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?