Hell hath no fury like an animal rescue scorned. Such groups are unfortunately used to dealing with dogs mistreated by a-hole owners, but Red Collar Rescue recently took the unusual step of Facebook-shaming a Houston couple it says abandoned a dog they adopted seven years ago.
The couple, Gustaf and Jenny Johansson, were not thrilled to discover their photo and names on Red Collar's Facebook page, along with these allegations: the couple's husky, Arthur, was discovered roaming the streets of Magnolia in July, near-blind and riddled with infections and a tumor. The dog was micro-chipped, which led to Red Collar, which led to the Johanssons. But when a volunteer called the Johanssons, Red Collar claims, the couple said "it was not a good time for them to have a dog and they did not want him back. They also said they did not want their children to know he was found." Yikes.
The Johanssons wouldn't speak to us, but their attorney told us the allegations were bogus and that he'd sent a demand letter to the rescue last week, ordering them to remove his clients' photo and names. But the rescue left them up -- until this week.
Unfortunately, the damage had already been done. The Facebook post generated a lot of comments from animal lovers worldwide, many of whom did not voice their opinions in calm, measured tones. "NO trial necessary! Maybe just walk them down to the electric chair," read one such comment.
It also appears that enough of these mild-mannered folks called Gustaf Johansson's employer to become a real nuisance. Before Johnson called us, we tried to reach Gustaf at work, but instead got an unpleasant-sounding woman who told us the company had hired its own lawyer. We called, but never heard back.
The overwhelming response was probably due to the fact that, in its bid to raise $5,600 to cover vet bills, Red Collar spared no detail, alleging that Arthur was found "skinny, matted, dirty, and covered in fleas," suffering from "a tumor on his head, three bad teeth, and infections of the ears, eyes, skin, and urinary tract." The rescue also posted copies of the veterinary invoices. (Neither the rescue nor the Johansson's attorney could tell us for sure how long Arthur had been missing, only that he'd allegedly been gone earlier in the summer).
The money was quickly raised, and Arthur seems to be doing fine.
Red Collar claimed that this violated its adoption contract: "Like every adopter who signs our adoption contract, they agreed to keep Arthur vetted, provide medical care when needed, notify [Red Collar] if he was lost or they could no longer keep him, and to treat him like family and not banish him to the backyard." (The rescue also claimed that the couple had another husky who disappeared three years ago).
According to Red Collar, the Johanssons told the volunteer who called them that "Arthur had been kept primarily in the backyard of their $700K home -- a miserable fate for a [husky] in Texas. They stated that they realized he was missing at the first of summer and thought he would just come back on his own. Jenny and Gustaf claimed they had no idea how Arthur got so far away from home." The rescue also claimed that "They refused to contribute so much as a penny for his medical care."
Hogwash, says the couple's lawyer, Fred Johnson.
"The idea that the Johanssons abused this dog or abandoned this dog are simply untrue," Johnson says. "This family is understandably very shocked and very afraid, based on the kinds of vitriol that they're seeing on Facebook from people as far away as Poland."
When asked why Red Collar would make these false claims, Johnson told us, "You're asking me to speculate. I don't know why."
We're with Johnson on that one. We also don't know why an animal rescue group would make up something like that.
Johnson says someone from Red Collar told the couple that Arthur would not be returned "unless they reimbursed this person for many thousands of dollars of veterinary expenses she allegedly incurred." He told us that, "the basic allegation that these folks dumped their dog, abused their dog, abandoned their dog -- those are just simply false. And there's absolutely zero evidence to substantiate those allegations."
He adds, "The fact that the dog was found in the condition it was found in proves absolutely nothing. The dog apparently had been gone for weeks, or even a couple of months."
Which is why, we told Johnson, it'd be great to see any of Arthur's vet records from the last seven years. We're still waiting on those.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
We conceded that it's entirely possible that, for some reason, Red Collar fabricated this story. So we told Johnson that a good way to call Red Collar on these contemptible claims was to provide copies of all the online postings and "missing" fliers that any desperate pet owner worried about their furry friend's fate would post; as well as a list of all the shelters they must have been incessantly calling or visiting.
Johnson said he'd check with his clients, but said it's possible that they just may not have kept any such records.
"I want to make sure that the story that you want to write is a fair recitation of the facts and not...an indictment of the Johansson family based on what you're reading on social media," Johnson said.
We tried to find out more from Red Collar, but a volunteer declined comment, and founder Charlotte Liberta did not respond to us -- perhaps because we're not CultureMap.