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.
Vanatta, 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.
Posted by John Woestendiek September 19th, 2014 under Muttsblog.
Tags: abused, accounting, adoption, animals, attorney general, campaigns, charitable, charities, crowdfunding, dachshund, dog, dogs, donations, dying, foster, fraud, fundraising, gofundme, internet, investigation, money, monitoring, nora vanatta, obie, oversight, pets, raising, rescue, sick, social media, surgery, trust
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.
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 GoFundMe.com 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 AzCentral.com
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)
Posted by John Woestendiek August 21st, 2014 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, arizona, arkansas, breeder, bulldog, bulldogs, campaign, care, cashmere, dog, dogs, donations, english bulldog, expenses, fatcat, go fund me, gofundme, lashena harris, medical, memphis, owner, pets, rescue, returned, reunion, shelter, stolen, tennessee, unethical, veterinary