What gives rescue an undeserved bad reputation is the sweeping judgment of some involved participants

Posted March 6th, 2014 in Rescue and tagged , , , , by Josh

I want to preface what I’m about to write by saying that I genuinely like and support Karma Rescue, think that they do great work, and have literally nothing against them. It’s just that in this specific scenario I fundamentally believe them to be wrong, and want to use this incident to make further social points.

Seems like everyone has heard at least something regarding the situation swirling around the Rhodesian Ridgeback named Raffiki. She escaped her backyard (was possibly stolen), found her way into the arms of a civilian who then took her to the West Valley shelter, was rescued and then promptly adopted back out to a new family, and all before her prior family could even locate her.

It’s quite the sad circumstance, and for all parties involved. That much is clear, if nothing else. You can read up on it here, here and here. Karma Rescue released a statement, which is here. Karma’s former Marketing Director, who resigned over their handling of this, released another timeline meant to refute Karma’s timeline, which is here. Raffiki’s Facebook page is here.

What I want to focus on in my writing is the aftermath. The public reaction. The outrage. The judgment. The hypocrisy. All the rest of it. As you could imagine this has elicited a vast amount of commentary, some of it coming from the animal rescue community itself, and a lot of which has not even remotely been helpful.

Some examples, taken from the comment section of the L.A. Times article as well as from Karma Rescue’s Facebook thread addressing the issue:

The fact that you totally downplay the first owner’s irresponsible behavior – no spay, no chip, no tag – is bad enough. But then you make it sound like class wars because the rescue said Torres wouldn’t qualify as an adopter anyway. I do rescue as a volunteer and one of the things I do is a home check on potential adopters. I have seen far too many large dogs in small homes. I have seen far too many sick animals denied vet care because owners don’t have enough money for themselves, let alone a large, hungry dog. You don’t like that fact? Tough, neither do I. But I’m not here to make someone like Torres feel better about herself by giving her a dog to placate her child. I do my work to ensure an animal goes to an appropriate home. That doesn’t mean a luxury home, just an APPROPRIATE home. I re-homed a cat last year to a couple living in a tiny cottage. I would never have approved them for a big dog, though.

Never let Torres ever again have an animal. Keep Raffki where she is, safe and cared for properly.

This is the way I see it: Mistakes were made, feelings hurt, but the dog is safe and will be loved, thanks to Karma. The 4-year-old will recover and hopefully learn about responsible pet ownership.

You guys did everything right. First, if the owner would of done her part, none of this would of happened. Second, she would of spent endless hours looking for her, like the rest of us pet parents would of. Third, her dog was saved from certain death. This lady should be grateful. I’m sure she is sad, but her sadness comes from selfishness and poor her. Not the dog. It really should be shame on her, but we don’t need to go there.

If someone who genuinely loves their pet were to lose them they would search tirelessly. This looks like attention seeking on the supposed owners behalf.

I’ve had dogs all my life. Now 59 years old. NEVER lost one. Never cruel to one. And never without a tag and collar.

Whoever the owner was, they were clearly irresponsible for not tagging/microchipping, losing, then not even bothering to check animal control for their “beloved” dog. They don’t deserve the dog back! As far as their behavior… Like your rescue name suggests… Karma will take care of them in the end!

At least her dog wasn’t put down by shelter when she NEVER showed up to claim it. Probably didn’t want to pay fees.

Torres clearly cannot afford to properly provide for herself and her son, much less an animal. Torres needs to get her act together, work to make a decent living for herself and her son and then when she can properly provide for animal which includes spay/neuter, microchipping, and providing an I.D. tag then she can adopt another animal.

I stand with Karma Rescue. Despite the smear campaign that was initiated by the dogs “owners,” it was obvious that Karma did nothing but save a dog from a likely grim future at the shelter. Plus, what proof is there that the dog actually belonged to those people in the first place? No chip, no collar. More importantly, not fixed! This is an unpopular opinion, but given how many unaltered abandoned dogs I have come across in my years of doing rescue, I don’t feel a lot of sympathy for people whose dogs get out that have shown that kind of irresponsibility.

No tags, not spayed, no chip, lives with her parents with her son. Sounds like she needs to get her priorities straight before she takes on the responsibility of a dog. The cycle of poverty continues…

Yeah, I don’t think poor people should be allowed to have dogs either.

Jesus. This harkens back thoughts of something that I wrote in December of last year. My point then was that these types of paths one verbally goes down, and they go down it because their mind is thinking it, is 1 of the main reasons why we have so many immovable road blocks in the roads of breed prejudice issues and shelter reform issues.

I love this community very much, but at times it is also extraordinarily divisive and irrational, to the point where emotion is almost always fueling 90% of the verbiage being supplied by “supporters.”

From what’s been made publicly available it seems that Raffiki was impounded at the West Valley shelter on 2/13. She was wearing no identification and had no microchip. The shelter customarily held her for the 5 day stray hold and then at some point on 2/19 she was made available for public adoption. In the “morning” of 2/20 Raffiki was officially pulled by Karma Rescue, spayed, and then sent to the NKLA adoption center in West Los Angeles on that same day. The dog was given the name “Kami.” At 4:57 pm on 2/21 Rosa Torres, Raffiki’s owner, left a voicemail with Karma Rescue. At 6:03 pm Karma “received, and approved, an adoption application for Kami, and requested the applicant family have an in-person meet-and-greet with her.” Their release goes on to say that the approved family “met Kami at NKLA and took her home that day.” At 6:54 pm Karma received a 2nd adoption application from Rosa Torres, where she was claiming to be Raffiki’s owner. Karma said that “this application was not reviewed until after the adoption was complete.” They also claim to have been unaware of the voicemail until “after the adoption had taken place.” At 9:00 am on 2/22 Karma called Torres to let her know that Kami had been adopted. Their statement from the release states that “had she contacted the organization sooner, Karma would have been in a better position to reunite her with her dog.” They also apparently spoke with Kami’s adopters to “apprise them of the situation” prior to speaking with Torres. Going further, they also mentioned that both LAAS and the LAPD “have confirmed that there has been no illegal conduct on the part of the rescue.” This would obviously imply that they went out of their way to ask both departments and, if smart, likely did it before speaking with both Torres and the new adopters.

The release goes on, below the timeline portion, to kind of imply that the owner of Raffiki is using a fake alias to engage in “mud-slinging on the internet.” They mention how Rosa Torres has been “notably absent” from the online fray. I don’t know if this is true or not, but I find it pretty disturbing that amidst this and other public statements they are actually defining what has played out as a “smear campaign” being pushed by the dog’s prior owner. Not only is that incredibly unfair but it’s just a formulaic cop-out in the face of what many would deem to be some legitimate criticism.

Some will argue that Raffiki could’ve hypothetically been killed at whatever point on 2/19 when she was taken off of her stray hold. This is true, albeit extremely unlikely. There’s multiple layers to this, and let me try to give my perspective on it… L.A. City shelters keep dogs, on average, far longer than any L.A. County shelter does. I’d pretty confidently claim that it’s rare for any city shelter to immediately euthanize a dog that has just been made available, and that goes for any dog. Further, this dog was either a purebred Rhodesian Ridgeback or Vizsla, and a puppy at that. These dogs do not come into the shelter often, as there’s not many of them, and when they do I think it’s safe to say that they don’t have much trouble being adopted and/or rescued. This gives far more credence to the thought that this dog was absolutely going to be given some time. Karma did a great thing in rescuing any dog, that isn’t in dispute by me at all. But don’t give the not-knowing public the impression that you were saving it from an impending death either. Even if the dog had personality quirks not best suited for such an environment, or could have developed kennel stress over time, it wouldn’t have garnered the dog an immediate death.

Going back to their press release: Did anyone else notice that they conveniently didn’t hear a voicemail, or get a 2nd application, even though those events directly sandwiched (66 minutes prior, 51 minutes after) a 1st application that they were all over? I say “all over” because they received, approved, requested that the family meet the dog, had the family drive to meet the dog, the family met the dog, and then the family left the NKLA adoption center with the dog, and all from 6:03 pm to 8:00 pm of that same day. All of that happened in 117 minutes. The NKLA adoption center closes at 8 pm. Karma Rescue also isn’t an organization run by 1 or 2 people, and instead run by many different people doing many different facets of their business. Just saying. They certainly could’ve missed the voicemail, as I personally miss, and sometimes willingly engage in the prolonging of listening to my own personal voicemails. I get that. But how is your organization able to be so proactive about 1 application, to the point where the adoption is completely done in less than 2 hours from the original point of contact, and yet you claim not to have heard or seen the attempts at communication coming from Raffiki’s owner?

I pass no judgment onto Karma for the quickness of their adoption, or for potentially not doing a home check, or for their internal choices when it comes to which dogs to take and not take from a shelter. I completely realize that those are in-house decisions and they are individually made amongst the people that have the right to make them, which is Karma Rescue and only Karma Rescue. I’m with you… But I mention all of this because many of their own supporters have been unbelievably judgmental towards Raffiki’s original owner. Yet these are probably many of the same people that would relentlessly grill someone else over not doing a home check, for example.

So many people have taken extreme issue over the collar, and the tags, and the microchip, and the not being fixed, and the getting loose. They say that this characterizes Rosa Torres as “x.” First off, people don’t know if this dog was wearing a collar or not. Collars fall off. This didn’t stop many from rampaging on and on about it anyways. There’s many pictures showing that the dog was definitely wearing a black martingale collar. It did not have tags on. That was a mistake, for sure. But a mistake that many people make! Do you know how many times my own dogs, who are sterilized and microchipped, don’t have their collars on? After baths they routinely go at least a full day without wearing their collars, as they are either wet and/or getting cleaned and drying.

There’s also conflicting information out there regarding “when” the best time to get a pet sterilized is, and plus, the option also exists not to do it. It’s freedom of choice. I personally advocate for voluntarily spaying and neutering, but people can’t act as though everyone who doesn’t do it is either not responsible or some kind of a criminal. Who’s to say she wasn’t waiting for a certain age, or didn’t already have something in the works? The dog was still a puppy. Certain information coming from many respected sources in the field of medicine show that there are health concerns linked to both sterilization (age-related) and microchips, as well as vaccines for that matter. I’m not cosigning all of the information, just saying that it exists. A claim coming from Torres states that she had Raffiki’s spay surgery scheduled for 3 days after she went missing. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s kind of irrelevant in the face of the point that I’m trying to make.

I can personally speak to vaccines, as Sway developed Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia from a secondary rabies vaccination. This disease ultimately killed her, after battling with it for over 2 years. Neola, my current dog, developed mast cell cancer in the exact spot of her last rabies injection. I absolutely do not do any kind of booster shots and only give 3-year thimerosal-free rabies vaccinations to my own dogs. Neola gets no vaccine due to a medical waiver. Does this make me in any way “irresponsible”? Many of you judgmental pricks would apparently say yes! Absolutely! Take his dogs!

Regarding how Raffiki got loose in the first place… Dogs do unfortunately get loose sometimes. It is many times recklessness and carelessness that allows this to happen, that’s not being debated by me. But sometimes they simply get loose 1 time. Sometimes a gate is left ajar, sometimes they jump over or go under the containment, and sometimes they could even be stolen. According to Rosa Torres her family’s backyard was surrounded by a 6 foot fence. It is possible that the dog was stolen. No one knows either way, do we?

At the end of Karma’s release they say “we request a $300 donation from every adopter, but always waive this fee if the adopter has limited resources.” That’s great, and compassionate, and I hope that it’s at times true. We all know why the donation is deemed necessary, and we all know what it’s meant to represent. There’s nothing wrong with asking for some kind of financial contribution to serve as a representation of a transaction and a token of responsibility. But what about all of the judgmental commenters who support Karma, are out reaming Torres, and also saying things to the affect of x-person shouldn’t have x-dog because they don’t have x-amount of money? Karma’s own statement on their policy refutes your judgmental way of thinking! Listen!

But then there’s these quotes from Karma: 1) “The application did not meet the qualifications that Karma looks for when adopting a dog to a home.” 2) “Had she been a little more diligent, we would have spoken with her.” … Let it be known that this is not just a random person that they are speaking about, this is the owner of the dog! The mother of the 4-year-old boy who is Raffiki’s best friend.

More diligent? Oh, now we are talking about diligence… Why is no one, Karma and many of their supporters included, concerned with the lack of diligence shown by the East Valley shelter front desk? Did the staff check their own computer system when Rosa Torres went into her local shelter? It’s a Ridgeback or Vizsla puppy! If she went into a physical shelter and asked the staff about her lost dog, which she did on numerous occasions, why did no one tell her to go to another shelter? Even the neighboring shelter? Why did no one check their Chameleon shelter software by the breed of the dog? Neither of those things ever happened. Regardless of whether that’s typical staff behavior or not, I think that it should be going forward, because to me that’s a basic helping hand and the minimal effort that one can make at the front desk if someone comes in looking for a lost pet. How is this not already protocol? Any desk officer not having the time to do a simple software search, especially for a breed that rarely comes in, is not acceptable in my mind. That’s their job and it’s just common courtesy on top of everything. She wasn’t even advised to go to the West Valley shelter. She went into the East Valley shelter and wasn’t even advised to go to the West Valley shelter, where Raffiki was ultimately sitting. That may seem like common sense to most of us, but for people outside of this world none of it is, so to not have everyone on any staff know to minimally explain things so basic is a huge failure for any shelter. This is not a vilification of the East Valley shelter. Tons of people would do the right thing, make and effort, protocol or not. But whomever Rosa Torres spoke to apparently made no such effort at that time. Why is this not a focus of Karma Rescue?

To make matters even worse… Karma’s Marketing Director actually resigned over the poor playing out of this situation. She’s went public, her name is Jessica Gary. She not only stated that Karma absolutely did know about Rosa Torres, because she personally told them, but that Karma Rescue made the decision not to return Rosa’s call and email. Further, they then adopted Raffiki/Kami out to this new family without a home check and with full knowledge that the family already had another dog who was not neutered! While Karma implies that Rosa was irresponsible for not having Raffiki spayed… While many of their supporters applaud Karma on cue, and are quite vicious in the most judgmental way possible towards Rosa Torres… But the judgment, and the philosophies behind the judgment, isn’t consistent, is it? That’s massive hypocrisy.

If the goodness of humanity couldn’t prevail in the private handling of this situation, amongst the affected parties, then that’s just depressing as hell to me. The last thing that should come out of this is the alienation of the new family, who chose adoption. That’s to be applauded by all, I’d hope. But I’d also think that, knowing the circumstances now, they’d be up for facilitating this dog’s return. Apparently that is not the case.

Here’s another point, regarding the legalities that Karma now seems to be hiding behind: They claim that they are not able to legally do anything, which to me seems like an attempt to shift the focus off of them… Well, have you ever seen a rescue contract before? Anyone’s? They almost all universally say that x-dog will come back if this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this or this happens. Right? So if they think that they can just randomly snatch up someone’s adopted dog months or even years later then why isn’t that line of thinking consistent in this case? I see that as wanting to have it both ways. You can’t hide behind legalities now and still claim that you can delve in and take a separate person’s legal property if they don’t meet “x” condition later.

So to me it’s JUDGMENT and HYPOCRISY giving “rescue” its undeserved bad name and reputation. Not Rosa Torres, not Sandy Banks of the L.A. Times. There’s plenty of good going on, and we all see it each and every day. We each know countless people that are fantastic human beings, people that inspire us, make us want to do better. But the problem is the judgment and hypocrisy that, at times, runs rampant through what is genuinely a fantastic premise… Adoption, and rescue, and shelter reform, and saving lives, and giving 2nd chances. These are all beautiful things. This is the community that is the community needed to facilitate these things, and move these ideas forward. So when some making up this community are also the ones always caught up in not being consistent, and further, being downright irrationally cruel to one another, well, that’s what has the biggest negative impact on these goals in my own personal opinion. Those ugly characteristics have to keep a certain amount of people who are on the outside willingly remaining on the outside.

Raffiki’s owner going public about this incident is not meant to give all rescues, or all shelters, or even Karma specifically, a bad name. It is to make a further genuine attempt at getting her son’s dog back, since private attempts didn’t work. To those unilaterally implying that going public on a specific situation has the potential to do x-amount of sweeping damage to some entire vague premise (such as rescue), and thus becomes a valid reason to keep quiet instead, well that’s to basically discourage people from using the avenue of communication and publicity in the face of a wrong. It instead promotes the opposite, which is to do nothing and take it. This creates an environment where morally wrong things just endlessly happen, perpetuating each new thing on the back of the prior thing. Karma’s poor handling of this entire situation has been the biggest contributing factor to why this is the mess that it is. They can’t pass that buck and others shouldn’t be excusing it by giving the impression that Rosa speaking out about this very specific circumstance somehow does this massive amount of damage to the rescue community (and the premise of adoption) as a whole. I’ve seen this point try to be made repeatedly. It’s not true, even if certain people want to unfairly use it against the community as a whole. I might even now be criticized by others under the same premise, and while using this article as their evidence. But all people have to do is actually read what I’ve written to know that it’s not true. If people are to treat everything with kid-gloves then there would be no progression in society. We can all be better. We can all treat people better.

Everyone is capable of thinking before they speak. Everyone is capable of putting themselves in the other person’s shoes. Everyone is capable of respectfully disagreeing on things. That’s not to say to never be emotional, or passionate, or even critical… All 3 of which I am on numerous issues. Trust me. But I at least attempt to pick my spots, and it’s usually backed by information and not just stooped in layers of petty judgment or the need to give my forever unwavering allegiance to something.

I love Karma Rescue, would happily be the first to say it, but I also believe them to be very wrong here. They’ve shown a stunning lack of compassion and empathy for their fellow man and have pretty flagrantly disrespected the bond between dog and human. This is someone’s dog, a child’s dog. Once it was discovered that this dog was someone’s animal that should have been the end of it. Instead they willingly have seemed to ignore this fact and chose instead to violate both the law and a pretty basic standard of ethics. This woman was out looking for her dog from the time it went missing. She made a considerable effort. You cannot blame her for not knowing every nook and cranny of the animal sheltering world. She literally had 6 days to physically locate her dog prior to it being shipped to NKLA’s adoption center. Yes, it could have hypothetically been killed, but it wasn’t, and Karma knew she was actively looking and knew that she existed. And they chose not to do the right thing, and then lied about it, and then blamed Rosa Torres for leading a “smear campaign.” And so many people just allow it, and defend it aggressively, and toss judgment around like snow balls in a school yard. C’mon people!!

I write all of this fully realizing that I have my own fans and followers, amongst them many people that would likely defend me just because it’s me and for no other reason than that. I get that, and I appreciate the support that that would represent, but I honestly wouldn’t want that kind of support and I don’t need that kind of support. I’d instead wish that each person took the time to, at some level, critically think about the issue at hand before coming to my defense or coming to whatever conclusion that they came to. I’m not infallible and neither is anyone else. We should all want to be held accountable, and strive to reach the best versions of what we could potentially offer and be. But instead it seems that many people simply carry the water of whatever person or organization that they are a fan of or familiar with. This really isn’t that helpful, as it kind of “dumbs down” the communications for lack of a better term.

What does this show? Is this because some in our society are getting more apathetic and too lazy to go the non-irrational route, instead just firing off emotions before looking further into something? Is it because many of us, at the center of whatever issue, are incapable of defending ourselves in any kind of a transparent way? Or are people’s emotions and allegiances that fragile that the mere unalignment on a singular issue potentially risks the throwing havoc onto entire relationships?

I’m now over 5,000 words in, which is ridiculous, so I’ll end my commentary while happily acknowledging some of the fantastic comments that I found during my search for the opposite:

Responsible owners lose dogs. Gates get left open by visitors. Doors get opened a fraction of a second too long. Tree branches fall unseen on fences, and dogs escape. RESCUES and SHELTERS have lost dogs. Veterinarians have lost dogs. Leashes break. Collars slip off. Microchips can be a health issue, and migrate or some brands can’t be read by some scanners. All your Utopian suppositions are invalid.

Too much discussion is wasted on whether the dog was tagged, microchipped, spayed or not. All of that is irrelevant. The bottom line is: A family lost a dog, somebody else found it and later knew who the dog belongs to. They just have to return it. That’s not only the legal but the moral thing to do. No questions asked. That’s it. Anything else is irrelevant.

It’s easy to sit on a soapbox chastising others for the treatment of their animals. When you do not know the circumstances you should not pass judgment. Just like everyone has very strong opinions on raising children the same exists with raising a dog. Instead of just saying someone is doing something “wrong” show them a different way. People can’t learn another way if they are never kindly shown.

Microchips are not the only answer folks. If someone finds your pet and decides that they like it and want to keep it, all the microchips in the world won’t get your pet back. If the finder doesn’t request that the animal is scanned, or if you move or otherwise don’t keep your chip subscription perfectly up to date and pay required fees, then a microchip is useless. Ditto for collars and tags. If someone wants to keep your pet, then they will just throw away any existing i.d. tags. It is ultimately up to people to do the right thing. I hope the ironically named Karma Rescue gets a little karma in return.

Holy crap. These are animals that need love, not an upper income tax bracket.

This is pissing me off to no end. I’m involved heavily in animal rescue and this reeks of moral judgment. Not fixing, not microchipping, etc. is all really annoying and borderline irresponsible, but making a moral judgment about it and deciding it gives you ground to STEAL someone’s dog is disgusting. How about educating? Encouraging?

To all of the holier than thou commenters who somehow think that this could never happen to them, think again. I am on the board of a non-profit that works very hard to help reunite lost pets with their families. We are thrilled to be able to assist 1,000+ families recover their dogs. It takes a combination of hard work, luck and a supportive, non-judgmental community to do so. This is 1,000+ dogs that do not go into the rescue system allowing other dogs to be saved. If we were to serve as the final arbiter as to what families were fit or not fit to have their dogs returned to them – there would be an uprising just as you see in this case. When the first phone call came in identifying the owner, why did Karma Rescue not do the right thing and return the call? This is a huge red flag! If they truly felt that Raffiki’s family was unfit or that she was somehow abused, then why weren’t appropriate authorities contacted? This situation is appalling and Karma Rescue behaved in an arrogant and myopic manner.

Oh, and Eva, I volunteer at a shelter, too. Whoopity doo. That gives you zero credibility to me. I’m just aware that in the life of a dog, crap happens, and I’m not willing to punish every single pet owner that doesn’t live up to my expectations, especially one with no history of problems before, arbitrarily determining who does or does not get to keep their dog based on my personal whims. It’s not fair to the dog, it’s not fair to the owner, and if only 20% of lost dogs nationally are recovered by their owners each year, I’d rather help that become 21% than 19%… You obviously don’t feel the same.