More Killing in the Name of “Rescue”
Last month the Amador County Ledger-Dispatch reported on an ugly story that demonstrates some irresponsible and very ugly behavior in the world of purebred dog rescue:
The events that led to the unforgettable meeting at Wal-Mart on Oct. 20 began more than two years before with a different dog, and a different dilemma. Two longtime volunteers with Northern California Golden Retriever Rescue, known as Nor Cal, Lise Manseau and Sandy Baker, were trying to help a golden retriever named Georgia Peach. Georgia had shown mild aggression when her food dish was disturbed. Fearing she wouldn’t be adoptable, they brought her to Irish, who received glowing reviews for his ability to re-program dogs from groups like the California Airedale Terrier Club.
“When I first got Georgia, she had a little problem with snarling if she thought someone was going to take her food,” [trainer Dan] Irish recalled. “I worked with her on it, and she never had an issue again. Everyone who meets her today says she’s one of the sweetest and friendliest dogs they’ve ever seen.”
Irish loved Georgia Peach so much that Nor Cal allowed him to adopt her. The only thing that overshadowed the happy experience for Irish was a comment Baker made about several of her fellow Nor Cal volunteers being adamant that Georgia Peach should be euthanized. Baker even mentioned a name: Jeanne Hanlon. That name would later come back to haunt Irish.
In the meantime, another golden retriever, who would come to be known as Buddy, was also in trouble. It was thought that either Buddy or his brother had killed a Chihuahua that had intruded into their yard. Left in a shelter, Buddy was temporarily taken by Nor Cal volunteer Jill Morgan. Morgan was among those who had believed Georgia Peach should have been euthanized rather than adopted. She quickly came to the same conclusion about Buddy.
“That dog was extremely aggressive with my other dogs,” she said of Buddy. “He viciously went after my Newfoundland several times and then pinned one of my golden retrievers on the ground.”
Due to Morgan’s complaints, Nor Cal took Buddy to be evaluated by Trish King of the Marin Humane Society. King determined that, with enough training, Buddy might still be adoptable. Nor Cal sent Buddy to a dog trainer in Petaluma, where he got off to a bad start. Hearing that Buddy was still struggling after a month, Nor Cal’s president at the time, Laurel Stanley, decided it was time to try a different behaviorist.
“I didn’t know Dan Irish at the time, but I’d heard good things about him from some of our volunteers,” Stanley explained. “I knew he’d been a longtime employee of the Animal Rescue Foundation. As an independent behaviorist, he had a reputation for helping adopt out dogs who needed major attention.”
Stanley asked a Nor Cal volunteer to pick Buddy up and drive him to Irish’s home in West Point.
When the volunteer finally arrived and toured Irish’s kennels and property, he felt very comfortable. “Irish’s place was clean and his dogs all looked good and healthy,” remembered the man, who asked not to be identified. “On the way up, I’d contacted his vet and gotten a good report. I felt totally fine putting him there.”
Before leaving, the volunteer had a chance to spend some time with the first golden retriever Nor Cal had sent Irish, Georgia Peach. “Oh, she’s a great dog,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind owning her myself.”
Unfortunately a situation that started out like a heart-warming story of rescue and redemption turned into a convoluted tale of subterfuge and — death.
… Without getting permission from Nor Cal, Ormond called Irish and told him she was with The Golden Retriever Club and was looking for a trainer to work with puppies the group was breeding.
Ormond and Hanlon drove out to West Point, touring Irish’s home without revealing they were there to observe Buddy. Irish claims that when Hanlon saw Buddy and Georgia Peach playing rowdily, she began shouting, “Why don’t you just have them killed!” At this point, Irish grew suspicious of the two and asked, “Who are you really?” When the women came clean about why they were there, Irish asked them to get off his property. Hanlon made no comment on the actual words she used that afternoon, but told the Ledger Dispatch she thought Buddy should be euthanized.
The way Irish explained it, it took him a few weeks to realize that Hanlon was the same person Baker had mentioned, the one who wanted his first golden retriever, Georgia Peach, euthanized. Between that and the false pretenses the women had come under, Irish said he lost his temper. He obtained Ormond’s phone number and left a voice message that has become the topic of considerable debate among those involved.
Not long after, Irish said he felt Buddy was doing well enough that he could be adopted out to a good family. A friend helped him place an online ad. When Morgan discovered the ad, she decided it was time for Buddy to come under her control again. Using a false identity, she contacted Morgan and painted the picture of having the perfect home for Buddy. To ensure the plan would work, Morgan used a false address, a false phone number and arrived without license plates on her car.
When Irish and Morgan met in the Wal-Mart parking lot, Morgan kept the deception going until she drove away with Buddy. “She told me she had a husband who always wanted a golden retriever,” Irish recalled. “She walked Buddy around with her friend. She matched up pretty good with what she’d claimed.”
To make sure nothing would go wrong for Buddy, Irish had Morgan sign a hand-written contract saying he could visit Buddy whenever he wanted. It also said that if there were any problems with Buddy’s behavior, she could return the dog to Irish. The Ledger Dispatch obtained a copy of that contract, though Morgan signed it with her false identity. That night, without permission from Nor Cal’s Veterinary Committee, Morgan had Buddy euthanized.
It sounds like Morgan learned much of what she knows about “rescue” from the folks at PETA. You know them. They’re the friendly “animal-lovers” who kill over 90% of the pets that they “rescue” each year.
Morgan was asked why – if she believed Nor Cal still legally owned Buddy and she was worried about meeting Irish in person – she didn’t have the organization’s leadership ask for Buddy back through normal channels. “There wasn’t time for that,” Morgan answered. “He’d already placed the dog up for adoption and I didn’t want him to find a home. I had to protect Nor Cal from the liability.”
Now while I admit that I have concerns about some rescue groups that adopt out dogs with known aggression problems to unwitting pet owners — I also know that with time and effort, many of these problems can be fixed. In almost a decade of experience as a dog trainer, I’ve only come across a small handful of dogs that had behavior problems that I felt warranted euthanasia. Add to that the fact that the folks in charge of the Nor Cal didn’t share her concerns or authorize her behavior and it’s clear that (much like the folks at PETA) she’s more concerned about protecting and defending her own self-definitional beliefs than in saving dogs.
But… Irish doesn’t escape this little melodrama unscathed either. What kind of person meets a stranger in a Wal-Mart parking lot and passes off a dog with no home visit, no background check — without so much as verifying the person’s phone number or home address?
When Nor Cal board members failed to kick Morgan out of the group, Stanley resigned as the organization’s president. “A nonprofit should never do this kind of stuff,” she said of the activities Morgan, Hanlon and Ormond had participated in. “There are many great volunteers in Nor Cal who love dogs and help them, but condoning Jill Morgan’s actions makes us all look like nut cases.”
So here we have one, very lonely, voice for sanity. Morgan, Hanlon and Ormond apparently thought that their radical opinions entitled them to resort to lies, subterfuge and possibely even fraud. Irish, who seems to have at least had good intentions, neglected to conduct even a very minimal background check on someone before he gave her a dog he says he cared very much for.
And once again it’s the dogs who lose. The Ledger reports that the number of dogs being surrendered to Nor Cal have dropped significantly since this story hit the press. Perhaps their owners feel that a dog they need to re-home has a better chance now with local shelters — and perhaps they’re right. Unfortunately, these kinds of controlling dysfunctional people all too often find their way to rescue groups where they are far more effective at sowing dissent and creating unnecessary obstacles than in helping dogs.