Whole Dog Journal's Blog March 1, 2011

Rescue Hoarding

Posted at 09:35AM - Comments: (20)

About a year ago, I became acutely aware of the fact that there are increasing numbers of animal “rescue” organizations that are doing anything but “rescuing” animals. I’m not talking about real rescue operations, where animals are well cared-for, the facility does not take on more animals than it can support in a healthy fashion, and the organization has a well-established and successful method of finding permanent homes for its charges. I’m talking about the places that end up in the newspaper, the ones that have spun out of control with too many animals, not enough money or caregivers, where the animals are found to be reproducing, sick, or dead. 

Some of these fake rescues blatantly use homeless or unwanted animals to beg for money – supposedly used to support the animals, but mostly used to support the “rescue” operators. Others may have started as an honest attempt to help animals, but somehow developed into a nightmare/fantasy of an animal hoarder.

I’d read news articles about this phenomenon, but I never saw the grim results of such an operation until 100-plus dogs from one were brought into my local shelter, the one where I volunteer in the kennels and on the Board of Directors. With a single exception (an emaciated St. Bernard), all the dogs seized from a local “rescue” were all small dogs. (This didn’t make sense to me until our Executive Director explained that small dogs are the easiest to place and cost the least to feed – handy if you’re profiting on the “adoption fee” charged for the dogs.)

Almost all of the dogs were thin; some were skin and bones. They were starving – which caused immediate logistical problems in caring for them. Because there were far more dogs than my shelter had individual cages or runs, we had to kennel them in groups. And it became immediately apparent that the dogs were accustomed to fighting for their food. To prevent fights from breaking out over the food, we had to leave completely full bowls of food in the kennels at all times for a few weeks – and leave more bowls than there were dogs in each kennel. Sometimes, in those first few days, the dogs would spontaneously start fighting over any bowl that was placed on the floor of the run, even if there were half a dozen other full bowls of food already present.

Something else I never realized: Full bowls of food all day X 100 dogs = cleaning kennels ALL day for weeks on end.

We also had to keep these little dogs completely segregated from the rest of the dogs in the shelter, which turned out to save the lives of all the dogs in the shelter, after some of the new dogs proved to have distemper. Most shelters have a standard protocol in place calling for euthanasia of all the homeless animals in the facility if distemper breaks out. Through assiduous infection control, we were able to contain the infection. Only the seized puppies that were less than six months old had to be euthanized.  

Puppies? In a “rescue” operation? Yes. There were several litters, and several more pregnant dogs seized from the “rescue.” Reproduction is an abomination in an environment with more dogs than one can feed.

The dogs had a wide array of health problems, such as mange and other skin ailments; cuts and bite wounds (no doubt from their desperate fights for food); infected ears and eyes and paws. One sweet old Cocker Spaniel had end-stage cancer. Another mixed-breed senior couldn’t stand up, her arthritis was so bad.  

 I’m writing about this for two reasons: One is that the case I’ve described above is about to go to trial. I plan on attending; several of the animal control officers and shelter staffers have been subpoenaed.

The other is because I just received a link to an article about an even bigger case, involving almost 350 dogs confiscated from “One More Chance Rescue and Adoption” in Piqua, Ohio. Seventy six dead dogs were also found on the property.

I receive articles like this at least a couple times a month. Cases like these can strain legitimate animal control agencies or shelters to the breaking point.

Whatever you do, please don’t offer any financial support to “rescues” or “sanctuaries” that you haven’t seen personally, or that are not open to the general public for frequent inspection. You may be inadvertently supporting a death camp for dogs and cats instead.

Comments (19)

In 2011 you indicated the possibility of an article on how to research shelters (rescues?). Not sure if you got this accomplished and not sure I would have found it if you did but I recently had a horrible experience in adopting a dog from a rescue in the Midwest. They overcharged by what they posted on their website; I had the dog a total of 5 weeks and had it at the vet every week and in the last 24 hours of its life it saw three vets. I should have realized when it had worms in the very first poop on the day I brought it home that I had been bamboozled! Of course, it really was already too late as I was in love with the dog and being stupid and naive just got medicine from the vet and went on. A few days later, got antibiotic from the vet because the dog was coughing and sneezing and the vet could hear something in its lungs. Things go on but the upshot is the dog had a very bad last week and especially 24 hours and had to be put to rest. A month later I still cry for this wonderful little dog. I wish I had known what to look for in a rescue organization. I am torn as to what I think is appropriate with this rescue organization. If they are breaking lots of people hearts and just taking their money, I'd like to see them stopped. If they are really saving lots of dogs and making lots of people happy, I just have to accept how stupid I was and try to deal with the feelings that somehow this little dog's death is my fault. Would like another dog but scared to try. Did you write that article?

Posted by: Lisa0042 | August 7, 2014 2:28 PM    Report this comment

Unknown, WHY would we want to donate to the Humane Society of the United States? Less than 1% of their budget goes to shelter animals. I will ALWAYS donate to my local shelter.

Posted by: DogLover007 | April 5, 2013 3:01 PM    Report this comment

I'm experiencing this as we speak. I gave up one of my dogs to rescue because we were moving to another country due to our faith. Dogma Pet Rescue in Tampa, FL now has my dog and is GREATLY exaggerating a sob story about him in a way to generate quick funds. The dog I gave up (a purebred toy breed), who was healthy and adored, is now all over Facebook and in the media as a broken, sick, dying dog who needs desperate surgery and help to save his life. They've done raffles, media journalism, and pasted his face all over their site accompanied by outright horrible lies and links to their paypal. It's just so incredibly disheartening to know what some of these "rescue" groups attempt to do...

Posted by: Tepec | November 17, 2011 1:21 PM    Report this comment

I agree that we must be vigilant. I myself am involved in a massive effort going on now to stop a hoarder from obtaining more dogs. However, I run a reputable 501(c)3 with 10 dogs, 9 equines and a pig as permanent residents. We would go under of our donors only gave to "big" organizations. In fact, our total budget is about the same amount that one of your mentioned organizations takes in per animal/per year. Another, HSUS, does not even have shelters. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. I would encourage donors to take the time to investigate and get to know one or several small rescues and to help them once they feel they are trustworthy. Small rescues are in the trenches, caring for animals with their own funds, second mortgages and what few donations they receive from the public.
Catherine Ritlaw
Journey's End Ranch Animal Sanctuary

Posted by: catherine r | March 9, 2011 10:17 AM    Report this comment

Unfortunately even rescues with well known names can be individually owned/operated and do what they want using that big name.
I adopted a dog from an "SPCA" but the facility is an 1800's farm house. I did the wrong thing by adopting from them as I couldn't leave this feral puppy there knowing no one would adopt her. She wasn't exposed to people for the first 5 months of life so she stayed curled in a ball at the back of the cage even after being there for 3 weeks. They charged a large adoption fee and the place was filthy. It was winter when we went to see her (of course the dogs looked great on the internet) and you could see your breath in the house. There were piles of thrown up worms in the cages that no one was removing or cleaning. I was shocked that this was an SPCA, the town it is in is trying to get them shut down due to the noise and smell.
They had dogs out in the garage and in outdoor kennels and in everyroom of the house. They had way more dogs than they should but the owner had no problem taking people's money and telling you if the dog you wanted didn't survive you could pick another one.
Please be smart and visit the place then walk away if it is not poorly run. There are plenty of shelters out there that take proper care of their dogs and are worth adopting from. I for one will not be recommending them to anyone in my area looking to adopt!!

Posted by: Michele | March 6, 2011 5:51 PM    Report this comment

I live in Northeast Ohio, and just about a week before the raid on this so-called rescue, there was a raid on a hoarding situation in our area. A local shelter was overwhelmed by the intake of over 100 dogs that had been living in a small bungalow with two women. Many other rescue groups and shelter in the area stepped up to help this smaller shelter out. Then, this story hit the news, concerning this so-called rescue in Piqua, Ohio. 361 dogs, living in stacked cages in a barn. So many of us here were stunned. Apparently, just about any of the County shelters, who all euthanize dogs, some still using gas chambers and heartstick, will release dogs to "rescues" at a greatly reduced fee. I do not think that many of these shelters ask for credentials of any kind. And there are those who will do anything to keep these animals from being killed, even if it means making their life a living hell. But these people don't see it that way, all they believe is that they are saving a life. It's a very sad and paradoxical situation.

Posted by: PetesMom | March 2, 2011 8:48 PM    Report this comment

Yes, there are animal hoarders masquerading as rescues, just as their are pounds masquerading as animal shelters. These cases are tragic, but need to be put into context and not over sensationalized. And these cases should never be an excuse for shelters to kill animals rather than releasing them to animal rescues, which is happening just as much. Most rescues I know will police each other pretty well given the opportunity, because their reputations are on the line. Will there be cases where shelters will release an animal to a bad rescue - absolutely, just like there will be cases where they will adopt to a bad owner, but that doesn't mean you should stop adopting out your animals any more than it means you should stop releasing dogs in danger of euthanasia to rescues. If you are killing adoptable animals, ask yourself if you have done absolutely everything possible first or are you taking the easy way out? No-Kill is absolutely possible, but it takes more effort, planning and thinking to do so.

Posted by: CAROL T | March 2, 2011 10:38 AM    Report this comment

Nancy--good blog! I would be interested in an article on rescue organizations, and how to find good ones and what to avoid.

Looking locally, when you can see what a group does, is a good idea. Breed rescues are often easy to check out if you're active in breed events, since often you'll get to know the people doing the rescuing. If you're active in the dog world, either through dog sports or showing, or even just dog forums, you'll get a good sense of which breed rescue groups are reputable and which to avoid.

I don't have any problems with the presidents of large, national organizations (ASPCA, HSUS) making a as much money as was listed here. How will these organizations recruit and keep competent leaders who are organized, can fundraise, etc. if they don't pay them a decent salary? I don't always agree with all these groups do, but that's beside the point--I don't see that they are not using money wisely or not helping dogs. I would prefer to give to local breed specific rescues, but that's just my choice.

Posted by: shibamistress | March 1, 2011 8:27 PM    Report this comment

I'm sure this isn't what you intended to convey but don't assume that a rescue is bad if they have puppies available, it doesn't always mean the rescue is breeding dogs. Dogs often arrive at municipal shelters either very, very pregnant or with unweaned puppies. People also drop off boxes of unweaned puppies and kittens with no mama in sight, and they need to be bottle fed to survive. They are lucky if they go to rescue groups with foster homes who can either keep mama and puppies safe until they're weaned, or bottle feed the unweaned ones until they're old enough to go to homes.

Posted by: dogsmom | March 1, 2011 5:13 PM    Report this comment

Actually, I have misgivings about donating to the giant, national animal welfare organizations, too; I also feel that not enough money that gets sent to that sort of organization goes to actually house, feed, and provide veterinary care for homeless animals -- and to support well-managed adoption centers. To address another comment, I have no problem with the operator of a legitimate rescue making a living; but if the operator is well-fed and the dogs are starving, there is something VERY wrong. How much food does it take to support a Chihuahua? There is NO excuse for ANY "rescue" group to have STARVING, intact, wormy dogs. If they do, they are not doing their charges any favors. I do believe there are worse fates than death, and I saw it in the eyes of the starving Chihuahuas pictured above.

I strongly recommend that people donate to local organizations they can visit, to confirm are doing a great job of caring for the animals in their possession. But this is my personal bias -- not necessarily the view of WDJ or its publisher.

I've been kicking around the idea of an article about how to research animal welfare organizations, in order to find and support the ones that best match one's own agenda (whatever it may be). Would that be of interest to you, our readers? -- Nancy Kerns, Editor

Posted by: WDJ Editor Nancy Kerns | March 1, 2011 4:32 PM    Report this comment

A cat hoarder going by the misleading name of Sacred Vision Animal Sanctuary in Myrtle Beach SC recently was closed down after a judge reviewed the undercover evidence and found that the 300 cats living there had been caged 24/7, 2-4 to a cage for years without any veterinary care, adequate food, with one filthy litter box per cage. All were suffering from horrible sores, respiratory illnesses, conjunctivitis, and worse. Volunteers repeated requests to thake the cats to the vet on their own and pay for the treatment themselves were denied by this callous owner, who had no signs posted allerting passers-by that there were cats available for adoption, and did no advertising.
Unfortunately this is a tragedy that is growing in our country.

Posted by: kimfatty | March 1, 2011 2:56 PM    Report this comment

Great blog, Nancy. Legitimate animal protection professionals have been tearing their hair out over "rescue hoarders" for several years now. There are terrific rescues out there that are doing a great job. But the number of rescue hoarders has exploded since the advent of the so-call "no-kill" movement. Some shelters, desperate to qualify as "no-kill" so they can receive Maddies Fund money and community support (and so shelter administrators can keep their jobs) have lowered their standards and hand off their animals far too easily to anyone who says they are a "rescue." It's a travesty when one f these hoarders is busted, and they say they got many of their animals from surrounding shelters.

By the same token, the promise of "no-kill" lures owners to hand off their animals to rescuers they shouldn't, without doing any investigating into the conditions they are sentencing their companions to.

None of us want to euthanize healthy animals. But there are still far more dogs and cats (and horses!) than there are lifelong loving homes, or funds to support them in no-kill sanctuaries. Until we stop the supply, we will have to euthanize, and until people stop believing in the pie-in-the-sky no-kill promise, we will have more rescue hoarders.

And still, the American Kennel Club sides with the *puppy millers* in trying to undermine the recently-passed law in Pennsylvania, and similar legislative efforts in other states, to rein in the mass production of puppies that feeds shelter euthanasia rooms and the horror chambers of hoarders. Go figure.

Posted by: PPaws | March 1, 2011 2:41 PM    Report this comment

In a similar vein please note that EBAY now sells dogs on line, these are undoubtably puppy mill and possibly breeder/hoarder situations. Any breeder worth his or her salt would NEVER sell a puppy to an unknown buyer over the internet. EBAY says it has screening mechanisms in place to make sure the sellers are "reputable" which of course only means that they won't steal your money and has nothing to do with the quality of the dogs sold or their living conditions prior to sale.
I know this isn't exactly on point but just is more evidence of the way defenseless creatures are treated like mere commodities and their lives don't meananything except the price they can command for their seller. (vis a vis the statement about hoarders holding only small dogs since they can make more adoption fee money with less expense for dog food.
Thanks for allowing me to vent.
Please pass the information about EBAY to your dog-loving friends and file a complaint with EBAY.

Posted by: kimfatty | March 1, 2011 2:40 PM    Report this comment

Spaying and neutering the animals is an absolute must in any rescue organization. There is no reason for breeding to be happening at all and a sure sign that something is wrong. We work with many local rescue groups and breed specific rescues and know how they operate and what there programs are all about. The rescue must be registered with the state as a 501c3 organization and this must be indicated on any of their marketing materials, websites, etc. The rescues we know depend on donations and they are actively involved in the community. They host events, they attend street parties with their booths to sell their t-shirts and other items, they educate the public and have community of volunteers, foster homes, local businesses, the city and more. If an organization is begging for handouts and doesn't fit the criteria, then don't donate to them, locate one that is legitimate and that is making a difference to help the animals for the right reasons. The adoption process should be a bit of a challenge as well. Getting an animal into a forever home has to have a process and the future pet owner has to be a suitable match, not just a paycheck to the rescue. If you see any animal in deplorable conditions whether it be a "rescue organization", a shelter, a pet store, or a breeder, please keep in mind that if you pay to remove that animal from that situation you are NOT rescuing it. You are merely providing funds to keep that operation in business to continue to abuse animals. Do those animals justice and report what you see to your county animal services and protection organization.

Posted by: Island Dog Outfitters Clearwater Beach | March 1, 2011 2:11 PM    Report this comment

I would not advise donating to ASPCA, HSUS or Best Friends. Look at their financials. Very little of the money donated goes directly to saving animals. HSUS does not fund any of the local humane societies.

I encourage people that want to get involved or donate, donate to a local shelter and check it out first. Donate to a local rescue. Many rescues rely on foster homes for the dogs brought into rescue and may not have a centralized facility so checking out a facility may not be a viable option. Find out if the rescue is a 501c3, licensed by the state. Ask around the local dog community and filter through the comments.

Posted by: Randi G | March 1, 2011 1:46 PM    Report this comment

I disagree that you know your money will go to the animals if you donate to large organizations like the ones mentioned by Unknown. In my experience, all large organizations are bloated at the top. Best Friends raises $40 million per year, which is probably a pittance compared to ASPCA. According to Charity Navigator, the President of the ASPCA makes $473,998 per year. The President of the Humane Society of the United States makes $ 228,981. Is that who you want to give your money to? In my experience, the smaller the organization, the more likely the money goes directly to the animals. Small organizations often use money far more efficiently, & are often run by caring volunteers. Check out your local animal welfare groups.

Posted by: rockwren | March 1, 2011 1:37 PM    Report this comment

So you think it is acceptable to take 250 animals to a distant shelter that now has to kill animals that are already there to make room? I know there are shelters/rescues that are better and worse. But just because someone is making their living at a rescue doesn't make it bad. I am sure the director at the shelter you are volunteering at makes enough money to at least pay a few bills. It is after all her job. People who run smaller rescues may even have a full time job in addition to their rescue. All you are doing is encouraging people to donate to HSUS again, the biggest thieves of them all, giving only half a cent of every dollar earned to help actual animals in shelters/rescues.

Posted by: StaceyO | March 1, 2011 1:33 PM    Report this comment

One should also beware when reading reviews of rescue organizations. If someone takes a dislike to an organization or some of the people in it, they may publish malicious negative reviews full of false statements, accusations of hoarding and mistreatment of dogs. I've seen reviews like this that I know from first-hand experience to be false. It's pathetic.

Posted by: Jo B | March 1, 2011 12:55 PM    Report this comment

This was the best advise I have ever seen. We all think everyone that talks about animals actually love them. Not so -- look at pet shops and puppy mills. Please take the advise in this article. Only donate to places you know and if you don't have the time or resources to check them out, please donate to the ASPCA, Human Society, or Best Friends in Utah. You want your money to go to the animals, this way it will.

Posted by: keller1312 | March 1, 2011 12:28 PM    Report this comment

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