Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Pets Alive: Animal Sanctuary or Animal Scam?

ASPCA Oreo-gate pays off big for Pets Alive

Disgraced "rescue" spins ASPCA crisis for own benefit

Pets Alive makes its bid for fame and fortune

As ASPCA Prez Ed Sayres struggles and fails to contain outrage from his own constituency over the decision to kill an abused dog previously used as a fund-raising and public relations tool, somebody in upstate New York saw a golden opportunity.

The ASPCA may continue to stutter and blurt explanations, but Pets Alive in Middletown, New York, already got what it wants: a shot at joining the humaniac elite by riding the coat tails of the ASPCA's acute ethical and PR problems.

Pets Alive's strategy was --
(a) feed the media frenzy and encourage negative publicity, and
(b) position Pets Alive as "more humane," "more ethical" and --very important !-- "more deserving of donations."

The ASPCA shot itself in both feet when it arrogantly exploited and then killed an abused dog. And as the dust settles on Oreo-gate, the Pets Alive gambit seems to have paid off. They're a clear winner. But is Pets Alive ready for prime time?

Oooooh, baby. Not hardly.

The whitewashing of Pets Alive

In the spring of 2007, the collection of 500+ animals at Pets Alive was in really bad shape. After founder Sara Whalen died of cancer in March and Pets Alive sought assistance from Best Friends Animal Society, the animal welfare disaster at Pets Alive became public knowledge. In ABC News coverage, a visitor to the 80 acre compound compared the place to Auschwitz.

Michael Mountain's prompt plea for money included shocking descriptions of animals confined in "substandard conditions" and in need of basics like routine vaccinations and treatment for worms. Other accounts described animals kenneled in the dark and malnourished:

In the wake of one tragedy – and working to avoid another – Best Friends teams have stepped in to save and care for hundreds of at-risk animals while trying to stabilize operations at the troubled Pets Alive sanctuary in upstate New York. Many of the more than 500 animals at the shelter were living in substandard conditions as founder Sara Whalen succumbed to cancer on March 19. . . .Toward the end, when the Pets Alive board learned the extent of the problem, they turned to Best Friends for help. [emphasis added]

What did Pets Alive's BOD know, and when did they know it?

Pets Alive's Board of Directors only learned about so many sick and neglected animals "toward the end"? Could dogs like Oreo end up warehoused in substandard conditions for an entire lifetime? Current Pets Alive Executive Co-Director Matt DeAngelis describes an intimate familiarity with the facility and the animals there going back eight years. Where was he when conditions at Pets Alive reached crisis stage?
As it launched its "Pets Alive Emergency operation" Best Friends blogged that deteriorating conditions at the facility were an issue for years.

Nobody noticed 500 or 600 at-risk animals, over a period of years, until the place "looked like Auschwitz"? How is that possible?

Learning about "proper care"

Best Friends pulled out of Pets Alive by January, 2008, leaving the Pets Alive staff gushing with gratitude:

Best Friends came to Pets Alive when we were in a desperate situation and they helped us in every way imaginable. They hired staff and taught us how to properly care for and house the animals. They helped us develop a network of volunteers and supporters, showed us better adoption practices, helped us train the animals (and the staff), and helped teach us how to stand on our own two feet. [emphasis added]

Pets Alive only learned how to properly care for and house animals in its care in 2007? What was going on during the "30 years of experience" they claim? Improper care?

Oh, and by the way, Pets Alive was incorporated in 1988. The corporation began doing business in New York State in 1990. The "new" Pets Alive dates from 2007, when Best Friends went back to Utah. There is no "30 years" of Pets Alive experience and expertise.

Business resumes at Pets Alive

By January, 2008, a scant nine months after the animal welfare crisis at its facilities was first acknowledged, Pets Alive was back to importing dogs from southern states and sending out desperate messages soliciting donations to care for them.

In February, 2008, finances became a big theme as Matt DeAngelis blogged about "too many animals and not enough space" while being "blind-sided" by a $3500 electric bill.

Can "reputable" animal sanctuaries be "blind-sided" by the arrival of a utility bill? What does that say about their administrative skills?

No money to safely contain aggressive dogs at Pets Alive

Two months later, in April, 2008, Co-Executive Director Kerry Clair blogs about an urgent need for adequate kennel runs for aggressive dogs then at Pets Alive:

We have two dogs that are in desperate need of a specific type of dog run. . .We worry about our regular chain link fencing and really need to put [a particular dog] in something more solid. . . We need to buy at LEAST 2 of them, and it would be best if we had five and could put all our “caution” dogs in these solid runs. . .Would you be willing to donate the cost of one panel? This will keep our staff, our dogs and our volunteers and visitors safer. Our funds are running low here at Pets Alive. . .We desperately need an influx of donations in the next few months. Matt is working on a direct mail campaign. . . [emphasis added]

Pets Alive didn't have the facilities necessary to keep staff and visitors safe? And they claim expertise in "aggressive" dogs? Where did Pets Alive plan to hold Oreo for her lifetime?

Disappearing horses, rumors of rabies

In December, 2008, horses boarded at Pets Alive during court proceedings and subsequently ordered returned to their owners by the judge when the case was adjourned contemplating dismissal, mysteriously disappeared after the owners refused to sell them to Pets Alive supporter Rob Thomas.

Astoundingly, in August, 2009, Kerry Clair blogged that Pets Alive knowingly "technically adopted out" a sick dog that had to be euthanized because. . .

. . .she continued to get worse and worse and eventually she had to be euthanized to spare her any more suffering. It was really traumatic for us all. We still do not know cause of death but the vets feel she either contracted rabies or distemper. . .[emphasis added]

Rabies ? Or was it distemper? Because there's a difference. And where was Pets Alive's concern for public health and safety?

I mean, rabies???

Orange County, New York foreclosing on Pets Alive ?

The November 13, 2009 issue of the (Middletown) Times Herald-Record included the usual legal notices, including a Petition and Notice of Foreclosure on the Pets Alive properties.

 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------ X
335200 21-1-3 PETS ALIVE, INC.
335200 22-1-30 PETS ALIVE, INC.
335200 22-1-50.21 PETS ALIVE, INC.

Uh oh. That just can't be good news for the animals at Pets Alive. What would happen to dogs like Oreo, if their "sanctuary for life" was foreclosed? Then what? Huh?

Missing In Action with the New York State Charities Bureau

Organizations exempted from federal income tax under Section 501 of the tax code that "normally" have income in excess of $25,000 per year are required to file IRS Form 990. In New York, a copy of the 990 form is also provided to the Charities Bureau. Failure to comply with this or several other reporting requirements may result in revocation of the organization's tax-exempt status.

Even though Pets Alive routinely posts notices of large contributions ($200,000 from Rob Thomas/Sidewalk Angels in 2008) and indicates that it is a "valid 501(c)3 animal rescue", a Freedom of Information request to the NYS Charities Bureau for copies of Pets Alive's reports yielded no current information. In fact, on August 19, 2009 the Charities Bureau confirmed that Pets Alive has not remitted a Form 990 for five years. The last report they received covered tax year 2003.

Oreo's Law and more unanswered questions

In New York, "duly incorporated humane societies" --although they may sell or offer for sale hundreds and even thousands of pets annually-- are exempted from inspection under the state's regulation of "pet dealers."

The provisions of the Animal Welfare Act do not cover facilities like Pets Alive. No one checked on the care provided at Pets Alive, which housed an unknown portion of the 500 or 600 animals there in "substandard conditions" for an unknown length of time.

Could dogs like Oreo spend a lifetime, warehoused in inhumane conditions, if a proposal like "Oreo's Law" mandating unregulated "sanctuary" is enacted ? What protections exist for vulnerable dogs and other pets condemned to a lifetime of unsupervised, uninspected confinement in New York's private, not-for-profit, duly incorporated "humane" societies? What's going to happen when the sponsors of "Oreo's Law" realize that the "expertise" and "responsibility" of some animal sanctuaries may exist only in the imaginations and ambitions of their executive co-directors? Why hasn't anyone in the "humane" community spoken up?

There's clearly more than a small problem at Pets Alive, and it's not difficult to see.

Why the silence? When will the exploitation of an abused, dead dog by those who claimed to be her "rescuers" end?


Tom said...

If they are going to exempt the so-called rescues they might as well exempt everyone. I would believe that a breeder will take good care of the animals before I will believe it of an SPCA or other such organization.

They're just using those laws as weapons against human beings. It has nothing to do with a real concern for the well-being of the animals.

Tom said...

Also, what do you expect of people who support their claims of expertise by bashing others? Their "proof" that they can take care of animals rests on their ability to say bad things about other animal owners.

NYLefty said...

Wow. BlueDogState's charges are so full of distortions and out of context quotes that I don't know where to begin. I assume that he'll refuse to approve this post, so I'll give just one example:

He quoted the first sentence (but not the second) of the following to make it sound as if the Pets Alive sanctuary is overcrowded:

"There are so many animals and not enough space. Sometimes we have to choose which ones we can take, knowing the rest will probably die."

It's obvious that what was meant is that there "are so many animals" needing shelter that Pets Alive doesn't have room to take them all in. But he chose to leave the second sentence out, making it sound as if the sanctuary was still overcrowded (as it was during the illness of Pets Alive founder Sara Whelan).
Just one example of
BlueDogState's dishonesty.

BlueDogState said...

NY Lefty doesn't mention it here, but s/he also believes that its okay for Pets Alive to violate court orders, and is just hunky-dory with horse theft, too:

Referring to the horses that mysteriously "disappeared" from the Pets Alive property after a judge ruled that the charges against the owners were adjourned (via an ACD):

"Seems to me that Pets Alive was acting responsibly (in the horses' best interests) in not returning the horses to their owners. . . I applaud whoever took them. . ."

NYLefty apparently knows more about the case, based on a little internet surfing, than the judge did.

S/he "applauds" someone who broke the law and violated a court order when they stole two valuable horses.

"Responsibility" = theft

Yup. That sounds about right for a Pets Alive supporter.


Pai said...

Hm, I still think the ASPCA did the wrong thing in euthanizing Oreo, but they also claimed to have no idea who PetsAlive are and deny being contacted by them. The fact that it's a 'he said she said' situation, and PetsAlive is apparently not all that respectable of a group, makes me not quite as willing to sympathize with PA's story.

Matt DeAngelis, Pets Alive said...

As always, there are two sides to every story.

We save a thousand animals a year from death. You preen like you've discovered a grand conspiracy. The few facts that you've actually managed to get right are public knowledge. In fact, most of them are on our web site and Best Friends.

I will not bother to address the most ludicrous of your claims such as our administrative skills.

We make the same offer to you we made to the ASPCA...come visit Pets Alive before you make judgments. In fact, I will personally pay for your round trip ticket any time.

As usual, I am amazed at the excuses and misdirection. We "bash" others. No...we step up and defend the lives of animals who would otherwise be killed. There IS a right and wrong here, and the ASPCA is wrong.

If you want to debate Pets Alive's administrative skills, adoption policies, alleged ignoring of court orders or other ludicrous claims that you've filed under "respectability", then bring it on.

Otherwise lets stick to the real issue here, which is should an animal be killed when there is another option for that animal?.

Don't sympathize with our "story." In fact, we're not trolling for supporters or friends. We're accepting responsibility for the animals we have a moral obligation to care for.

If you want to know more about us, don't paste together Google news stories or take stuff out of context from our website. Get off your rear and and come see for yourself.

The ignorance in the comments to this post is as scary as the post itself.

Matt DeAngelis
Pets Alive

BlueDogState said...

Spoken like a modern media warrior!

Except there aren't two sides to breaking the law and no amount of dodging, weaving and misdirection will answer the questions you carefully and completely fail to address.

Did you really think no one would check on the "30 years of experience" you claimed over and over again? Any explanation for the missing 10 or 27 years?

What "expertise" with aggressive dogs? Why hasn't Pets Alive filed with the NYS Charities Bureau for five years, and what "reputable" animal sanctuary gets foreclosed on?

Best Friends indicated that conditions at Pets Alive deteriorated to the point of crisis "over years" while animals suffered--kenneled in the dark, malnourished, worm-infested. . .

Where were you?

BlueDogState said...

Note to BDS readers:
Matt's further response failed to substantively address the questions posed, although he did throw out bait as best he could. The questions were based on facts, public records (or lack of same) and/or or Pets Alive's and Best Friend's own writings, duly linked for easy reference.

Bye-bye, Matt. You had your chance, and you blew it.

Tom said...

Judges should have been harsh from the beginning when so-called humane societies refused to return animals that they ordered returned. Now the humane societies think that they are above the law.

The judge should have jailed someone at Pets Alive for contempt of court until the horses were returned.

Dog kennels said...

It's amazing how much things really are about money. Unfortunately, I've seen many people who are well-meaning succomb to gray and even unethical practices because of money.

Sookey said...

There are various extenuating circumstances here. Pets Alive was
established as a sanctuary by Sara
Whelan using donations from friends. THose friends actually
rescued her from living homeless mostly in Central Park (Manhattan)
with her own three or four rescued
big dogs. With further donations,
she and some (mostly volunteer?)
help did run the sanctuary pretty
well for some years until she became ill with cancer. Reportedly, she hated to give up
control of her sanctuary and concealed from the Pets Alive board
and supporters the gravity of her
illness until near the very end of
her life. (She was never easy to
get along with, though very good
with all animals.)

So, yes, in the last two years of
Sara's life, conditions at Pets
Alive deteriorated, as her health
limited her energies, and she refused to ask for the help she

But she indeed had some 30 years of
experience caring for animals by the time she died, if not more, and
whatever else might be said of Best
Friends, they did come through to
clean up the mess Sara left behind.

No doubt the Pets Alive board should have been more attentive, but as a former member of a board
of a nonprofit facility myself, I
can tell you that unless conditions
at the facility are very obviously
deficient, the boards usually hesitate to interfere with their
paid employees' work.

Tom said...

Sookey, how would you treat a breeder who was under such conditions?

Anonymous said...

I love this blog! I really do! A friend of mine stumbled upon it and showed it to me! Pets Alive is a crooked place, run by people who are good talkers, but really know very little. They don't believe in temperment testing, and have had quite a few dogs returned after being adopted because the dogs were either aggressive toward people or toward the other animals in the house, and the adopters were given no warning about the dogs temperment! Does not seem like a responsible place to me! They talk a good game, and draw people in! But if people got a chance to see behind the scenes I'm sure they wouldn't be so keen to support these people!

Anonymous said...

Let me tell you, Pets Alive is little more than an animal broker under the guise of a 'rescue'. I have seen people come in off the street, pick out and animal, fill out an 'application', have a copy of their drivers license taken and been told, the dog fee is $225.00. The office workers sit in the office all day long with the ac on, eating donuts, never, NEVER have I seen any of them interacting with the animal unless the media is around. They rely on the volunteers and constantly cry 'poor' when they have a surplus of donatations that they don't know where to store it. As far as temperment assesement goes, it is based upon the first interaction upon the animals arrival.They are either 'green' 'yellow'or 'red'. The animals are not walked unless or have little interaction unless a volunteer takes it upon themeselves. So, is Pets Alive an animal sanctuary or an animal scam ? Probably a little of both.

Anonymous said...

To the above poster. Are you a current or former employee of pets alive? As a former employee myself I can vouch for all of what you said above.

Anonymous said...

Yeah...it's all true.

Blue Dog State Dude, we've been inviting you to Pets Alive for a YEAR.

You never show.

And a "former" employee? Puh-lease.

Anyone who wants to come look for themselves is welcome to.

We continue to grow (we doubled in size this year), despite you idiot naysayers.


BlueDogState said...

Matt, your problem with numbers and dates must be pathological.

The truth will catch up to you and the trusting donors and volunteers --not to mention helpless pets that have no choice in the matter.

Either you. . .

(a) can't calculate how much time elapsed between November 24, 2009 and September 4, 2010, or

(b) complusively lie about just about anything, hoping no one will notice.

Personally, I'm going with "b"

BlueDogState said...

And by the way, Matt:

Who says I've never been at Pets Alive? Did you ever consider that you might have seen me a while ago, if you looked over your shoulder?

What ever happened to Sara's house, anyway? The one that was willed to Kerri, and Adam had to make the mortgage payments?

Did you ever sell it?

BlueDogState said...

oh, and finally, Matt. . .

Hope you removed the dead chicken from the road in front of the property the other day.

Wouldn't want Rob and the press to have seen that, would we?

BlueDogState said...

oh, and finally, Matt. . .

Hope you removed the dead chicken from the road in front of the property the other day.

Wouldn't want Rob and the press to have seen that, would we?

Anonymous said...

Matt was one of the people responsible for letting that place turn into a hellhole. He let it happen. Those animals SUFFERED because of him and Sara. What idiot decided he was capable of running the place? He's probably still hiding dogs in the basement like Sara did.

Anonymous said...

Are you aware Pets Alive is opening a B & B "non-profit" in Puerto Rico ?

Anonymous said...


Also note, that Sara's house that 'volunteers' used to be able to us, is being rented out for 1k monthly instead. One has to wonder who this resort in PR is really going to be for ? The 'volunteers' or the staff as a retreat. after all saving the world is tiring. And is paying for the airfare, hotels, meals, etc of those scouting locations ? This expansion seems like a waste and abuse of funding. Come on, most people in PR do not want to adopt a dog. So who is this really for ?

Anonymous said...

That loser (Matt) is gone! See http://petsalive.com/staff.htm. I heard he was fired.

Anonymous said...

Blue Dog State....can you find out why Matt Deangelis was fired from Pets Alive?

BlueDogState said...

I don't know which of Matt's many failings led to his departure, guys. Was it the lies? The aggression? The incompetence and fiscal irresponsibility? The cyber-stalking? The threats made to elected officials?

So many possibilities. . .

Anonymous said...

Noticed they were quick to jump in and toot their horn about saving dogs from Austin - seemed more about getting noticed than saving animals. Hard to believe any dogs ever game their way.

Having tried to work with their policies for taking dogs if you don't deliver to the dog they don't want the dog...only the most highly adoptable, no pits etc.

This from a group with a fleet of donated vehicles....demands made to the rescues with no staff - only volunteers. Greedy Greedy.

Kim McDonell said...

I wouldn't give the SPCA a dime of my money!!!! They're behind the Paulin "quick Kill" bill & they also have done everything in their power to prove that no-kill doesn't work when it does. They're ok with killing millions of companion animals every year. What kind of a humane organization is that?!!! They also believe that shelters shouldn't have to deal with local rescues to take dogs or cats that are going to be killed because moving them is to stressful for the animal. If that isn't a load of crap!!! Its just far easier to kill an animal then to make some phone calls to find a rescue to take them. Its called laziness & greed!!!!! I will put my money into local rescues & encourage everyone to do the same!!

Kim McDonell said...

I wouldn't give the ASPCA a dime of my money!!!! They're behind the Paulin "quick Kill" bill & they also have done everything in their power to prove that no-kill doesn't work when it does. They're ok with killing millions of companion animals every year. What kind of a humane organization is that?!!! They also believe that shelters shouldn't have to deal with local rescues to take dogs or cats that are going to be killed because moving them is to stressful for the animal. If that isn't a load of crap!!! Its just far easier to kill an animal then to make some phone calls to find a rescue to take them. Its called laziness & greed!!!!! I will put my money into local rescues & encourage everyone to do the same!!