Pit bull advocates defame the Houston SPCA & Beaumont animal rescue center
BEAUMONT, Texas––The foulest murky depths in Beaumont, Texas a week after Hurricane Harvey were not those left by the storm itself, but rather by an ad hoc coalition of pit bull advocates whetting old grudges against the Houston SPCA, possible dog thieves trying to “rescue” and relocate the dogs held at the Ford Park temporary animal shelter pending reclaim by their owners, fundraising opportunists hoping to grab a piece of the action, spontaneous unsolicited volunteers frustrated to discover that their randomly offered help was neither wanted nor needed, and––amplifying the grievances of the mob––the Best Friends Animal Society.
“Go for the gold”
“The basic founding principles of Best Friends Animal Society,” claimed cofounder and president Gregory Castle in an August 7, 2017 statement, “are to follow the golden rule (Treat others as you would want to be treated) and relate to animals, people and the world around us with kindness.”
But in assailing the Houston SPCA in a Change.org petition posted on September 3, 2017 that had attracted nearly 90,000 electronic signatures in 48 hours, the Utah-based Best Friends Animal Society behaved in a reactive and belligerent mode more like that of Salt Lake City police detective Jeff Payne.
Payne, as the world learned a few days earlier, was infamously caught by security video on July 26, 2017 in the act of assaulting and arresting University Hospital nurse Alex Wubbels, a two-time Olympic alpine skier, after Wubbels followed the law and refused to allow Payne to draw a blood sample from an unconscious patient without a warrant.
Houston SPCA, not Best Friends, won lead role in Beaumont
The Houston SPCA, in operating the Ford Park temporary animal shelter, has followed protocols, including working with City of Beaumont Animal Services, animal transport teams from the Humane Society of the U.S., and volunteer personnel from many other organizations, both local and national.
“Yesterday the Best Friends Animal Society team on the ground in Texas arrived in Beaumont,” the Change.org petition opened, tacitly acknowledging without admitting that the Best Friends personnel were latecomers to Beaumont, arriving five days after organized animal rescue efforts began there.
Claimed the petition, “The reports from our team on the ground late yesterday were that the animals were in dire need of basic medical care, and the heat was taking its toll. The Houston SPCA obtained the memorandum of understanding (MOU) from local officials to serve as the small animal lead at the Ford Center. That’s when the rumors began to swirl.
Pit bull policy
“They have questionable policies regarding pit bull type dogs,” Best Friends charged, a claim circulated by pit bull advocates at least since 2008, when the Houston SPCA rescued a dozen pit bulls from Galveston after Hurricane Ike and––since the Houston SPCA does not handle pit bulls––transferred them to other organizations for holding and rehoming.
Ironically, the Houston SPCA was also ripped at the time by some local media for not euthanizing the pit bulls, who––like any animals found at large––legally still belonged to their owners until after the expiration of a holding period.
The California pit bull advocacy organization BADRAP and American Pit Bull Examiner blogger Cindy Marabito have campaigned against Houston SPCA chief executive Patty Mercer by name since 2010 and 2011, respectively, even as Mercer has remained among the best-respected and longest tenured humane society directors in the world.
Why didn’t Best Friends help elsewhere?
“Knowing the Houston SPCA is already stretched thin from their necessary work in Houston, Best Friends offered to relieve them of the responsibility in Beaumont and take over the MOU to provide care and reunion efforts for the animals rescued in Beaumont,” the petition continued. “This offer was denied. We then offered assistance and general help for the animals of Beaumont to the Houston SPCA, but this offer for help was also declined.”
Unexplained was why, when Hurricane Harvey devastated 54 counties in Texas and another dozen in Louisiana, the Best Friends Animal Society chose to go to Beaumont in the first place, where the Houston SPCA previously led animal relief efforts during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Ike in 2008, and enjoys longstanding positive relations with the community.
Grandstanding on, the Best Friends Animal Society acknowledged that Houston SPCA president Patti Mercer “did verbally commit to at least a 30 day hold for the animals of Beaumont to be reunited with their owners,” as the Houston SPCA provided to the animals rescued after Katrina and Ike, but complained that Mercer did not immediately give them the statement in writing, and went on to make further demands that are all standard protocol for any animal rescue organization with Federal Emergency Management Agency accreditation to work in disaster areas.
Widely shared and reshared via social media, the Best Friends petition was time and again cited as “proof” of allegations posted by others, even though the petition included no factual evidence of anything.
Indeed, the only eyewitness claims made against the Houston SPCA and other Ford Park rescue center personnel came from a handful of spontaneous unsolicited volunteers, or “SUV people” as they are called for short in disaster areas. The gist of their claims was simply that untrained personnel who have not arrived as part of pre-coordinated teams tend to be useless at best in chaotic crisis situations, and were therefore turned away.
Responded City of Beaumount Animal Services spokesperson Haley Morrow, “We have been notified that there are many rumors circulating about animals being euthanized. We want to assure the public that this is NOT happening. The City of Beaumont Animal Services is partnering with the Humane Society of the United States to rescue animals and get them to our shelter. Currently we have rescued 95 animals as a result of Harvey rains and flooding,” Morrow said. “Of those animals, five have been reunited with their owners. Prior to the storm, we transported 67 animals to partner shelters to make room for any animals that may be rescued as a result of the storm.”
Posted the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department to Facebook, “The accusation about 30 pit bulls being shot and killed is a lie. The accusation that 7 dead horses are stacked up behind the bathroom is a lie. The accusation about the SPCA taking over the shelter and locking out volunteers is a lie.”
Sheriff’s Department Captain Crystal Holmes acknowledged that “Some horses who had stood in chest deep water for days and were in severe pain due to rotting flesh were determined to be too far gone to save and were euthanized so they did not suffer further. Other animals who were suffering but could be helped were given IVs for hydration.
Added Holmes, “There was a group of five people, men and women, who were going around trying to take pictures and video so that they could distort them and post these lies. To what end, we don’t know. Three of them were identified around noon” on September 3, “and left the arena prior to an encounter. They chose to cause chaos instead of offer to assist these selfless volunteers as they worked to care for these animals.”
“Vicious and false”
“I think it’s important that the message that we have here – the rumors are vicious and false,” Houston SPCA communications director Julie Kuenstle told the Beaumont Enterprise. “That we are euthanizing the very animals we’re trying to rescue is completely false.”
Clarified the Beaumont Enterprise, “While the Houston SPCA does not accept pits by policy, Kuenstle said they work with other shelters, veterinarians and rescue groups that do, so that they can be adopted.”
Added Kuenstle in a media release, “Our teams on are on the ground working tirelessly to rescue, care for and reunite pets with owners displaced by this catastrophe. We are on the ground and in boats, searching and rescuing for all animals who are in need, caring for them with our team of vets and working towards reuniting them.
“Veterinarians throughout Texas will be working with us to foster the thousands of storm victims we anticipate rescuing and bringing to the Houston SPCA,” Kuenstle added. “Today, we announced a partnership with FindingRover.com and Petco Foundation that will help connect Harvey storm victims with their pets through facial recognition technology.
“The mission of the Houston SPCA remains unchanged since 1924: to promote commitment to and respect for all animals and free them from suffering, abuse and exploitation. The Houston SPCA is the first and largest animal protection organization in the Gulf Coast region,” Kuenstle reminded, “where we proudly place 100% of our healthy spayed and neutered animals into loving homes, adoption partners or reputable sanctuaries.”
Horse Plus Humane Society
Added Horse Plus Humane Society president Tawnee Preisner, “Liars are trying to portray that the Houston SPCA, ASPCA, and PETA have swooped in and are now killing animals, stealing supplies from veterinarians and rescue workers, and murdering animals en masse. This is one of the largest disaster rescue efforts in a long time, and there are going to be animals who require humane euthanasia. They are suffering and it is often the kindest thing to do, but always very sad. Someone sneaked at night and took photos of horses who were allegedly euthanized, then posted them on the internet, with the caption ‘This is what the ASPCA is doing to the horses.’ There is no way to verify that these photos are from the Ford Arena, that the animals were euthanized, or even what year the photos were taken.
“A group of veterinarians inside the Ford Arena, who were allegedly ‘kicked out by armed security and forced to leave their supplies behind’ decided to do a live video to try and disprove the trolls,” Preisner added. “ These vets are working tirelessly, sleeping on cots right in the middle of it all, treating as many horses as humanly possible.”
Said Nick Moore, DVM of Moore Equine Dental Services, “Our single biggest challenge at this time is the FALSE information being spread by internet trolls. These lies are actually affecting animal rescue efforts in a massively destructive way!”
Resumed Preisner, “There is a chain of command that must be implemented and followed in any large scale disaster. When a group that has the training and expertise to handle such a momentous task comes in, there will be people who have been working extremely hard who don’t understand how it works. One individual, who claimed to be a member of the media,” Preisner observed, “went and confronted the Houston SPCA. This was late at night, and two workers had to be taken away from helping animals to deal with these irrational people who keep asking the same future hypothetical questions. An organization has to put in place a system for dealing with the situation.”
Before the Houston SPCA took charge, the previous site director told Preisner, “We had people taking a dog for a walk, and while they were gone, someone else would put a dog in its crate.”
“That is the reason the Houston SPCA, or another organization with the training and resources, absolutely has to be in charge of the situation,” Preisner finished.
For those who did not believe the statements from official spokespersons and news media, volunteers Kayla Sanchez and Emily Fawcett made decidedly more informal, impromptu video and Facebook statements.
“Emily and I have not seen any dogs euthanized, especially the pit bulls you all are hearing about,” Sanchez and Fawcett said from the Ford Park arena floor.
“If you’ve seen videos of the many crates being empty last night after we left,” Sanchez and Fawcett explained, “that is due to the SPCA transporting them out of there to Houston so they can get better care and out of the heat. Plus it is also to make room for the 70 more dogs arriving today. The same pit bulls that I saw when I arrived are still there or were transported to the SPCA’s different locations.
“Low on sleep & food”
“The SPCA did take over the Ford pavilion and changed some rules,” Sanchez and Fawcett explained. “For example we all have to be out by 8 p.m.,” a rule introduced both to ensure site security and to make sure that animals and personnel get adequate rest. “However, they did ask that we come back at 8 a.m. to start helping some more.
“Everyone is low on sleep and food, so tensions are high and everyone has been a little cranky at times,” Sanchez and Fawcett continued. “This is completely normal. Exhaustion can easily make people not act the way they normally do. Human nature. We are doing the best we can.
“Do I like everything that the SPCA is doing?” Sanchez asked rhetorically. “No. They kicked me out at 8 p.m. from grooming any more dogs. They rudely stopped me from using Facebook Live last night just when I was showing you all the beautiful animals who were saved. No, I wasn’t happy and I am still a little mad about it, but it is what it is.
“As long as the animals are being cared for properly, they aren’t being euthanized, and they are trying to reunite before adopting them out, I will get over it. Those are small issues compared to the depressing destruction of Beaumont, its people and its animals, Sanchez finished.
But how bad were the Ford Park conditions?
Explained Stephen Adams of KBMT Channel 12 television news, “All the domestic animals are being kept in metal crates with fans on them and are being taken for walks, fed and watered on a regular schedule,” a bit better than the standard of care for the workers in a city where there is still no potable tap water.
By late afternoon on September 3, 2017, the Best Friends Animal Society had added an update to the Change.org petition.
“We want to be clear that our call to action regarding the Houston SPCA has nothing to do with the totally unsubstantiated rumors that have been floating around the internet that the Houston SPCA is killing animals in Beaumont,” Best Friends said.
“The wild he-said-she-said gossip began on the evening of [September 2] as the Houston SPCA took over the management of the temporary animal shelter at the Ford Center,” the update continued. “Best Friends has not, and is not accusing the Houston SCPA of killing animals during the storm or the chaos immediately following.”
But was the Best Friends Animal Society backing off to “Treat others as you would want to be treated,” or because someone had reminded them of the string of Texas court decisions affirming a $6.1 million defamation judgement won in 2012 by the Bat World Sanctuary, of Weatherford, Texas, against an individual who allegedly amplified disparaging false claims against the sanctuary?
(See also Brian Davies puts $49,562 toward Harvey animal rescue, challenges others to match it, Which Hurricane Harvey animal relief charity took the Labor Day weekend off? and Hurricane Harvey: how horses, cattle, lab & zoo animals fared
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