Donald Trump hotel gets 45% cut of expected take from Big Dog Ranch Rescue fundraiser for dogs to be brought from China
PALM BEACH, Florida––Does anyone really believe former U.S. president Donald Trump just happened to show up at a fundraiser for Big Dog Ranch Rescue, organized by his daughter-in-law Lara Trump, held in his own Mar-a-Lago hotel, at which China-bashing was the theme of the day?
The fundraiser, called “Wine, Women, & Shoes,” spent an estimated $225,000 to try to raise $500,000.
For the moment, no one not connected with Big Dog Ranch Rescue really knows.
Three days afterward, after the event arrangements attracted a storm of criticism, Big Dog Ranch Rescue founder Lauren Simmons told Brian Flood of Fox News that “Our total event cost paid to Mar-a-Lago was under $100,000,” to raise $1.4 million,” but did not explain why she declared event costs of $225,000 beforehand.
What is clear is that “Wine, Women, & Shoes” generated international publicity for Donald Trump, the only U.S. president who never kept a dog, as an ostensible dog-lover.
Loud quacks in Florida
At that, Donald Trump has a way to go to catch up in popularity with Donald Duck, whose pals for nearly 90 years have verifiably included the dogs Pluto and Goofy (first drawn in 1934, 1930, and 1932, respectively.)
Simmons, an outspoken Donald Trump advocate, “jarred by images of the China dog meat market trade, is trying to launch a rescue mission to remove over 500 dogs from the country by cargo plane,” reported T.A. Walker for The Guardian.
Nothing seems to have been said about the authenticity of those images, or how exactly Simmons hopes to obtain 500 dogs from the dog meat trade, other than perhaps by purchasing them from dog meat dealers, thereby giving them incentive to breed or buy more dogs from their suppliers.
Reminiscent of Marc Ching
Simmons did reportedly import 37 dogs from China in March 2019, claiming “a dog breeder in China had shut down his business and was about to sell them on the dog meat trade market,” according to WPLG-TV managing editor Peter Burke.
But details of that transaction are sparse.
The Big Dog Ranch Rescue rhetoric, both in March 2019 and in March 2021, echoed the fundraising approach of Marc Ching, the ex-convict and Donald Trump backer who is now facing misdemeanor charges in Los Angeles of practicing veterinary medicine without a license, false advertising, and packing horsemeat or other meat as pet food without a license.
Los Angeles Times investigative reporters Alene Tchekmedyian, Paul Pringle, and a third reporter, David Pierson, on May 24, 2020 detailed what they summarized as “evidence contradicting claims about the authenticity of some of the gruesome videos he [Ching] shot of animals being tortured and killed in horrifying ways, including by blowtorch, at slaughterhouses in Asia.”
The Ching videos, extensively aired on social media, boosted donations to Ching’s Animal Hope & Wellness Foundation from just $30,130 in 2014 to more than $1.9 million in 2016 and again in 2017.
Even after questions arose about the veracity of Ching’s claims about what his videos actually showed, his Animal Hope & Wellness Foundation raised nearly $1.3 million in 2018, according to IRS Form 990 filings.
Donald Trump “walked on stage to share some thoughts”
Reality is that Chinese dog meat markets today differ little in practices and what may be seen there from the live markets selling goats, pigs, and poultry in New York City and the Little Havana district of Miami.
China today, unlike circa 2000 and earlier, has a large, well-developed, and fast-expanding animal advocacy sector, including home-grown dog rescues, who want and need no U.S. help.
But Donald Trump’s political career has long centered on China-bashing. Donald Trump bashed China with escalating intensity as his hopes of re-election slipped away through his own mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which he called the “China virus.”
And at the Big Dog Ranch Rescue fundraiser, Donald Trump, “wearing a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat, walked on stage to share some thoughts,” Walker recounted.
No evident fact-checking
“So, I didn’t exactly prepare for this,” Trump reportedly said. “But I [was] walking by, and I hear everyone screaming, and I was like, [‘What’s going on?’] and it was like, ‘We’re going to help dogs,’ and that’s OK with me.”
Donald Trump “visited the event and thanked those attending for their support in helping Big Dog Ranch Rescue save 47,000 dogs to date,” confirmed Big Dog Ranch Rescue spokesperson Chase Scott.
The statistical claim about the number of dogs rescued, however, which would make Big Dog Ranch Rescue one of the largest dog rehoming agencies in Florida, does not appear to have been independently fact-checked.
Continued Scott, “The crowd responded with a standing ovation for [Donald] Trump, Lara Trump and Laurie Simmons for the work they did to pass the first national anti-cruelty bill to protect animals.”
A “standing O” for the PACT Act?
That claim was not independently fact-checked, either. The “Twenty-Eight Hour Act,” the actual “first national anti-cruelty bill to protect animals,” was adopted on March 3, 1873, a dozen years before Donald Trump’s grandfather, Friedrich Trump, emigrated to the U.S. from Bavaria.
Scott, and the “Wine, Women, & Shoes” crowd, were instead referring to the 2019 PACT Act, which purportedly “prohibits extreme acts of cruelty when they occur in interstate commerce or on federal property.”
The PACT Act, however, exempts anything done in connection with legal hunting, fishing, or trapping; “customary and normal” agricultural and veterinary practices; slaughtering animals for food; pest control; medical and scientific research; euthanasia; or actions “necessary to protect the life or property of a person.”
Other than some individual acts of sadism, and practices that were already illegal under existing federal law, including the “Twenty-Eight Hour Act,” it is difficult to find any cruelty done to animals that the PACT Act does not exempt.
$1.9 million funneled through Trump facilities
The March 12, 2021 Mar-a-Lago fundraiser for Big Dog Ranch Rescue was held hours after Huffington Post writer S.V. Date revealed that the charity “has spent as much as $1.9 million at former President Donald Trump’s properties over the last seven years.”
Simmons later told Fox News reporter Brian Flood that Big Dog Ranch Rescue had actually paid “under $700,000” to Mar-a-Lago , but did not explain why the figure she reportedly declared to the IRS was nearly three times as high.
“According to a permit filed with the town of Palm Beach, Florida,” Date said, “Big Dog Ranch Rescue estimates it will spend $225,000 at the club where Donald Trump has taken up full-time residence since leaving the White House. All the profit from that spending winds up in his pocket.
“Internal Revenue Service filings show,” Date continued, “that Big Dog Ranch Rescue has spent as much as $1,883,160 on fundraising costs at Mar-a-Lago and Trump’s golf course 18 miles north in Jupiter starting in 2014. Lara Trump, the wife of Eric Trump,” Donald Trump’s second son, “started being listed as a chairwoman for charity events in 2018.”
“Propagating Trump’s lies”
This was about a year before Simmons joined Donald Trump, Humane Society of the U.S president Kitty Block, and Humane Society Legislative Fund president Sara Amundson, among others, for the PACT Act signing ceremony.
“Simmons did not respond to the question of why she was putting money into the pocket of someone who tried to overturn the results of an election he lost and whose incitement led to the deaths of three police officers and injuries to 140 more,” Date wrote.
“Simmons, however, was among those propagating Trump’s lies on social media, posting messages to ‘stop the steal,’” Date continued. “On January 3, 2021, three days before the mob attack [on the U.S. Capitol], Simmons shared a post stating, ‘Either we TAKE power back or we will never be free again. No more asking nicely.’”
Big Dog Rescue “briefly pulled back from using Mar-a-Lago immediately after Donald Trump’s 2017 remarks praising the racist, anti-Semitic protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia,” Date recalled, “but ultimately held its March 2018 fundraiser there anyway.”
Opening in 2008 with a 30-dog housing capacity on five acres in Rustic Lakes, west of the Ibis Country Club in West Palm Beach, Big Dog Ranch Rescue in 2010 was found to be operating in violation of local zoning.
Losing an appeal of an order to close or move, Simmons relocated Big Dog Ranch Rescue to the former premises of the Folke H. Peterson Wildlife Center in Wellington.
The Folke H. Peterson Wildlife Center closed in 2009, after five years of operation on the 28-acre former Bambi Bird & Wildlife Sanctuary, run for nearly 30 years by half-brother-and-sister Bonnie and Wally Findlay.
Wally Findlay, 72, allegedly torched his trailer home and shot himself in 1997; Bonnie Findlay, 79, died three years later.
Recounted Palm Beach Post staff writer Joel Engelhardt in January 2011, “A rescue operation called In Dog We Trust,” founded by Nicole Brown of Boynton Beach, “opened in June at the Folke center but was cited by the county for improperly operating a commercial dog kennel in a residential area.”
Friends in high places
Despite that ruling, fellow Palm Beach Post staff writer Jennifer Sorentrue reported only 16 days later, “A Wellington-area dog rescue facility run by a friend of county commissioner Karen Marcus will be allowed to open on a portion of the Folke Peterson Wildlife Center. The rescue is operated by Lauree Simmons, a friend of Marcus’ and the sister of Byron Russell, owner of Cheney Bros. food distributors and an influential contributor to commission campaigns.
“Commissioners, facing about 30 Big Dog Ranch supporters, found that the rescue would fit in with surrounding homes and development,” unanimously approving a resolution allowing up to 125 dogs and cats to be kept at the facility, with “priority given to animals from Palm Beach County.”
The latter stipulation was not observed, suggested Palm Beach County mayor Shelley Vana at a June 2015 press conference, backed by county animal care and control director Diane Sauve.
“The county wants rescue groups to at least temporarily stop bringing in outside animals until the county shelter can find homes for 90% of the dogs and cats it receives,” reported Andy Reid for the Florida Sun Sentinel.
“So far this year , the county has an 80% ‘save rate’ for dogs, while that drops to just a 39% for cats,” Reid added.
“Follow the money”
“Simmons estimates that [Big Dog Ranch Rescue] has 350 dogs from Palm Beach County,” Reid continued, “but it also has volunteer foster homes across the state that help find dogs in need. The group takes dogs from the county shelter and from other shelters across the state that would otherwise be euthanized, she said.
“About 1,800 dogs and 8,300 cats were euthanized at the Palm Beach County animal shelter last year,” Reid noted.
Big Dog Ranch Rescue revenue meanwhile rose rapidly from $1.75 million in 2011, already an extraordinary amount for a local dog rescue, to $3.85 million in 2016, according to IRS Form 990 filings.
During the first two years of the Donald Trump presidency, the most recent for which Big Dog Ranch Rescue filings of Form 990 are available, annual revenue rose to $4 million and $4.1 million, respectively.
Flair for publicity
Political connections no doubt helped. A flair for publicity did, too––for example, retrieving “rescued” dogs and cats from Texas facilities that were ill-prepared to house them during the mid-2021 surprise blizzard.
“One of the rescues that we help has 300 dogs in a barn and no power,” Simmons told Ryan Hughes of WFLX-TV. “It’s run out of propane, no water, and all their water pipes are burst and they have no way to get any because all the roads are iced over and full of snow.”
How a truck sent from Florida could navigate roads “iced over and full of snow” when local four-wheel-drive vehicles could not was another of the many details that Simmons, Lara Trump, et al tend not to explain––but a return to normal Texas weather did clear the ice and snow within a matter of days.
Local activists rescue Chinese dogs
Of note, meanwhile, is that the largest-ever rescue of dogs from the Chinese slaughter trade was accomplished on June 19, 2017 in Guangzhau, the longtime hub of dog-eating in China, by local Chinese activists who––with no foreign help––intercepted a truck they caught hauling the dogs on a public road.
This rescue occurred just two days before the globally notorious Lychee & Dog-Eating Festival in Yulin, China, proceeded as scheduled, but far better represented attitudes toward animals in contemporary China than the dog-eating festival, argued University of Houston associate professor of East Asian politics Peter J. Li.
Li, a lifelong longtime animal advocate who emigrated from China to the United States in 1994, doubles as a China policy specialist for Humane Society International, the global arm of the Humane Society of the U.S.
“The dog meat industry has no future”
The Guangzhou dog rescue showed, Li said, that “China has an expanding animal protection community with a strong presence of young men who are especially action-oriented. There is a consensus that the dog meat traders cannot be rewarded: dogs must be confiscated, and no money should be paid to the traders who have only one option: hand dogs over.
“The leaders of the rescue are seasoned and experienced activists,” Li assessed, who “use smart strategy to defeat the traders and forces of evil, and use reason rather than emotion to win support from those in the middle. Dramatizing cruelty or suffering does not always help,” Li observed. “They [the Guangzhou rescuers] see government as an ally, not an enemy. Winning government support is also a way to shape policy change in the long run.”
Similar mass rescues of cats en route to slaughter began in Shenzen, just south of Guangzhou, on June 17, 2006. Mass rescues of dogs began in April 2011, and “have never stopped,” Li said.
“With these young people, the dog meat industry has no future,” Li concluded. “The day of its demise is fast approaching,” with no likelihood that fundraising events featuring China-bashing disgraced former presidents will accomplish anything to make it happen sooner.