary in Ohio, after watching how successful the Ice Bucket Challenge has been as a fundraiser for ALS research, has launched a similar campaign to raise money for its shelter, challenging people to pick up dog or cat feces — with their bare hands.

The gimmick is similar to the Ice Bucket Challenge — but way more disgusting. Participants videotape themselves picking up poop, and post the video on the Internet, nominating friends and family to either take the challenge or make a donation to the shelter. ($25 is suggested.)

In a post on its Facebook page, The Island Safe Harbor Animal Sanctuary in Port Clinton, Ohio, announced the “Poop Pickup Challenge” on Saturday:

“We at Island Safe Harbor Animal Sanctuary are starting our own challenge. It is something that if you are a dog or cat lover have probably ALL done at one time or another. We want you to challenge people (hopefully germ haters) to a ‘Free-hand poop’ Event.”

“We’re just trying to do something to raise funds for the sanctuary,” Nancy Benevento, CEO of the sanctuary, told  The Toledo Blade. “Hands can be washed.”

As proof that the whole thing isn’t entirely tongue in cheek, Benevento got the campaign rolling by picking up — with her bare hands — a pile left by a bull mastiff at the sanctuary.

People are challenged to record themselves picking up dog or cat feces barehanded, post it to social media using the hashtag #pooppickupchallenge, and then challenge their family and friends. Those who are challenged and prefer not to pick up are asked to donate $25 to the sanctuary.

Benevento said she tried to make the challenge so revolting that people would wind up donating rather than completing it.

We think she succeeded on that last account, and we think picking up dog poop is far more earth-friendly than pouring ice water over oneself. (Or one’s dog.)

But concerns about health and hygiene should send this challenge to the Dumpster.

Filling up a bucket with dog poop and disposing of it, rather than the bare hands requirement, might have been a better challenge — and it should be poop from dogs other than your own. Picking that up is your job, anyway.

Those behind the challenge do suggest that anyone taking part should wash their hands afterwards. They advise picking up poop only from animals you know are healthy — though often one would have no way of knowing that. On top of that, they recommend you not do it with a hand that has any open cuts. And children, they add, should not be allowed to participate.

We’d say all those disclaimers pretty much take all the fun out of it — if there was any fun in it in the first place.

As much as we’re in favor of poop being picked up, and funds being raised for shelters, we think this idea is need of a lot of fine tuning.

For that reason and others, Mrs. Benevento, bold and well-intentioned as your challenge is, we’re not inclined to take it, and forgive us for not wanting to shake your hand right now.

Fatcat finally catches some breaks


For eight years, Fatcat led a life that was the opposite of her name — in many ways.

For starters, she wasn’t a cat.

And, as bulldogs go, she wasn’t too awfully fat.

And, from all appearances, she definitely did not enjoy the kind of  lifestyle the term Fatcat name might connote — she wasn’t idly resting in the lap of luxury. Far from it.

Instead, in the eight years after she was stolen as a puppy from the backyard of a home in Memphis, it’s believed she was used to produce puppies, by a less than ethical breeder who dumped her once she got too old.

fatcatasapupThe English bulldog was stolen in 2006 from the yard of LaShena Harris. She searched high and low for the dog, and though Fatcat had been microchipped, she was never found.

Until two weeks ago, when she was picked up as a stray and dropped off at a shelter in Arkansas.

There — at  the West Memphis Animal Shelter — she was scanned for a microchip, and Harris was tracked down, even though she’d long since moved to the Phoenix area.

Along with the good news, Harris received some bad news. Fatcat was in sad shape due to the years she spent as a baby-making machine —  and getting her to Phoenix was going to be a problem.

Fatcat was too big to ride in the cabin of a plane, and between her health problems and her breed — it’s risky to transport short-snouted dogs in a plane’s cargo hold — flying her home wasn’t going to work. Harris, a working single mother, wasn’t sure she could take time off to make the drive.

“I went from the highest high to the lowest low,” she said. Putting Fatcat down was discussed, but before consenting Harris asked the shelter for an extra 24 hours to make the decision.

When she called back the next day to authorize the shelter to euthanize Fatcat, the director of the shelter stopped her short, and offered a suggestion.

A friend of the shelter director who worked with a local rescue group was moving to Scottsdale, and offered to drive Fatcat there.

Harris and Fatcat were reunited last Thursday in a motel parking lot, and between media coverage of the reunion and a campaign, donations have poured in — about $6,500 so far — to help pay for Fatcat’s mounting medical bills.

“I am overwhelmed. It is just amazing. People don’t even know me and they are helping me out,” Harris, 34, of Glendale, said. “I’ve even gotten e-mails from the (United Kingdom). … I just don’t know what to say.”

On Monday, Fatcat was checked out by a local veterinarian who found she has heartworms, dental problems and masses around her vulva and anus that need to be removed, according to

Harris launched the GoFundMe page with a $5,000 goal, and says she plans to donate any surplus to the shelter in Arkansas.

“How do you show gratitude to someone you’ve never met?” Harris wrote on her page. “Even if I don’t have Fatcat home for as long (in terms of her entire lifespan), I feel like the luckiest person in the world right now. I’m just glad she’s finally home.”

(Top photo: Patrick Breen / The Arizona Republic; bottom photo, Fatcat as a puppy, from LaShena Harris’ GoFundMe page)

Pet Rescue Saga: How I single-handedly saved hundreds of pets from being crushed


I rescued dozens, possibly hundreds, of pets from certain death the other night.

But before you call me a hero, or saint, you should know I only did it on Facebook, and only in a video game.

Pet Rescue Saga is the popular new puzzle game, downloaded more than 150 million times and playable on Facebook and through apps. It’s free, at first,  but then, like a drug dealer who has handed out samples to get new clients hooked, it starts charging you to play more, or play more effectively, or to reach greater highs.

The game comes from, the makers of Candy Crush Saga, which is similar and reportedly equally addictive.

When invitations to play Pet Rescue Saga first started showing up on my Facebook page, I wrongly assumed — given most of my Facebook friends are die-hard, do-gooding animal lovers — that it was a game that somehow was related to, or benefited, animal welfare causes.

It’s not, and it doesn’t.

There might be some unintentional similarities to the real world of animal rescue, such as walls being put up in front of you, and things piling up faster than you can handle them. But “Pet Rescue Saga” isn’t about rescuing pets in the animal welfare sense of the word. It’s mainly about busting blocks, and then more blocks, and then more blocks, by clicking on them to ensure that the “adorable” little pets atop them don’t get squished.

Given video games have a reputation for catering to our basest instincts — chopping off heads, running people over in cars and the like –  I had hopes, especially when Facebook friends kept inviting me to play, that this one might actually be about a noble pursuit, or might even be educational.

No such luck. What it teaches us about pet rescue is that we can save animals by matching two or more blocks of the same color.

Still, I ended up spending an hour playing it on Facebook, which annoyingly notified me to “share” every time I passed some friend’s record, before it got to the point where further play would require an investment of money. (That — having to fork up some money — generally prevents and/or cures any addictions to which I might fall victim.)

There are hundreds of levels of the game, and the higher you go (or the more you spend) the more tools you get to “save pets” – like sizzling rockets, hammers and exploding bombs.

In playing it, one becomes so focused on the blocks that he forgets about the animals. The endangered animals really seem a well-contrived afterthought, as if the gamemakers thought putting pets in need of rescue atop the stacks of blocks — as opposed to pots of gold or damsels in distress – might give it some relevance, or, pet rescue being a popular cause, add to its popularity.

“Wait! Don’t forget about the animals! ” says a review of the game on “Some levels of Pet Rescue Saga have dogs, pigs, and pigeons trapped on stacks of blocks, or wedged in columns. When you successfully clear away blocks, said animals drop safely to the ground. However, since many levels of Pet Rescue Saga scroll vertically, the animals on tall columns are in constant danger of getting squished on the top of the screen. Nothing ruins your day like the anguished squeal of a piglet.”

Squishing aside, it’s nice to see a game that’s seemingly about rescuing and saving, as opposed to killing and maiming.

It would be much nicer to see a game that was really about rescuing and saving animals, or that really taught compassion, or at least tried to.

I’m not necessarily saying the makers and marketers of the game are trying to capitalize on tender-hearted pet lovers, or that they mislead people to think the game might have some legitimate connection to the actual world of animal rescue.

But, after playing the game, I did start receiving emails from the gamemaker — far too many emails — with subject lines like: “Pets in danger. Help them now!” Clicking on the link in the email took me directly to the game’s Facebook app.

I don’t keep up much anymore with the latest developments in video games. So I don’t know if phony altruism is the latest video game trend: Bust up the blocks and find a cure for cancer. Bust up the blocks to feed the starving children.

Maybe there are some truly altruistic video games out there. The Game Show Network came close to that last month when it introduced Pet Pals Slots, a limited-edition game on Facebook. It earmarked a portion of money made from gameplay in November — up to $30,000 — to go to Best Friends Animal Society, providing food, medical care and shelter for animals at the organization’s Utah sanctuary. In other words, while playing a mostly mindless game, those who played Pet Pals Slots, at least in a way, were saving pets.

Video games, with exceptions, are rarely educational, and I don’t really expect them to serve as our moral compass. (More often they seem aimed at sending that compass haywire.)

And of course they’re not obligated to share the wealth they make with any deserving causes they borrow their themes from.

But how cool would it be to see — in addition to less squishing — more of that?

Cecil Williams will keep his guide dog; help pours in after they’re hit by subway train

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A blind man and his guide dog who were struck by a subway train in Manhattan Tuesday will be able to remain together — thanks to donations from members of the public touched by their story.

Cecil Williams fainted and fell on the New York City subway tracks, taking his harnessed dog, Orlando, with him.

Orlando barked for help and stayed by his side, even as the train passed over them.

In a story about the accident that aired on NBC Nightly News Tuesday night, it was reported that Orlando was slated to retire in January, and that Williams lacked the funds to continue to care for the dog afterwards, when the dog would no longer be covered by his insurance.

Since then, enough donations to their cause have been received by Guiding Eyes for the Blind to help pay for all of Orlando’s retirement expenses, and ensure that the pair’s eight-year relationship continues.

williamsand orlandoWilliams, 61, was on his way to the dentist when he fainted at the 125th Street platform. Witnesses said the dog was barking and tried to stop Williams from falling, as he is trained to do. When they both landed on the tracks, Orlando tried to rouse Williams, who was unconscious. Both lay there as a slow-moving subway train passed above them.

Nieither sustained serious injuries.

“The dog saved my life,” Williams said of his Labrador retriever. “I’m feeling amazed. I feel that God, the powers that be, have something in store from me. They didn’t take me away this time. I’m here for a reason.”

Williams, who is on insulin and other medications, was taken to a hospital, where Orlando remains at his bedside.

The Brooklyn man has been blind since 1995. Orlando, his second guide dog, “saves my life on a daily basis,” he said.

At a press conference Williams thanked everyone “for showing their humanity and peace and goodwill” by making donations to the guide dog school that trained Orlando.

“All the people who contribute and donated I think we should take our hat off to them,” he said. “There’s still good people in this world.”

(Photo: Williams and Orlando at press conference; by Carlo Allegri / REUTERS, via NBC)

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