Rather Than Fix the Problem, Houston Officials Ship Stray Animals Off to Other States

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Jan McHugh-Smith, the president and CEO of the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region in Colorado Springs, believes in animal transport as well, even though her agency, which acts as the regional animal control authority, has seen what can happen when it goes wrong. And in February 2014, things went wrong with an RPM partner.

That month, responding to a complaint, the Humane Society's animal control team seized nine dogs from the home of Joann Roof, who ran New Hope Rescue in Colorado Springs.

An inspector found Roof's house to be cluttered with "trash and debris," and observed "animal wastes in enclosures and many other areas" of the house. The New Hope volunteer who filed the complaint alleged that two of the three dogs she received from Roof "were in terrible condition," but that Roof told her, "I would have to deal until they were adopted because we are not [going to] pay $50...for a vet check."

The volunteer wrote that she also received "a mama with puppies with worms. I have not been given worm medication." She also wrote that Roof wanted the puppies spayed in a trailer belonging to a friend of Roof's, as opposed to a veterinary clinic. The volunteer wrote that she found this objectionable, not least because "a few of my friends dog died their last week [sic]."

Roof was charged with animal cruelty -- she recently pleaded no contest and received six months deferred adjudication -- and the Humane Society found homes for the dogs. But the Humane Society also reached out to media in Houston, stating, "The animals in New Hope Rescue's care were transferred from BARC in Houston through Rescued Pets Movement." The Humane Society "is now investigating Colorado Springs foster homes affiliated with New Hope Rescue, as it is believed BARC and RPM have transferred as many as hundreds of animals from Texas." And while the Humane Society felt that transport programs were an important part of rescue, it's the source shelter's responsibility "to ensure animals are moved to a facility where they will receive appropriate care and support."

RPM responded with a statement on its website, pointing out that New Hope was licensed by the Colorado Department of Agriculture's Pet Animal Care and Facilities Act program (PACFA), which Colorado officials tout "as the most 'inclusive and comprehensive' animal welfare program in the nation."

The statement then proceeded to mischaracterize the complaint as a disagreement over "an alleged failure to do [heartworm] treatment on a nursing mother that had only been in Colorado for ten days and was still adjusting to her new surroundings," rather than concern about dogs living in shit-smeared cages.

RPM also claimed, "The mother and puppies at issue in the New Hope matter had no other option except for RPM's transport program. BARC contacted us, informed us that no other rescue group could take the family, and stated they would be euthanized by the end of the day. We literally were the last hope for this family of a mother and her seven puppies. We then contacted our Colorado rescue colleagues, and New Hope stepped up to help this mother and puppies, heartworms and all."

Fosters can go south for a number of reasons. It's an occupational hazard that every rescue could face. But instead of accepting responsibility for placing dogs in what turned out to be a bad home -- taking its lumps and moving on -- RPM lashed out at everyone else: The group chastised the Humane Society for refusing to return the dogs and for having expensive adoption fees; RPM also accused other rescue advocates who "have jumped on board to question our practices without investigation" and lamented that "we have had to waste significant time and energy to respond to baseless, uninformed allegations and supposition."

RPM also took the opportunity to play its favorite card: If you in any way question RPM's practices, you are branded a dog-killer. By describing the Humane Society's investigation as a controversy over transporting heartworm-positive dogs, RPM claimed it was "being forced to suspend assisting heartworm-positive dogs. In just the past two days, we have had to decline to help three families of mothers and nursing puppies" who were heartworm-positive. RPM alleged that those dogs were euthanized and that they "could have had a chance at rescue and life but for the position that heartworm-positive dogs are per say 'unhealthy.'"

When a KHOU reporter showed Damianoff a photo from the New Hope home, the BARC director said, "Photographs are one thing. Animals do go to the bathroom and animals do, you know -- you got puppies in a cage, they're gonna do their business. So that's basically what you saw in that photo." He also added, "We're not dealing with New Hope anymore." The Humane Society's McHugh-Smith says she still believes in animal transport -- her shelters regularly take in animals from New Mexico -- but "the partnership there is really key, because both agencies have to believe in each other."

"I believe in transferring -- I think responsible groups...can do a good job and can save lives," she says.

Carlock stated in an email to the Press that "we communicate with the Colorado groups on an almost daily basis" and that RPM keeps track "of adoption and kill rates of our rescue partners, and ensure[s] that all have save rates of at least 90% (which qualifies an organization as 'no kill')."

The "adoption and kill rates" RPM bases its figures on do not translate into exact numbers of how many RPM-transported dogs live and die. They are predicated on the numbers the Colorado groups have to turn in every year, per PACFA requirements. Therefore, it's important that the groups actually know how to fill out the forms.

Our attempt to get exact numbers from an RPM partner called Farfel's Farm Rescue really threw a wrench into the narrative presented by both groups.

In a June 2014 email to its volunteers, RPM included a letter from Farfel's co-founder Sandy Calvin, who wrote of placing "almost 450 dogs" the previous year. But the PACFA numbers RPM relies on -- and has continually directed the Press to -- do not reflect Calvin's claim. Farfel's PACFA statistics do not show how many dogs the group adopted out -- the field in that form is blank. It shows only that two dogs were euthanized, one died and that the group had a "year-end inventory" of 350.

When we called Farfel's for an explanation, we were transported to the Twilight Zone.

We called Farfel's and asked for Calvin, but a woman named Becca Orin told us she knew about the group's adoption numbers. She told us the "year-end inventory" of 350 dogs were the dogs that were placed in a "forever home."

She explained that "PACFA likes to do things very confusingly. It's very hard for us to even figure out how to fill it out every year."

Orin said she didn't have exact numbers at the ready for how many RPM dogs Farfel's received and adopted out in 2013, but that she could probably get them. But, she said, "I'll have to talk to RPM and see what they want us to say."

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Contributor Craig Malisow covers crooks, quacks, animal abusers, elected officials, and other assorted people for the Houston Press.
Contact: Craig Malisow