Rescue addiction & enabling made Teri Finneren and the animals in her care the losers in a quasi-pyramid scheme
MESA, Arizona––The January 15, 2019 discovery of multiple skeletal remains of small dogs in the feces-strewn home of of Tiggy Town Senior Dog Rescue operator Theresa Deanne (Teri) Finneren caused dog and cat rescuers, veterinary clinics, and animal shelters throughout Maricopa County, Arizona and as far away as Los Angeles to frantically query one another as to whether anyone knew what became of dozens of special-needs animals that they entrusted to Finneren’s care in recent years.
Finneren received animals from––among many other organizations––the Arizona Humane Society, the Casa Grande Animal Care & Adoption Center, and through the Old Poodle Consulting & Associates Shelter Network Alliance.
Everyone & their dogs
Finneren also received animals from individuals including rich men, poor men, beggars and alleged thieves, a doctor, a lawyer, and perhaps an Indian chief, through a charity specializing in “Rez dogs.”
“DANIKA IS MISSING!!” bannered Saving Orphan Souls Rescue founder Ro Perez on Facebook.
“On February 19, 2018,” Perez explained, “Teri Finneran from Tiggy Town adopted Danika from Saving Orphan Souls Rescue. Danika is disabled, as her back legs do not work. She came to Palm Glen Animal Hospital from the MASH Unit, and they entrusted us to find her permanent placement. We thought we did with Teri.
“At that point in time,” Perez claimed, “her home was spotless, animals well cared for etc. After reviewing the intake notes from the raid, we DO NOT see Danika on the inventory list, alive or dead. Where is she?”
“We all heard plea for help”
Another Saving Orphan Souls Rescue dog, Kojak, was also missing and unaccounted for,” Perez acknowledged, admitting “We all heard [Finneren’s] plea for help months ago. I for one should have taken a step back,” Perez said, “reached out on a consistent basis, and listened to her cries for help to see what we could have done.”
A variety of online resources indicate that Theresa Deanne Finneren, 62, was formerly known as Theresa D. Baker and Theresa D. Dobbie, before marrying Michael Patrick Finneren.
A notice declaring Finneren’s house at 1836 North Staple Drive, Unit 107, Mesa, Arizona 85203 to be unfit for human habitation was issued to Michael Finneren, who may have bought the house in 1992, the only time that real estate records show it changed hands.
As of 2013, the same address doubled as home office of Urban Franks, a business that advertised itself as “mobile purveyors of gourmet hot dogs,” listing both Michael and Teri Finneren as “executive chefs.”
At peak, Urban Franks probably moved more “dogs” each day at noon than Tiggy Town Senior Dog Rescue rehomed in all the years it existed. But Urban Franks does not appear to have been registered with the Arizona Corporation Commission Corporations Division until July 1, 2015.
A LinkedIn profile mentions that Teri Finneren worked as an operator and in corporate sales for the Sprint telephone network from October 1989 to October 1999; in customer service for Southwest Airlines from March 1999 to 2001; and as a muralist and sign painter from January 1999 to the present.
Joining Twitter in April 2009 as “petmomofmany,” Theresa Deanne (Teri) Finneren on July 12, 2017 posted “I love dogs. I’m 60 and have 30.”
That by itself should have been a warning.
Tiggy Town Senior Dog Rescue, which also used several variants of that name, was active on social media by May 2016.
But Tiggy Town Senior Dog Rescue, which also took in cats and apparently birds, did not obtain IRS 501(c)3 nonprofit status.
Who was Tiggy?
“Although we primarily help animals in our area,” Finneren posted to the Tiggy Town Senior Dog Rescue web site, “we have rescued animals from other states and have successfully placed our pups in their furever homes as far as Canada. We specialize in seniors and special needs dogs that are afflicted with varying degrees of medical and physical disabilities.
“Tiggy Town got its name from our very first resident rescue, named Tiggy,” Finneren continued. “When his owners no longer wanted him because he was ‘too old,’ they broke his little heart and dumped him off to die in the cold, scary local shelter. Sadly, many dumped senior souls don’t have the happy ending that Tiggy did.”
From the earliest social media postings that ANIMALS 24-7 has been able to access, Theresa Deanne (Teri) Finneren accepted special needs animals as often as on back-to-back days, and was effusively praised by other rescuers, who appear to have seldom if ever questioned why she was taking so many hard-case animals, or her ability to look after them.
One Voice Dog Rescue testimonial
For example, posted Karen Nelson of One Voice Dog Rescue on June 18, 2017, who often transferred dogs to Finneren, “Teri Finneren has a heart the size of Kansas and devotes her every waking moment to these ones deserving every ounce of love we all can give.
“Tiggy Town works closely with Tootsie’s Vision [a New Mexico rescue] and One Voice,” Nelson said, asserting that “Every donation ~ monetary, food, supplies and medical in nature ~ goes directly into the care of each one in her charge.”
Added Nelson on September 14, 2017, “Let me tell you about the very special lady Teri Finneren,” after Finneran took in “two little blind girls that One Voice Rescue only days ago pulled to safety out of the southern Los Angeles animal facility and back to Phoenix.”
“We’re not in Kansas any more, Toto”
Wrote Nelson, “Ms. Teri, with Tiggy Town Sanctuary is considered a sister rescue org with One Voice, and with Tootsie’s Vision and Lifeline Oro Valley Animal Rescue, because Teri always says yes for almost any time she is called to help a dog in great need.
“She deals with helping these babies at their end of life,” Nelson said, “and she faces their death with them.
“I have never seen this lady ask for handouts, never place a GoFundMe out there, have never asked for donations ~ and yet, time and again, she is the first to step up and say, ‘Yes, I will take this baby and help you out,’” Nelson testified, running through a veritable checklist of what should have been stoplights.
This went on, Nelson continued, even when “Teri was facing a sudden emergency with her husband’s fall and hospitalization, [and] with worries for her mother in the hurricane,” apparently Hurricane Irma.
“Be sure you know who you are working with”
On that occasion, after Finneren acknowledged feeling financial stress, Nelson appealed for donations on her behalf.
Posted the Sulphur Springs Valley Animal Shelter, after Finneren accepted a dog suffering from congenital curvature of the spine that kept the dog from walking properly, “These dogs deserve an opportunity to find their happy and I know with Teri, this precious little girl surrendered to the shelter with an undetermined fate will find her happy. Thank you Tiggy Town Rescue!
Finneren received many similar endorsements, including from Citizens for North Phoenix Strays, whose web page opens with a warning to “Be sure you know who you are working with,” noting that “Our worst rescues have been from incompetent rescues.”
But Citizens for North Phoenix Strays included Tiggy Town Senior Dog Rescue on what it alleged was “a handpicked list of referred trustworthy reliable rescue people and organizations to ‘Help you, help the animals.’”
“One less going into the unknown or to a bad situation,” posted rescuer Ro Perez after Finneren accepted a seven-year-old dog from her.
Finneren took in mostly small dogs, especially Chihuahuas and sometimes a Dachshund. Both Chihuahuas and Dachshunds were among the dogs found dead in her house.
On February 23, 2018, however, Smiling Dog Rescue praised Tiggy Town Rescue for accepting an eight-year-old pit bull who was recovering from a fractured hip.
“Yelled at” for asking questions
After Finneren was arrested, Tempe naturopath Lisa Maturo Carrick acknowledged having seen some warning signs.
“Finneren used to get dogs from the county shelter frequently,” Carrick posted to Facebook. “She used to ask other rescues to pull dogs for her, and about a year ago I asked on one of her pleas on social media why she had to have other rescues pull for her, versus pull [the dogs] herself, and got yelled at by other rescue people defending her and calling me awful and mean and critical for questioning her obvious good intentions. I was made into the bad guy for simply asking about her and whether she was someone who should be getting dogs brought to her so much, without any verification of her as a rescue.”
House “covered in dog feces”
Said the Mesa Police Department report, “We discovered the living conditions within the home were extremely unsanitary. The conditions were so egregious that the city had to condemn the residence. The inside was covered in dog feces to the point that we could not walk anywhere inside.
“We found 12 live dogs and five live cats,” the police report continued, mentioning that all 17 live animals had “various health conditions.”
Searching the house, Mesa Police officers “located six deceased dogs in a trash can in the kitchen. We found two animal skulls in one of the bedrooms and skeletal remains of what appeared to be a dog in the living room on the couch. No one was living at the residence. We seized all of the live animals and the remains of the dead ones.
Finneren: dogs “died from fighting”
“Within the last year,” the police report said, “both the Mesa Police Department and Mesa Animal Control had received numerous complaints about the stench emitting from Theresa’s residence. On January 16, 2019, Theresa [told the arresting officer] she was sorry and that things just got out of control.”
The arresting officer “asked her about the two skeletal remains in a bedroom and she told me those two dogs had died a while ago. She said a couple of them had died from fighting, a couple from valley fever, and a couple from old age.”
In a follow-up interview, Finneren told the arresting officer that “She felt depressed and as of July 2018,” about six months after she accepted the pit bull, who was the dog mostly likely to have killed others, “she was just overwhelmed and stopped caring. She said ‘I gave up. I feel awful every day. I feel more guilt that I can tell you. I felt guilty about the dogs.’”
Finneran told the arresting officer during that interview, according to the police report, “that one of the dogs got into a fight with another dog and she found it dead in the house.”
The arresting officer “asked her if she was living at the house or taking better care of the dogs, would that dog be alive today and she told me it would.”
The arresting officer “asked her about the skeletal remains of the dogs and she told me they had died of old age and she had put them in a bag in the trash can, but the other dogs got into the trash can [and] must have eaten them.”
Noted the arresting officer, “If the dogs were fed every day, they would not have eaten the remains of the deceased dogs.”
“I hate myself”
Telling the arresting officer “I hate myself,” Finneran acknowledged that abandoning the dogs was wrong, and that she should have called animal control, the police report finished.
Finneren was charged with 17 counts of animal cruelty, neglect, and intentional cruel mistreatment.
Reported ABC 15, “Neighbors said they’d see Finneren stop by the home every now and then, but no one had been living there for a year and a half.”
Released on her own recognizance, Finneren is due in court for a status conference on February 4, 2019, followed by a preliminary hearing on February 11, 2019.
Finneren case parallels Heidi Lueders case in Connecticut
The Finneren/Tiggy Town case in some respects parallels the charges brought against Bully Breed Rescue president Heidi E. Lueders, 31, for allowing five caged or otherwise confined pit bulls to starve to death in the rented New Canaan, Connecticut home that she herself occupied at the time. Facing five counts of cruelty to animals, plus one count of criminal damage to landlord’s property by a tenant in the first degree, Lueders is due for arraignment in Bridgeport Superior Court on January 29, 2019.
Both the Finneren case and the Lueders case spotlight the extent to which “rescue” has become a pyramid scheme.
At the top of the pyramid are some of the biggest, most affluent humane societies and animal control agencies in the world.
These societies and agencies boost their “live release rates” by parcelling out to ill-funded and under-qualified rescuers many of their hardest-to-place animals, including older animals with special needs, pit bulls and other dangerous dogs, and even some animals who have been owner-surrendered, most often by people who cannot afford the euthanasia fees charged by veterinarians, specifically to be euthanized.
Rescuers maintain status in the middle tier of the pyramid scheme by managing to rehome some hard-case animals, while passing along those who are most difficult to rehome and most costly to care for to the rescuers at the bottom of the pyramid.
Rescuers at the bottom of the pyramid tend to include the most emotionally needy, who are easiest to persuade to accept “just one more” until they are overwhelmed, and animals who might have been euthanized by the big, affluent humane societies and animal control agencies, die instead from attacks by other animals, disease, starvation, and comparable conditions of extreme neglect.