Best Friends Network member Second Paw Rescue catastrophically fails within a year of founding
PHILADELPHIA, Mississippi––If the road to hell for animals is paved with the good intentions of misguided humans, Natalie Nicole Fancher Patten, 33, might be said to have raced past every possible exit at breathtaking speed.
Founding Second Paw Dog Rescue just past her 32nd birthday, Fancher/Patten, known by both surnames, is a year later facing probable felony neglect charges, In Defense of Animals’ Justice for Animals Project director Doll Stanley told ANIMALS 24-7, for allegedly abandoning an indeterminate number of dogs––Stanley guessed 60, from inspecting remains––to die in their cages of starvation and dehydration beneath the fierce Mississippi summer sun.
Newton County sheriff Joedy Pennington confirmed three days later, on July 17, 2023, that “William Patten and Natalie Fancher Patten were arrested and charged with six counts of felony animal cruelty. More charges will be filed.”
Philadelphia, Mississippi, population about 7,200, has existed in infamy since local members of the Ku Klux Klan, including Neshoba County deputy sheriff Cecil Price, in June 1964 lynched civil rights workers James Chaney, of Meridian, Mississippi; Andrew Goodman, 20, from New York City; and Michael Schwerner, 24, also from New York City.
Philadelphia, Mississippi, nearly 60 years later might have earned further enduring infamy, at least among animal advocates and dog-lovers, for having allowed the city dog pound to become “no kill” in 2022 by letting Natalie Nicole Fancher Patten “pull” at least 40 dogs late in the year.
Some of those dogs, most of them pit bulls and pit mixes, may have been among the skeletons in cages that Doll Stanley photographed.
A veteran of 37 years with In Defense of Animals, as one of the first hires by founder Elliot Katz [see In Defense of Animals founder Elliot Katz dies at 86], Stanley has seen more than her fair share of cruelty and neglect cases up close.
Indeed, Stanley investigated and helped bring to a semblance of justice several of the most notorious puppy millers and bunchers of dogs for sale to laboratories ever.
High risk “rescues”
But Stanley was nonetheless seriously rattled by what she saw and photographed for evidentiary purposes at the Second Paw Dog Rescue premises on July 11, 2023, including not only the dead dogs but also many pit bulls, one of them chained to a tree, who were so aggressive that even as a longtime pit bull rescuer, she could not go near them.
Even more upsetting, Stanley told ANIMALS 24-7, was that even as rescuers tried to look after the surviving dogs, amid the bones of others who might have been eaten by the survivors, people were still arriving expecting to be able to drop off dogs, claiming to have Fancher/Patten’s permission.
And naive rescuers were hoping to be able to avoid euthanizing some dogs whom Stanley, as a very early critic of population control killing, assessed as too dangerous, too debilitated, and too infectious to be kept safely among other dogs.
“I’m afraid euthanasia will be necessary in some of these cases,” Stanley said.
Incorporated in Texas
Second Paw Dog Rescue was originally incorporated in Knox City, Texas, 75 miles north of Abilene, where William Joseph “Billy Joe” Patten, Fancher/Patten’s husband since 2020, worked for Victory Fleet Services, a truck maintenance company.
But Second Paw Dog Rescue does not appear to have ever actually operated in Texas, at least with incorporated nonprofit status. ANIMALS 24-7 was told that Fancher/Patten did accumulate animals in Texas prior to incorporating.
The documented history of Second Paw Dog Rescue began soon after Fancher/Patten on July 28, 2022 mentioned on Facebook that she was feeling sad because, “I just found out not too long ago that the father to my 4-year-old passed away. I did not expect this today when I woke up. I know we had our differences and didn’t see eye to eye a lot,” Fancher/Patten said, “but it’s hurting me a lot more than I thought it would. I’m heartbroken. His kids, mom, dad, sister and the rest of his family are really hurting worse than I could imagine.”
The deceased, Brock Wesberry, 34, of Ferriday, Louisiana, was like Fancher/Patten originally from Lake Charles, Louisiana; competed at shot-put in high school; and as of 2015, according to his Facebook page, was working at Joe Reed Specialized Movers & Maintenance in Westlake, Louisiana, while studying prophetic ministry at the online AMI School of Prophets.
Not much seems to have come of that. In January 2018, around the time Fancher/Patten would have become pregnant with a child who was four years old in July 2022, the Natchez Democrat reported that Wesberry, then 30, had just been arrested in Ferriday “on a bench warrant for failure to appear” in court on undisclosed charges, with bail set at $775.
Wesberry died in his sleep in July 2022 after smoking marijuana laced with fentanyl, his mother Tammy Cupstid Sanchez told ANIMALS 24-7 on July 16, 2023.
Sanchez has custody of the child from Wesberry’s relationship with Fancher/Patten. Fancher/Patten, Sanchez said, has also had a long history of drug and alcohol abuse.
“Obsessive fear of death”
Sociologists and psychologists who study hoarding behavior have recognized for decades that hoarding, whether of animals or anything else, typically begins coincidental with bereavement: the loss of a spouse, child, or parent.
Typically the hoarder is a socially isolated individual who before the onset of mental illness resulting in hoarding already had large numbers of pets, or was involved in an animal-related occupation such as dog-breeding, farming, or operating an animal shelter.
“Animal hoarders, like the haunted Scrooge, suffer an obsessive fear of death,” Perdue University professor of animal ecology Alan Beck and colleague Dooley Worth hypothesized in a 1981 study of 31 hoarding cases handled by the American SPCA and the New York City Bureau of Animal Affairs.
Hoarding animals, Beck and Worth suggested, gives the hoarder a sense of control over his or her already out-of-control existence.
More than 40 years and many more studies by many more social scientists later, this remains the prevailing explanation.
Started from behind the eight ball
Fancher/Patten was in a poor position, as a mother of three boys under four years of age, with a high school education and neither evident shelter experience or nonprofit management background, to take on a big new dog rescue project.
Worse, on March 2, 2019 Fancher/Patten had shared with Facebook friends that she had been “diagnosed with stage 3a uterine clear cell carcinoma,” had begun chemotherapy to fight it, and had suffered painful complications.
Wesberry’s mother, Tammy Sanchez, expressed skepticism to ANIMALS 24-7 that Fancher/Patten ever had cancer, doubted that the death of her son had any triggering effect on Fancher/Patten’s hoarding behavior, and suggested that if any death did, it would have been the death of her mother two years earlier.
Maybe. The death of her mother might have preceded accumulating animals in Texas.
What is on record, though, is that only days after mentioning Brock Wesberry’s death, Fancher/Patten announced the formation of Second Paw Dog Rescue, which soon claimed 369 Facebook “followers” and was listed online by the Best Friends Animal Society Network.
Most of the early Second Paw Dog Rescue postings––and some of the last––included Best Friends Animal Society logos, slogans, and imagery.
“No dog left behind,” but left behind sixty, plus some survivors
“Our goal is to save and rehabilitate every dog we can,” Fancher/Patten declared. “Our mission is to leave NO DOG LEFT BEHIND!”
By September 2022, Second Paw Dog Rescue was participating in events promoted by the Best Friends Animal Society Network, including the Tractor Supply Company’s National Adoption Day.
On September 11, 2022, the twenty-first anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington D.C., Fancher/Patten was “very pleased and excited to announce we are purchasing seven acres in the country to expand our rescue and also are going to be opening up a dog sanctuary for the ones who can’t or don’t get adopted out to live out the rest of their days loved, safe and happy!
“We are also in the discussion part of opening up a dog park that will be open to the public for people to bring their fur kids,” Fancher/Patten said, before appealing for donations of “outdoor kennels, dog houses, chain link fencing, concrete/quick Crete, pea gravel, sheets of tin, large tarpaulins, heavy duty t-posts, pallets in good condition, toys, collars, dog food etc.”
“Let’s reach Best Friends’ mission of No Kill 2025”
A day later, Fancher/Patten urged, “Let’s reach our goal and Best Friends Animal Society’s mission of NO KILL 2025. Adopt, don’t shop, and save a life!”
Four days after that, on September 16, 2022, Fancher/Patten reminded readers that “Today starts Best Friends Animal Society National Adoption Weekend. Today through Sunday, Second Paw Dog Rescue is partnering up with Philadelphia Animal Control to help clear the shelters!”
But if Fancher/Patten expected substantial help from either the Best Friends Animal Society or anyone else except the local Tractor Supply store, it was apparently not forthcoming.
Tractor Supply donated several bags of dog food.
“In desperate need” within six weeks
By October 6, 2022, Fancher/Patten was already “pleading for help! We are in desperate need of kennels and are in desperate need of fosters,” Fancher/Patten declared.
“We are doing everything we can to keep our local AC [the Philadelphia animal shelter] at the NO KILL status they have been at for over a year,” Fancher/Patten said.
“We run primarily off our own incomes and grants,” Fancher/Patten added, without explaining who or what entity might be making grants to an organization which did not have incorporated nonprofit status yet, “but our grants won’t be in til January. The situation we have on our hands to keep the local AC no kill status will not wait til January!”
Eventual receipt of any grants of significance, in January 2023 or ever, appears to have been no more than wishful thinking.
Why did a rescue in Newton, Mississippi take in a heartworm-positive dog from Memphis?
On October 12, 2022, Fancher/Patten announced that, “We are fixing to be moving on the new property in Newton, its 9 acres, and will be opening up a sanctuary as well once we get settled in. We are reaching out for donations so we can be able to facilitate more dogs at the rescue!”
Tractor Supply sent more dog food.
Second Paw Animal Rescue on November 6, 2022 welcomed a heartworm-positive dog from Memphis Animal Services, 224 miles northwest.
And other rescuers became involved. Posted Polly Hall, of Philadelphia, Mississippi, on November 7, 2022, “My friend Natalie Patten is setting up her nine acres that’s going to be a dog sanctuary. She will be able to pull the dogs from Philadelphia animal control when they get full. She will be able to help with any unwanted animals in our area. But right now she’s in a big need of pens and extra large kennels. If you know anyone that has any that would like to donate or would like to sell please let me know.”
“We have pulled & saved over 40 dogs” with mange, hookworm, & malnourished
Exulted Fancher/Patten on November 12, 2022, “The other day we pulled 14 dogs from a local very high kill shelter. We pulled another five today!”
Twenty-five dogs from Second Paw Dog Rescue were “headed to the northeast!” a month later, Fancher/Patten reported, thanking “Paw Pals of Hale Center, Saving Grace Pit Bull Rescue of Lubbock, Texas, Forever Changed Animal Rescue, Second Hand Dog Rescue, Inc.” and Project Freedom Ride.
“We have pulled and saved over 40 dogs, not including the young puppies, from a local very high kill shelter,” Fancher/Patten updated on December 17, 2022. “By doing this, we have been able to keep them 100% kill-free for the first time ever.”
But “The majority of them have mange, hookworms, and suffer severely from malnutrition,” Fancher/Patten acknowledged.
Too broke to do spay/neuter
Experienced fundraisers know that as much as half of the annual donor support for any nonprofit organization arrives during the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Income received during that interval more-or-less dictates what the organization can expect to do during the next year.
Second Paw Animal Rescue, however, admitted by February 11, 2023 that “finances are getting very tight. We have had a lot of medical cases here lately,” Fancher/Patten said, “not to mention an outbreak of canine flu that we are just now getting over. Also on top of that donations since before the holidays have majorly slowed down. We try our best to pay for everything for the babies out of pocket ourselves, but right now we are needing help.
“We are trying to raise money right now to cover eight spay and neuter surgeries for our rescues,” Fancher/Patten added, “trying to get everyone ready for our upcoming meet-and-greet adoption event at PetSmart in Flowood, Mississippi.”
Spay/neuter should be first priority
A generation ago, as nonprofit spay/neuter programs reduced the volume of animal shelter euthanasias from as many as 23 million per year to barely two million between 1980 and 2000, sterilizing dogs and cats was widely recognized as the first priority for anyone trying save animals’ lives.
There was near-unanimous agreement at the first No Kill Conference, held in Phoenix in September 1995, that if a no-kill shelter or rescue could not afford to spay or neuter an animal, it should not accept or “pull” the animal in the first place.
The late Elaine Adair, 1950-2019, founded the Mississippi Spay & Neuter Alliance in 2002, renamed MS-SPAN in 2005, sterilizing as many as 3,700 dogs and cats per year for shelters and rescues throughout the state.
MS-SPAN still exists and is still active, operating a low-cost dog and cat sterilization clinic in Richland, Mississippi, 63 miles straight west of Newton.
But Fancher/Patten evidently did not get the spay/neuter message from the Best Friends Animal Society Network, her online mentor, instead continuing to take in more and more animals.
On February 17, 2023, for instance, Fancher/Patten posted, “We have been contacted by animal control about a hoarding case. They asked us to help. So tomorrow we are going to be picking up 18 less-than-five-week-old puppies, four adult dogs, and a pot-bellied pig.
“This is going to put a major strain on the rescue financially,” Fancher/Patten admitted, “but when we say no dog left behind we mean no dog left behind.”
Closed the door on March 9, 2023
By February 20, 2023, Fancher/Patten found herself trying to cope with what “the vet said is one of the worst case of hookworms he’s ever seen in his 20-plus years of being a vet.”
The hookworms killed at least eight of the puppies.
Fancher/Patten anticipated further veterinary bills of more than $200 apiece to sterilize three of the adult dogs, and acknowledged that one of the female adult dogs she had hoped to receive “was very aggressive towards strangers, so a family member is fostering her.”
On March 9, 2023, Fancher/Patten finally admitted she was in over her head.
“At the moment we have 54 [dogs] at the rescue,” Fancher/Patten posted. “That’s 54 that we have to feed every day, that’s 54 that we have to get shots, dewormed, about half of them heartworm treatment due to being heartworm positive, and spayed and neutered. We care for these rescues 90% mostly out of our own pockets. Donations have been very few and far between these past few months.
“It is with a very heavy heart that we say we will not be able to take any more in right now,” Fancher/Patten said.
Winona dog shootings made Fancher/Patten forget her words
But within four days Fancher/Patten appeared to have forgotten her own words.
On March 8, 2023, Doll Stanley’s home town, Winona, Mississippi, more than 100 miles north of Fancher/Patten in Newton, turned management of the dilapidated six-cage city animal shelter over to the police department.
Police chief Roshaun Daniels hired as animal control director Vidal Anderson, son-in-law of mayor Aaron Dees.
“Chief Daniels was concerned that the city pound was at capacity and most of the dogs had been impounded far beyond the city’s 10-day holding period,” Stanley told Mississippi Clarion Ledger reporter Joshua Williams.
Anderson shot from six to eight dogs on March 9, 2023, allegedly including a mother dog and her puppies.
Doll Stanley made the shootings public
After Stanley and others learned of the shootings and made them public, a statewide media furor ensued.
“We are infuriated, enraged and heartbroken over this!” fumed Fancher/Patten on March 13, 2023. “We will be making some phone calls in the morning,” Fancher/Patten pledged, “contacting the city of Winona to extend our help so they don’t have to shoot any more dogs and puppies tied to the bumper of the animal control officer’s truck.”
Responded Nandra Dennis of the North Mississippi Shelter/Rescue Connection, “I’m not surprised by the recent Winona post. Montgomery County,” of which Winona is the county seat, “has a problem. Animal abuse is not being prosecuted. A renter on our family land left without notice, leaving a dog in a kennel next to the front door. The kennel door was blocked with a brick. The dog starved/thirsted to death. The sheriff was called out. He claimed we would not be able to prove the owner placed the dog in the kennel. The remains still had the dog’s collar with her name––Lucy––and the owners’ [telephone] number.”
“Laws need to be changed here in Mississippi”
Replied Fancher/Patten, “Between this and what happened in Winona, something has to be done. Laws need to be changed here in Mississippi.”
Within another 100 days Fancher/Patten’s words would have an ironic ring.
Meanwhile, Fancher/Patten reported the following day that Second Paw Dog Rescue was in urgent ‘need of dog food donations. We aren’t getting them from a local store like we used to,” Fancher/Patten explained. “They are having to alternate us with another rescue and we really depended on that donation weekly to get us through and it was the only place we were getting donated dog food,” with 54 dogs still on the premises.
T-shirts & a raffle
Later in March 2023, Fancher/Patten tried to sell t-shirts and promote a raffle to raise funds.
Selling t-shirts and running raffles are methods that a large organization with a substantial donor base might be able to use successfully to bring in extra money, alongside sending frequent online and direct mail appeals to established donors.
Such methods are highly unlikely, however, to accomplish much in a rural county of fewer than 10,000 people, including more residents eager to dump unwanted animals than residents willing and able to help a local rescue feed them.
Second Paw Dog Rescue was on the verge of collapse.
“We have had a lot of calls and messages this past week from people needing us to take in dogs,” Fancher/Patten posted on April 16, 2023. “It takes everything out of our own pockets every week to care for the ones we have.”
On May 27, 2023, Fancher/Patten updated, “We still have our raffle basket going!! We have sold very little tickets,” she admitted.
“Need crew to clean”
ANIMALS 24-7 found no further updates from or about either Second Paw Dog Rescue or Fancher/Patten until Polly Hall on July 10, 2023 posted, “Need a crew that is able to clean a mobile home that was trashed by someone who was trusted and now regrets. I won’t go into the story but if you know if anyone that does this, please let me know.
“Asking for a dear friend.
“I am getting a lot of messages and text asking about this,” Hall said. “I feel I just need to be honest right here to everyone. This is a mobile home that the person that was staying there brought in numerous dogs and the way I understand it, there is feces everywhere! The dogs are being confiscated.”
The situation, Hall said, “may need a hazmat suit and a lot of bleach, even a pressure washer.”
Was that actually about Second Paw Dog Rescue?
ANIMALS 24-7 does not know for sure, but Stanley, a trusted source for 35 years, later the same day contacted us with a similar description of the Second Paw Dog Rescue catastrophe.
The Mississippi Animal Rescue League, Animal Rescue Corps, and the Bissell Pet Foundation are reportedly now looking after the 71 surviving dogs found at two properties used by Second Paw Dog Rescue.