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"People are donating money, and people don't know what they're donating to."
Concerned, Hodges and some others formed the Texas Animal Release & Placement Alliance, or TARPA. Shelters must adhere to a code of ethics governing shelter, food, medical treatment and adoption placement to receive TARPA certification.
Mr. K's is not TARPA-certified and has never applied to become so, Hodges says.
Hodges also questions the use of teenage community service workers at Mr. K's when some of the dogs are known to be aggressive. Many years ago the county used teen workers but stopped "after one kid got nailed in the face," she says. It's hard to get across to kids that a certain dog is dangerous to be around, she says.
Hodges also doesn't agree with the no-kill policy, not when it leaves dangerous dogs out there, not when a dog spends its life in a cage. While dogs like this are being saved, there are thousands of other dogs being put to death every year who would make good pets. Why shouldn't the resources go to them?
Rowe and McNew say cages are cleaned every day at Mr. K's. Some former volunteers at the facility say no, that cleaning efforts often fall behind. McNew says that Mr. K's got a citation from pollution control but has dealt with that by putting the poop in garbage bags instead of washing it into the ditches. Once a week, McNew says, cages are cleaned with bleach. She says the SPCA and the Humane Society have been out and have given them tips. They never cited them for any wrongdoing, though, she says.
One woman who volunteered there labeled Mr. K's "the Andersonville of supposedly humane shelters."
Attorney Linda Carlock is one of several Mr. K's supporters who called or e-mailed the Press to say she'd heard we might be doing a negative story and she really didn't want to see that happen.
Carlock, who doesn't believe in animal euthanasia except in cases of extreme illness, says she founded Mr. K's 100 Club (members donate $25 a month, which goes for rent and utilities) to help the shelter catch up with rent and vet bills. All the facility needs is a little more organization, she maintains.
According to Carlock, about 100 people are members, which would mean $2,500 a month, in addition to whatever Mr. K's gets for its adoptions ($95 for a dog). Yet Mr. K's sends out weekly, desperate appeals for money. Vet bills, food and medicine suck away the rest of the money.
Carlock insists that life at Mr. K's is better than no life at all. The animals at Mr. K's are in good shape, she says. "They're well fed whether they stand in muck or not. They're well cared for."
Actually, some of the dogs look pretty bad, a few with no hair. Rowe and McNew say it's hereditary mange, that they're doing a service by taking dogs that no one else would want. Dr. Wood says mange is a common problem with dogs in kennels, especially after they've been in there a while. "Kenneling of any dog is stressful," he says. "It's not like an individual home environment sort of thing." Living in a shelter can put too much stress on an animal, which compromises its immune system, he says.
In one e-mail, Jackie McNew appeals for three bags of dog food to get through the next day.
To Mr. K's critics, this is proof that it is not a viable operation. One woman says she used to volunteer, but after responding to several desperate appeals she began to notice that nothing ever changed. It was like a store that was perpetually going out of business. Always there was a crisis.
If people don't have the wherewithal to operate a shelter, they can still be involved in animal rescue, saving one animal at a time, adopting them out to other people. Critics say if you can't operate a shelter right, then you shouldn't have one -- find another hobby.
"I don't know what's worse: being on the road or being out there at Mr. K's. It's not a fair life," one woman says.
Why in the world would a shelter, already drastically behind in its ability to pay for too many dogs, take on cats and horses, too?
Just because someone works hard doesn't mean what they're doing is working. However dedicated they are.
Rowe and her supporters remain determined and defiant.
"There's always somebody out there who doesn't like what I do. It would be so easy to kill all the dogs, and I would resume a normal life," Rowe says. "Don't criticize me if you can't walk in my shoes."
"People have kind of put Wilma down for years, and she bounced back every time. We aren't going anywhere," says Van Biljon.
Neither, it appears, are too many of their dogs.
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