Some things are pretty straight forward in our lives. We know that the sun will come up and go down. We know that there are there are good people in this world, and bad. But what happens when the supposed “good people” out there turn out to be…well…not so good?
When our family decided to go on our “48 states, 48 rescues” tour, I prepared myself for the inevitable. I would see dogs and cats and other animals that I felt sorry for. I would want to adopt all of the animals. And I would be seeing things that would make me angry, upset or defeated.
When we chose all of the 48 rescues or shelters that we highlighted on our trip, we tried to be as careful as possible. We always chose an organization with a 501c3 tax status. We did our research on the rescue with news articles, filed complaints, and scrutinized their social media pages. And often, it took us a very long time to find a rescue that we wanted to visit in each state. Why? There were a lot of questionable ones out there.
This was a surprising fact to me. There is no denying that shelters and rescue organizations serve a vital role in our world. With millions of unwanted and homeless animals, if not for the people out there sacrificing so much of themselves, money and time, these animals would have no where to go. People would have no where to turn when they needed help with their animals.
But with all of the shelters and rescue organizations that are doing wonderful things out there, we have began to realize that there are surprisingly many that are not doing such wonderful things. So, what can YOU do if you encounter such a rescue? What can you do if you are a volunteer and see something that needs to be reported or looked at more closely? The fact is, it all comes down to the animals. And even if they are in the pretense of a safe place, the truth is, not all places that claim to be such are looking out for their best interests. It is such a sad fact…isn’t it?
I had to ask myself in a specific situation this week, what would cause someone to operate an animal rescue, but misuse funds, or send dogs for euthanization regularly? What would cause someone to continue to pull animals from shelters, but turn to making big profits out of selling puppies? What would cause a rescue organization to turn to puppy mills or breeders for “overstocks” in order to sell these same dogs themselves? These things happen in animal rescue? Yes. They do. As an advocate for animals, and a proponent to “Make Rescues The Breed Of Choice”, I can tell you, no one is more disturbed about this than I am. Because it gives people an excuse to stop rescuing. It gives people an excuse to buy a dog from a breeder and feel good about it. It gives people an excuse to stop caring, stop doing and stop donating. And this is just…wrong!
But as wrong as this is, and as mad as I was this week trying to navigate my way through information on how to report a rescue or shelter of abuse, I educated myself. I spoke with the Humane Society of The United States and the ASPCA directly on their suggestions on what to do if, for example, you are fostering for a rescue, or have adopted, or are a volunteer and suspect either misuse of funds, abuse, or endangerment of an animal. Should you just sit back and do nothing, thinking that since they are a rescue, they must know it all? Should you just forget about it and move on to another shelter or rescue? You must not. Because if we are all true advocates for animals, we will speak up. We will use the proper methods and go to the proper authorities. This is another way that we can help change the plight of many animals and start a change from within.
First of all, the Humane Society puts it very blunt.
“Remember, though, that there is a difference between bad shelter practice and differences in opinion about operational strategy – before you move forward with a complaint, review sheltering best practices resources and try to engage the organization in productive collaboration. While countless lives have been saved because a member of the public spoke up and to end harmful shelter practices, opportunities to save lives have also been lost because people have become too embroiled in philosophical disagreements to implement new lifesaving programs.”
They also recommend trying to make a change from within. But what if all of your efforts fail? Is there anything you can do with lives are at stake? The Humane Society continues.
“Where do you lodge a complaint? It can be difficult to know where to turn to complain about an organization’s policies or procedures. To get results, you need to understand who is in charge of the organization: Public organizations, such as municipal animal control agencies, typically have a leader that is ultimately accountable to the elected officials of the city or county. The good news is that politicians are typically very reactive to citizen concerns; the bad news is that the process of making change in a government can be slow and tedious. If you have tried reaching out to the head of the agency (and onward up the chain of command) to no avail, discuss your concerns with local political officials either one-on-one or at a public meeting. But remember, politicians hear lots of complaints on all kinds of different topics – raising specific concerns, or better yet having concrete solutions available to solve those concerns (particularly if they won’t cost the municipality money!), tends to be much more effective than simply voicing general complaints. Private organizations are generally run by an Executive Director, who reports to a private Board of Directors. These agencies do not report to any national humane organizations, like The HSUS or ASPCA. Unless they are violating a specific law or ordinance (regarding tax law, for example, or animal cruelty) the Board of Directors has virtually unrestricted authority to set the organization’s path. However, private agencies are dependent on donor dollars to survive, so they are typically willing to hear concerns about their operations, particularly if those concerns might affect their bottom line. If you have already met with the Executive Director of the organization and have not been satisfied, request to speak directly with the Board of Directors.
Private agencies with government contracts generally report to a Board of Directors just as private organizations do, but they can also be influenced by public policy due to their contractual relationships. Use both paths to make your voice heard. What other agencies might hear your concerns? Local or state law enforcement/attorney general offices may become involved if active cruelty is occurring; ask about filing a formal complaint. Governmental agencies must make budget information available to taxpayers, and private 501(c)(3)s must file federal 990 forms with the IRS – these are available for public viewing on websites like Guidestar and Charity Navigator.
If you suspect improper use of donated funds, you may also file a complaint with the IRS. http://nonprofit.about.com/od/fundraising/a/safegiving.htm
The federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) oversees how euthanasia and other drugs are acquired, stored and managed; if you suspect that drugs are being stolen or misused, contact your local DEA office (http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/offices_n_dirs/fielddiv/index.html). Your state Veterinary Board or Department of Agriculture may be charged with overseeing and/ or inspecting local shelters – file a complaint if you suspect the shelter is violating local or state law. Tips for complaining effectively can be found at http://www.howtocomplain.com/info/advice.shtml.
Sit on a citizens’ advisory board: Many public shelters have an advisory board that serves as a liaison between the shelter and elected community officials. If such an entity exists, see about getting yourself appointed. If there is not yet one in place, talk to local officials about creating one. o Use Freedom of Information Laws: Obtaining records of the shelter’s operations can be the easiest way to document abuses or violations (or to reassure yourself that circumstances are not as you feared). Every public agency or organization with public contracts is subject to state and federal open records laws (sometimes referred to as freedom of information laws or public access laws) which allow citizens to obtain copies of all documents created or produced by the shelter. To learn more about the federal Freedom of Information Act or to see what public access laws apply in your state visit: http://publications.usa.gov/epublications/foia/foia.htm
Use Open Meeting Laws: All states have in place some form of open meetings and open records laws that ensure citizens have access to government meetings. These “sunshine laws” or “open meeting laws” prevent government officials from holding meetings and making decisions behind closed doors. You can find information about the rules applicable in your state at http://www.rcfp.org/open-government-guide.
Engaging the media: A sympathetic but objective reporter can be a strong ally. Most media outlets have websites with contact information, either for the entity itself or for individual reporters. o Use your political savvy: Many groups have successfully lobbied local political leaders and completely upended existing outdated shelter operational philosophies. Be professional, visit local officials, and make yourself an ally to them politically, rather than just a thorn in their side, and you stand a greater chance of success.
Consider filling in the gaps instead of fighting: If what your shelter needs is an effective foster program, a comprehensive pet retention program, or a rescue transfer program, perhaps the best way to achieve that goal is to start that group yourself. Many people have dramatically reduced shelter euthanasia by creating a viable alternative, rather than fighting a stressful battle to force the shelter to change.”
We thank the Humane Society of the United States and the ASPCA for getting us this information and their time. And if you have continued reading this information, we thank you for your time too. It is a sad world for many animals out there who find themselves homeless, abused or neglected. Add to the sadness anticipation of a new beginning in a rescue or shelter that turns out to be the opposite. We can’t change the world ourselves, but we can make a world of difference for one animal. We all know in our hearts what is right and wrong. Don’t sit back and let someone else convince you that abuse…even if at a shelter or rescue is normal. We cannot anticipate all situations that you may encounter, the local laws where you live, or the exact steps you will need to take. But if you make the time to find out, and make a difference, the bad rescues out there will cease to operate. This will not be an easy task, or a short one. But if we all long for a day when shelters and rescues aren’t needed at all, we will continue to support the good ones. We will continue to tell them thank you. And we will continue to make it possible for them to KEEP doing great things by removing ones that give them a bad name.
-Rachael Johnson, Owner, 2 Traveling Dogs