Pit bull rescue was hauling 48 dogs to Canada
SHELLEY, Idaho; PHOENIX, Arizona––Dog rescue-and-rehomers elsewhere around the U.S. on May 20, 2020 celebrated “National Rescue Dog Day.”
Many from Phoenix, Arizona, and southern Idaho, however, searched the hills and woods around U.S. Interstate 15 milepost 105, just south of Shelley, Idaho, for nine dogs––mostly pit bulls––who reportedly remained unaccounted for after a May 15, 2020 truck crash that killed driver Christopher Kracht, 40, Who Saved Who Rescue founder Ann Watson, 38, and about half of the 48 dogs they were hauling from Phoenix to EJ Rescue of Airdrie, Alberta, Canada.
Some of the dogs were being delivered from other Phoenix-area rescue groups.
22 dogs survived
Other rescuers helped to look after at least 22 dogs who were found alive at or near the scene of the accident.
Earlier, several rescuers set up a shrine to Kracht, Watson, and the dead dogs in the I-15 median, draped with the collars and names of the deceased.
Begun in 2009 by Tails That Teach, Inc., of Anaheim, California, “National Rescue Dog Day” has more recently been promoted by the American SPCA, of New York City––which has had its own rescue disasters. (See Why is the ASPCA stonewalling about the deaths of 20 dogs in transport? and How the ASPCA cooked 26 dogs in a truck: source comes forward.)
The accident at Shelley, Idaho came a year and four days after the May 11, 2019 incident in which 26 dogs reportedly died aboard an ASPCA vehicle en route from Mississippi to Wisconsin, apparently after two inexperienced drivers left the heater going on what was already an 86-degree day Fahrenheit.
Rescue founder was not wearing seat belt
Idaho State Police reported that Kracht, driving, and Watson, in the passenger seat, were headed north on I-15 when the rented Enterprise box truck “left the road on the left shoulder, went into the median, and struck an embankment.”
Narrated Justin Lum of Fox 10 News in Phoenix, “Watson was pronounced dead at the scene of the crash. Police state she was not wearing a seat belt. Kracht, who was wearing a seat belt, was airlifted to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls, where he died from his injuries.”
The vehicle, widely misdescribed as a Ford Econoline van, was in fact much larger and heavier: a 16-foot Izuzu cab-over-engine diesel van, rated to haul up to three and a half tons of cargo. The 48 dogs and their crates would have weighed about one-and-a-quarter tons.
13 hours into 24-hour journey
Federal law allows commercial truckers to drive a maximum of 10 hours after 8 consecutive hours off duty, meaning outside of the cab of a truck. Commercial truckers also may not drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty, following 10 consecutive hours off duty, again meaning outside the cab of a truck. Off-duty time does not extend the 14-hour period.
Kracht and Watson were about 13 hours into the 24-hour journey to Aidrie, both in the cab the whole time, having apparently left Phoenix in late afternoon in order to make most of the trip at night.
The cab was air-conditioned, but not the cargo box, which––unless specially modified––would not have been ventilated in any manner from the outside. Idaho State Police said the cargo box had not been modified with louvres or a separate air conditioning unit.
The accident occurred in an 80-mile-per-hour speed zone, but most rental vans have speed governors set to 68 miles-per-hour. Unknown is whether the Izuzu van had a speed governor, and if so, what speed it was set for.
Adequate stopping distance, if…
Careening off the road at a point between two stretches of guardrail, more likely from the left lane than the right in order to take the course that it did, the truck continued on for about 500 feet before plunging cab first into an approximately 20-foot-deep dry concrete drainage channel.
Even at 80 miles per hour, the truck would have had adequate stopping distance, had either Kracht or Watson promptly responded to leaving the road by braking, downshifting, and/or switching off the ignition. Aerial views of the scene, however, indicate that the truck had probably barely slowed before the final, fatal dive into the ditch.
“At approximately 6:15 a.m., Bingham County Dispatch received a call advising them of a one-vehicle crash that was observed from Interstate 15 at milepost 105,” reported John Miller of the Bingham County News & Chronicle.
“Upon arriving at the scene, first responders realized that, in addition to fatal injuries suffered by the driver and passenger, there were multiple domestic dogs involved and they requested assistance from Bingham County Sheriff’s Office Animal Control. Also contacted at that time were Blackfoot Police Chief, Scott Gay, and the Blackfoot animal control officer,” wrote Miller.
“Unidentifiable bodies & parts”
“Based on information from the scene, Gay determined that additional transport vehicles would be required for the deceased and injured animals and contacted Blackfoot Animal Shelter and Rescue executive director Amanda Cevering, who later arrived at the scene with two other Blackfoot Animal Shelter employees.”
Search-and-rescue efforts to recover the dogs, both living and dead, began immediately. Personnel from all three organizations on the scene “combed a five-mile stretch of I-15 in an attempt to locate additional dogs,” said Miller. “Deceased animals were then brought to the Idaho Falls Police Animal Shelter for cremation, according to a Blackfoot Animal Shelter media release.
Said Cevering via Facebook that evening, “We have traps set that we will be monitoring through the night.”
At the time, Cevering believed, only two dogs remained at large, but she noted that “There are a lot of unidentifiable bodies and parts.”
“Hit by passing traffic multiple times”
Elaborated Cevering later, “Many animals were hit by passing traffic multiple times and destroyed beyond recognition. We have picked up all the pieces of remains we could locate. After gathering all the remains, we have scanned them for microchips and have made every effort to identify each animal involved, yet there are some who cannot be accounted for.
“This transport was to meet the receiving rescue half way,” Cevering said, after consulting with Phoenix and Aidrie dog rescuers and rehomers who were familiar with the Who Saved Who Rescue modus operandi.
“At the half way mark they planned to get the animals out and walked, etc.” Cevering explained. “This is typical for a large rescue. It is just like when animals fly on long flights, only they are not taken out of crates when they change flights.”
Kracht and Watson were familiar with the route from Phoenix to Airdrie, but how familiar was unclear. They had made the journey four times in the preceding 12 months, according to EJ Rescue, while Arizona Republic reporter Ryan Vlahovich wrote, based on information from family members, that “up to twice a month they would make the drive from Phoenix to Calgary,” about an hour south of Airdrie.
Kracht & Watson left six children
“They are survived by their two daughters, Christiann and Annabella; Watson’s son Nate Watson; and Kracht’s children Kiya, LeAnne and Christopher,” Vlahovich recounted.
Said Nate Watson, to Vlahovich, “My mom specialized in pulling dogs from being euthanized. She wanted to give them a second choice in life. With her connections in Canada, she tried to find them homes.”
Continued Vlahovich, “Ann founded Who Saved Who Rescue in 2018, her son said, but had been rescuing dogs her whole life. Her and Christopher were together for ten years. They worked well together and believed in what they did, said LeAnne Kracht, Christopher Kracht’s daughter.”
Other family members told David Caltabiano of 3TV/CBS 5 in Phoenix that “Watson has been involved in animal rescue for more than 15 years, starting Who Saved Who Rescue in 2016.”
Incorporated in 2018
IRS records confirm that, as Ann Watson herself wrote on the Who Saved Who Rescue web site, the rescue formally incorporated in March 2018, “to save the e-listed [slated for euthanasia] bully breeds at Maricopa County Animal Care & Control.
But Who Saved Who Rescue apparently had not filed IRS Form 990 for either 2018 or 2019. Even with a six-month extension, IRS Form 990 for 2018 would now be overdue. IRS Form 990 for 2019 would become overdue in September 2020.
“Since the beginning,” Watson said on the web page, “we have rescued close to 400 dogs, from our local animal shelter, abandoned dogs and owner surrender. We either find loving families in AZ or take them to find their forever homes” via transport.
“Who Saved Who Rescue is very proud of how far we have come in the rescue community,” Watson continued, “by becoming New Hope partners with Maricopa County shelters and also becoming a partner with PACC911 [Phoenix Animal Care & Control 911].”
Friction with other rescuers
Though warmly remembered in many posthumous social media postings by other Phoenix-area “bully breed” dog rescuers, Watson’s own most recent postings before her death indicate that she experienced considerable friction with some of them.
Posted Watson to Facebook on May 3, 2020, for example, “I am beyond angry right now!! This rescue community just keeps amazing me every day. We see all these dogs posted daily that they are adopted to loving families but after meeting with my trainer today I’ve learned that is not the case with some of these e-listed dogs. Posts are all over the place for all of these dogs I’m about to share with you all. The people making these posts should be really ashamed of yourselves. How dare you raise and collect funds for dogs taken by this trainer and not give the money to her. This is such bull shit! This trainer that I am not naming because she doesn’t want new clients here, as she’s Canadian and only here a few months a year and is trying to go back home. She comes here to escape the winter in Canada and so gratefully decided to help us and the e-listed dogs at county. We had a long talk today about how stressful helping the shelter has become because of all the dogs that have been pushed on her by volunteers. She wanted to help and took on some great dogs that have found amazing homes in Canada.
“Only deals in cash”
“The problem now,” Watson said, “is that pledges were pledged for these dogs and collected but never given to her. She has had to pay for medical on a couple of the dogs, as one dog had three eye surgeries and another had masses that needed to come off. She goes through 40 pounds of dog food a day to feed them all, so we have done food collections from our supporters to help her feed the dogs, plus she has four of mine, so when I take them food I give extra from our pile.”
Continued Watson, “She does not use Paypal and only deals in cash. I am demanding that any money that was collected for the dogs in her care be paid to her! If you pledged and honored your pledges on these dogs you need to ask where your money went because it did NOT go to the savior of all these dogs. Mad about this post? Well screw you for taking advantage of someone that is actually helping!!!!! Pay her that money!!!”
Watson on that occasion threatened to “keep posting their pictures until she gets her money.”
Eight days later, on May 11, 2020, Watson posted “I am so done! Do not text or call or message me about what dogs I am pulling or when. I don’t pull dogs because of high pledges so I could care less if you want to get your photo op fulfilled. I don’t care if you have an amazing foster or adopter! I’ve heard that before and then when that doesn’t work out and shit hits the fan, where the hell are all of you that bugged me to help that dog? Just back the hell off.”
Finished Watson’s May 11, 2020 message, “You push people to their breaking point and I’ve gotten to mine.”
Kracht, by comparison, kept a low profile. Originally from Topeka, Kansas, Kracht graduated from Sunnyslope High School in Phoenix in 1997. He later lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma. A marriage ended in divorce in 2010. In recent years, after briefly pursuing a variety of other occupations, Kracht had worked mainly in landscaping.
Would the dogs have been admitted to Canada?
“It appears that all dogs had the required paperwork necessary for interstate transport and entry into Canada,” John Miller of the Bingham County News & Chronicle reported, based on information supplied by an EJ Rescue media statement.
But ANIMALS 24-7 discovered reason to question whether the 48 dogs, mostly pit bulls, would have been admitted to Canada even if they had reached the Sweet Grass/Coutts crossing at the Alberta border.
The U.S./Canada border has been closed to non-essential traffic, to limit the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, since March 21, 2020.
Alberta maybe; feds say no
The Alberta provincial definition of essential services includes “Businesses that provide for the health and welfare of animals, including veterinarians, farms, boarding kennels, stables, animal shelters, zoos, aquariums, research facilities and other service providers.”
Transporting dogs into Alberta, however, would not appear to fit the definition of operating an animal shelter for the purpose of providing for the health and welfare of animals already in the province.
The Canadian federal definition of essential services is more restrictive.
“Due to broad travel restrictions and limitations on non-essential travel,” the Canadian Food Inspection Agency told ANIMALS 24-7 in a written statement, “individuals, rescue organizations and adoptive families should postpone importing any animals, as their travel is being considered non-essential at this time.”
“English” John started with Chihuahuas
EJ Rescue Canada, as the destination organization in Airdrie, Alberta, is formally titled, describes itself as “a completely volunteer-run rescue founded in 2010,” which has “partnered with shelters in the USA, Mexico, [and] Northwest Territories” of Canada.
Founder “English” John Murray, 56, is “a former limo driver who once ferried [actress] Helen Mirren to the Oscars,” according to a December 2012 Daily Mail profile by Caroline Graham and Sharon Churcher.
Murray “came to the rescue of abandoned Beverly Hills chihuahuas,” Graham and Churcher wrote, “by driving hundreds of the tiny dogs from California to Canada, where there is huge demand for the breed.”
Murray, Graham and Churcher recounted, “transports up to 35 dogs at a time on a 24-hour, non-stop, 1,500-mile journey from Los Angeles to Calgary, which he undertakes every seven to ten days.
“A light bulb went off in my head a couple of years ago,” Murray told Graham and Churcher. “It is basic supply and demand. We have a supply of chihuahuas here in California and the demand is in Canada. So I decided to do something about it.”
“Vocation, not a job,” but quit job to drive dogs
Murray wangled the donation of a van from Jennifer Lee, widow of comedian Richard Pryor, and initially enjoyed “a sprawling ranch home in Norco, a dusty horse-breeding town an hour east of the bright lights of Sunset Strip and celebrity-filled Beverly Hills,” Graham and Churcher reported. “The house,” they said, “which is going through foreclosure, belonged to another animal-lover.”
Said Murray, “She told me I could stay here until the bank takes it. After that I’ve got another place I can stay.”
Incorporating nonprofit in Corona, California, EJ Rescue raised $245,193 from 2011 through 2015, according to IRS Form 990 filings.
While Murray insisted to Graham and Churcher that “This is a vocation, not a job,” he also told them, they wrote, that he “quit his job with a major Hollywood limo firm three years ago to concentrate on his charity work.”
“I never sleep on the way up to Canada”
Boasted Murray, “I never sleep on the way up to Canada because my aim is to get the dogs there as quickly as possible.”
Energy drinks and coffee, Murray said, “will get me through until Calgary.”
Having not filed IRS Form 990 since 2016, EJ Rescue would appear to be in jeopardy of losing U.S. nonprofit status.
EJ Rescue Canada is not a nonprofit organization, according to Canadian Revenue Service records. Murray now appears to be focused on receiving and rehoming dogs relayed to EJ Rescue by other U.S. organizations, like Who Saved Who Rescue––and over the past several years has received negative reviews from adopters via Yelp, Change.org petitions, and the Better Business Bureau.
Complaints include failure to provide veterinary documentation, failure to issue receipts for payments and donations, “adopting out sick dogs and withholding information from the adopter,” according to several individuals, and in one instance, adopting out as a “husky” a wolf hybrid of known problematic history, who was eventually returned to the breeder.
The Fifth Estate exposé
The issue which logically should be of most concern involving both Who Saved Who Rescue and EJ Rescue Canada, however, is whether anyone has any legitimate reason to take pit bulls of possible undisclosed attack history off the euthanasia list in one legal jurisdiction and transport them into other jurisdictions for adoption, where their history can be lost and no one can be held accountable.
The Fifth Estate, a long-running investigative news magazine series produced by Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, on September 22, 2017 exposed what host Mark Kelley summarized as “a multi-million-dollar lobbying effort to rebrand the pit bull as a family-friendly dog so that more will be adopted out,” in an episode entitled Pit Bulls Unleashed: Should They Be Banned?
“Dumping ground for pit bulls”
Kelley pointed out that by failing to effectively regulate the growing traffic in “rescue” pit bulls from the U.S., Canada has in effect become a dumping ground for pit bulls who have already flunked out of homes in the U.S. for undisclosed reasons.
As pit bulls are prohibited in Ontario and much of Manitoba, while Saskatchewan has relatively few population centers where dogs of any sort might easily be rehomed, most of the pit bull traffic from the U.S. is coming into Alberta and British Columbia, the two provinces which at least since 2000 have led Canada in fatal and disfiguring dog attacks.
At least seven pit bulls of undisclosed origin mauled victims in Calgary alone during the first six months of 2019.
Repeat of 2014 crash near Olds, Alberta
The truck crash that killed Kracht and Watson was in many ways a repeat of a September 13, 2014 rollover crash near Olds, Alberta, 40 miles north of Airdrie, that killed at least three dogs in a load of 30.
The seven a.m. accident in 2014 came toward the end of a multi-day drive from the Los Angeles area to an adoption event in Edmonton, Alberta.
Two volunteer drivers for a Saskatchewan-based dog rescue organization reportedly escaped with minor injuries after flipping their SUV and a horse trailer full of crated dogs on Alberta Highway 2, just south of Highway 27.
“Driver fatigue was a factor”
Royal Canadian Mounted Police corporal Mike Dunsmore said “driver fatigue was a factor, while alcohol, speed, weather and road condition had all been ruled out,” reported Damien Wood of the Calgary Sun.
“Two dogs were killed in the impact and 20 were hurt. A third dog died soon after,” Wood wrote.
Alberta Animal Rescue Crew Society volunteers took in the surviving dogs and searched for eight dogs who escaped from their damaged crates after the crash. Two dogs remained at large two days later, including a pit bull who was believed to have been hit by a car.
Most of the dogs involved in the accident appeared to be pit bulls or pit mixes, but at least one Chihuahua was reportedly recovered almost a mile from the scene.
AKC pushes bill to govern imports; no attention to exports
Across the continent, just ahead of National Dog Rescue Day, the American Kennel Club on May 19, 2020 heralded the introduction of a bill entitled “The Healthy Dog Importation Act of 2020” into the U.S. House of Representatives by Ralph Abraham, a Republican from Louisiana; Kurt Schrader, a Democrat from Oregon; and Ted Yoho, a Republican from Florida.
The AKC argued that the bill, if eventually passed, “will go a long way to addressing concerns about recent documented incidents of unhealthy dogs being imported into the U.S.”
No U.S. organization, however, appears to have said or done anything about unsafe dogs being exported from the U.S., often under unsafe conditions.