Demolition, eviction, & good deeds that save animal shelters
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2005:
DELHI, CANCUN, BUCHAR-EST, MONROE
(Ct.)–Two kinds of good deeds are the life and
death of animal shelters: good deeds for animals,
and good title deeds to the land they occupy.
Rescuers who try to do good deeds without
good title deeds may find their hopes and dreams
crashing down around them, as Friendicoes SECA
shelter manager Geeta Seshamani of Delhi, India
did on March 16, 2005.
Acclaimed worldwide for tsunami relief
work in Tamil Nadu state and the Andaman Islands,
Friendicoes SECA “just had a large chunk of its
shelter ripped down by a demolition squad,”
Seshamani e-mailed to ANIMAL PEOPLE.
In addition to her regular workload,
Seshamani for the first six weeks of 2005
supervised operations at the Wildlife SOS
sanctuary for rescued dancing bears near Agra,
while Wildlife SOS co-founder Kartick Satnarayan
directed the three Wildlife SOS/Friendicoes SECA
tsunami relief teams. The field work left both
Then Wildlife SOS took in 15 bear cubs
after a series of raids on poachers and
traffickers in Goa and Karnataka states. Nine of
the cubs were so young that they required bottle
feeding. Seshamani is the usual surrogate mama
bear in such cases.
But no situation is so hectic that it cannot get worse.
“Have not slept a wink for the last two
days and nights, running from pillar to post
making petitions to all authorities,” Seshamani
continued. “Friendicoes has so little space
to begin with, and this corridor of land,”
where the demolition occurred, “was the hugest
dustbin and pile of rubble you ever saw,” before
Friendicoes annexed it. The rubbish heap “had
been there for 15 years while the authorities
fought over who had a a budget to clean it up,”
Seshamani said. “I asked for use of it, saying
if we could clean it up, we could keep our
Animal Birth Control program post-surgery cases
there. They must have thought I was mad, and the
local [municipal] engineer gave me permission.
It took us a year to make it presentable, a bit
at a time,” while a ruling by the Supreme Court
of India in favor of the ABC approach and against
killing dogs resulted in the Friendicoes SECA
sterilization surgery workload doubling.
“We covered the corridor with fibreglas
sheets to weatherproof it and tiled the floor,”
Seshamani recounted, “and suddenly the shopping
complex next door eyed it as valuable property,
and the next thing I knew, dogs, baby monkeys,
cats and puppies were all out there traumatized,
piled up and thrown out. Someone called up
Priyanka Gandhi,” daughter of assassinated
former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and
Congress Party head Sonia Gandhi, “and she at
once intervened, and the Lieutenant Governor’s
office told them not to use bull dozers on us,
or touch us further. Now I am sitting in various
offices applying for formal allocation of this
piece of land for the animals of Delhi,”
Reported by local editions of the
industan Times and Times of India, the
Friendicoes SECA crisis may have a happy ending.
The outcome of a similar case involving
the Asociaciòn Provida Animal, A.C. of Cancun,
Mexico, appears much more difficult to project.
“Disregarding a commitment to relocate
more than 100 dogs from the shelter, at 4:00
a.m. on February 5th the building company Opresa
S.A. de C.V., which is building a commercial
site by the name of Gran Plaza, invaded and
demolished the shelter facilities while the dogs
were still inside,” charged shelter supporter
Phillipe Jean Figueroa in an e-mail to ANIMAL
“Some were run over by heavy machinery
and killed,” as attached photos confirmed.
“Many more escaped,” Figueroa continued. “The
present conditions are very bad.”
Translating Figueroa’s e-mail from the
Spanish original, ANIMAL PEOPLE promptly
responded with questions to which a Marie
Figueroa promised answers. Both Phillipe Jean
Figueroa and Marie Figueroa may be related to
Rosalinda Figueroa, who founded the Asociaciòn
Provida Animal, A.C.
More than seven weeks later, ANIMAL
PEOPLE still had no further information from any
of the Figueroas, who may have been advised to
say nothing by attorneys seeking settlement of
However, Araceli Dominguez of Cancun
investigated the situation for ANIMAL PEOPLE, at
request of dolphin defender Ric O’Barry, of One
Voice. Often clashing with Cancun
“swim-with-dolphins” promoters, O’Barry
introduced Dominguez as “The best animal rights
activist in Cancun.”
Rosalinda Figueroa, Dominguez reported,
“had a refuge for the dogs in a place that was
originally outside the city, but because the
city has grown so much, the land became part of
the city. Her family owns this land, which is
near where the Gran Plaza mall is to be built.
As I understand it,” Dominguez said, trying to
unravel an apparently quite tangled story,
“there was a lot of misunderstanding among the
family and the people who want to build.
Supposedly they were negotiating with Rosalinda
Figueroa to buy the land, and her brother sold
it, but she never knew about it, and things
“Finally the mall developers told her
that they were going to breach the wall of the
refuge if Rosalinda Figueroa did not leave. They
were talking about giving her money and another
piece of land, and they were in this discussion
when the company that was contracted to build the
mall arrived and smashed the walls,” Dominguez
“Rosalinda Figueroa tried to stop it.
Allegedly the bulldozer driver said that he was
going to kill her, and she said, ‘Do it,
because I am not going to move.’ The police took
the driver to jail. They released him two days
later,” Dominguez said. “The government is not
“I can understand that there were many
misunderstandings with the money, the land and
whatever,” Dominguez opined, “but this was not
the right way to solve the problem. There were
185 dogs at the shelter that Rosalinda Figueroa
took from the streets. Some were puppies. Some
were sick. She fed them and took care of them.
Ten dogs were killed and 23 disappeared.
Rosalinda Figueroa still has 153, but without
walls it is very difficult for her to handle
them, and she does not want to move to any other
place until this problem is over with.
“Rosalinda Figueroa is fighting this with
lawyers, asking a judge to make justice. We
will have to wait to see what is going to
happen,” Dominguez concluded.
Bulldozers didn’t come crashing through
the walls of K9 Friends’ shelter in Al Barsha,
Dubai, but a 90-day eviction notice delivered in
February comparably shocked the founders and
volunteers. With 87 dogs on hand, and nowhere
else to go, they needed to rehome almost a dog a
This was not necessarily impossible for
K9 Friends –just difficult. Founded in 1987 as
a dog club, K9 Friends branched into rescue
fostering the following year. K9 Friends rehomed
more than 3,000 dogs during the next 11 years.
The organization then rented a warehouse in Al
Barsha, renovated it as a shelter, and rehomed
another 1,000 dogs in four years.
Along the way, K9 Friends also inspired
formation of a parallel society, Feline
Friends, to rescue, foster, and rehome cats.
Operating on a budget of $109,000 in
2004, raised mostly from the Dubai expatriate
community, K9 Friends has been perhaps the most
successful dog rehoming project between western
Europe and Hong Kong.
Yet through mid-March it had not found
other rented premises it could afford, and had
appealed to Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed,
seeking donated space.
Rental properties are scarce in Dubai to
begin with. Sites suitable for kennel use are
scarcer still, and the situation may be
compounded by prejudice against dogs and
resentment of expatriates accentuated by the U.S.
presence in Iraq.
Fundatia Daisy Hope
A similar catastrophe recently befell the
Fundatia Daisy Hope, of Bucharest, Romania,
profiled by ANIMAL PEOPLE in June 2004.
Cofounders Aura Maratas and Daniela Ristea barely
knew each other before starting the outdoor
shelter in March 2001, after then-Bucharest mayor
Traian Basescu threatened to start massacring
street dogs. Ristea leased to the Fundatia Daisy
Hope her third of a lot that she and her siblings
had recently inherited, zoned for light
industrial use. Maratas, who with her husband
started a business that exports furniture and
imports sugar, furnished most of the necessary
cash and management knowhow.
The Fundatia Daisy Hope was one of only
two animal shelters to get started in inner
Bucharest before stricter enforcement of zoning
laws forced other shelter operators to set up
beyond the highway that rings the developed
The other inner Bucharest shelter,
started at about the same time, located a block
away on the same street, is the Asociatia
Prietenii Animalelor Romania, also known as
Adapostul Christi and Tierschutz Christi.
As ANIMAL PEOPLE reported after viewing
both shelters, they could scarcely have been
more different. The Fundatia Daisy Hope was
bright, open, friendly toward neighbors,
welcoming to visitors, and quick to present
financial details to potential donors. Tierschutz
Christi, admitting no visitors, was a
high-security prison for dogs, accused by
neighbors of making dogs into sausage. It was
among the Romanian shelters in whose name German
fundraiser Wolfgang Ullrich, 60, embezzled as
much as $45 million. Convicted in Munich in
April 2003 of stealing $28 million, Ullrich is
now serving a 12-year prison term.
Also in 2003, Maratas obtained a copy of
an appeal issued by the German organization
Tierschutzverein fur den Kreis Kleve E.V. on
behalf of Tierschutz Christi that used photos of
the Fundatia Daisy Hope.
Straightening out the ensuing donor
confusion over whose shelter was which was a
minor irritant compared to the division of
outlook that developed between Maratas and
Ristea. The first priority for Ristea, as the
dog massacres continued, was to take as many
dogs off the streets as possible. Maratas
preferred to emphasize outreach sterilization and
quality care for “only” 230 dogs at a time, in
order to show visitors how dogs should be kept.
Ristea, apparently pressured by siblings who
want to sell the site, also wanted the Fundatia
Daisy Hope to buy the land, including her
siblings’ shares. Maratas liked the idea in
principle, but saw other priorities.
In late 2004 Maratas and Ristea finally
split. Maratas in mid-February expected to have
to leave the property immediately, but on March
12 e-mailed, “I solved my problem with the land
until the end of the rental period in September
2006. In the meantime I will buy some land,”
outside the ring highway, “and next year I will
move the shelter step by step.”
Ce-Ce & Friends
The Friendicoes SECA and Asociaciòn
Provida Animal, A.C. partial demolitions were
extreme examples of a pattern of failure to
secure title deeds and zoning permits that ANIMAL
PEOPLE has identified as responsible for more
shelter closures than the combined totals
resulting from fundraising failures, criminal
mismanagement such as embezzling, deaths of
founders, fires, and natural disasters.
The K9 Friends and Fundatia Daisy Hope
episodes, though occurring abroad, exemplify
how the pattern often plays out in the U.S.–and
is playing out now for small shelters from the
Ce-Ce & Friends Humane Society in Quincy,
Massachusetts, to the Sylvester Foundation of
“Ce-Ce & Friends Humane Society has
negotiated a settlement with landlord Antonio
Bandis that will allow the animal shelter to stay
at its present site until June,” Jenn Abelson of
the Boston Globe reported on February 6. “Bandis
sent an eviction notice to the volunteers at the
no-kill feline shelter, ordering them to leave
by the end of January.”
The shelter has occupied the site on a
month-to-month basis since 1998. Ce-Ce & Friends
treasurer Karen Barrett told Abelson that Bandis
had refused to provide a lease.
Bandis lives in a house behind the
shelter, and has a rental apartment above it.
He told Abelson that previous tenants have
complained about the presence of the shelter,
which houses approximately 30 cats at a time,
adopting out 50 per year–including one cat
placed with a former upstairs tenant, according
“We don’t want to stay where we are not
wanted, but we need more time to find a new
place,” volunteer Jeannie Allan told Abelson.
“We’re just having no luck.”
Paying rent of about $700 a month now,
Ce-Ce & Friends hopes to find new space for
approximately $1,000 a month, but is finding
that suitable locations start around $1,500 a
month, board president Peggy Wright told Abelson.
Recounted Abelson, “The search began in
October 2004, after Bandis told them that the
shelter had to vacate.”
“He swore he would never do that,” claimed treasurer Karin Barrett.
Bandis said he warned Ce-Ce & Friends in April
2004 that it would have to move when he finished
renovating the upstairs apartment.
The Hawaii Department of Land & Natural
Resources on March 1 evicted the Sylvester
Foundation no-kill shelter from a leased 20-acre
site near Waimanalu.
“The lease expired on August 9, 2004,
but the agency gave the group until December 17
to vacate the property and find a new home for
its 300 animals,” Honolulu Advertiser Windward
O’ahu writer Eloise Aguiar recounted.
Sylvester Foundation director Candy Lake told
Aguiar that about 30 Department of Land & Natural
Resources personnel, police and others gave her
10 minutes to vacate the site at 9:30 a.m. on
March 1, after earlier serving notice that she
would subject to eviction at any time after 6:30
“They wouldn’t let me go back and get my
cats,” Lake claimed. “And they dumped my
mongoose because I didn’t have my permit in hand.”
“Lake said she was able to remove all the
remaining dogs,” Aguiar wrote, “but about 25
cats remained. Although she was not allowed on
the property, she was able to send a friend to
try to capture the cats, she said. Nine dogs
were placed in kennels, the cats will stay at a
ranch in Waimanalo, and the chickens were moved
to another ranch, she said.”
The Department of Land & Natural
Resources gave Lake at least four extensions of
the original deadline to vacate, but lost
patience when she turned down an 11.9-acre site
the agency offered as unsuitable and too costly
to develop, and claimed that bad luck and broken
promises by supporters had interfered with other
The Sylvester Foundation lost the lease
to the 20-acre site at public auction in June
2004. The wnning bid was submitted by the
nursery firm Landscape Hawaii.
Animal Adoption Network
Animal Adoption Network founder Fred
Acker, of Monroe, Connecticut, expected to
avoid the problems associated with not owning a
shelter property outright. Acker in 1999 bought
a 3.6-acre former farmstead in one of the
neighborhoods where ANIMAL PEOPLE in 1991-1992
tested neuter/return feral cat control. The Town
of Monroe Animal Care & Control mini-shelter is
just a few blocks away.
Converting the barn and outbuildings to
house about 30 cats and 50 dogs at a time seemed
logical. The facilities apparently once included
a breeding or boarding kennel–but that was
decades ago, before the last working farms in
Monroe were subdivided.
If Acker had moved into a vacant former
supermarket about a mile to the north, he could
have renovated to state-of-the-art adoption
shelter standards, including glass-fronted
soundproofed dog runs, comfortable in all
weather, undetectable by the neighbors from
sounds and smells.
Instead, Acker ended up with a more
picturesque location that was conceptually
obsolete 50 years before it opened. Neighbors
irate about constant barking sued him. His legal
fees exceeded $100,000, he told Monroe Courier
editor Karen Kovacs Dydzuhn. The Monroe Planning
& Zoning Commission ordered Acker to keep the
dogs indoors from 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m., and
warned him against keeping dogs in a trailer on
the property and an unheated greenhouse.
Finally, in early 2005, Monroe police
seized 11 dogs from the trailer and greenhouse,
and hit Acker with 84 cruelty charges. Police
chief John Salvatore told the Courier “that the
conditions went beyond messy cages. He said some
of the animals were living in unheated buildings,
some without water or with frozen water,”
Acker had strong defenders, Dydzuhn
noted, including American SPCA board member
Reenie Brown and local veterinarian David
Acker may beat the cruelty charges, but
with foreclosure looming, after years of
substantial operating losses, he announced in
early February 2005 that the Animal Adoption
Network shelter will close as soon as he can
relocate all the animals, and that he has put
the $1.25 million property up for sale.
Mass neglect allegations are the only
cause of shelter failure more common than lack of
papers securing a shelter site.
Often lack of a clear title deed or a
zoning permit is also the factor that flushes
hoarding cases into the open.
Hoarders frequently claim to operate
shelters, but–unlike Acker and the Animal
Adoption Network–usually have not actually
incorporated nonprofit, and have not sought
permits to house large numbers of animals.
Legitimate shelters whose land use is
threatened have usually followed the steps
required to operate, but in their eagerness to
get started, have tried to operate on rented,
leased, or conditionally “donated”
property–like K9 Friends, the Fundatia Daisy
Hope, Ce-Ce & Friends, and the Sylvester
Foundation. They learn too late that property
they do not own can be yanked away from them
whenever the landlords or donors change their
minds about harboring animals instead pursuing
more lucrative or less problematic uses.
Then, desperate to relocate with large
numbers of animals, and caught without
collateral for a mortgage, they repeat the
mistake by moving to another rented, leased, or
conditionally donated site.
In addition, legitimate shelters founded
by inexperienced people are often situated in
anticipation of securing zoning variances or
reviving old land uses that are then thwarted,
like Acker’s hopes, by neighborhood opposition.
Zoning variances may be promised by
public officials who underestimate such issues as
barking dogs, increased traffic, increased
sewer and water use, and the potential cost to a
municipality of issuing a variance that results
in a lawsuit.
Reviving a former “agricultural” land use
in a newly gentrified neighborhood, as Acker
tried to do, may be exactly what the neighbors
say they want, to preserve green space, but
they are more likely to have in mind a Christmas
tree farm, a pumpkin patch, or a horse pasture
than a rescue operation that recycles facilities
left by a long defunct puppy mill.
When the permits to operate are delayed,
denied, or amended in ways that restrict the
ability of a shelter to function, the shelter
itself becomes vulnerable to lawsuit. Typically
the neighbors trying to force it out have much
deeper pockets than the young nonprofit
organization trying to set up shop–again as
A shelter is a business
Set up shop? That represents another
closely related problem. Founders of nonprofit
animal shelters often fail to recognize that
being nonprofit does not exempt them from the
site requirements that must be met by for-profit
Compliance can require the addition of
parking for disabled people and wheelchair ramps,
for example, plus fire escape routes that the
disabled can use–and that can make prohibitive
the cost of renovating older buildings into
animal shelters, even when the buildings and
land are “free.”
In one Vermont case that ANIMAL PEOPLE
reported about some years ago, an invalid
donated a Victorian house to her local humane
society because she could no longer get around in
it, then conditionally left her estate to the
humane society several years later to help cover
the crippling expense of making the house
properly accessible. The chief condition was
that the house had to be used as an animal
By the time the directors finished
fending off relatives who contested the will,
they realized that the humane society would be
far ahead if they simply sold the house and used
the proceeds to buy land and build from scratch.
As judges eventually informed them, the will did
not allow this.
Nearly bankrupted by the cost of complying with
all legal requirements, the humane society
finally opened the shelter eight years after the
property was donated–and the volunteer staff
almost immediately realized it was far too small.
When ANIMAL PEOPLE first mentioned the
case, directors of two other Vermont humane
societies, in a state which then had only nine,
called to say that their organizations had gone
through similar events in trying to convert
bequests of homes into viable shelters. Some
callers wondered if we had mislocated or written
about a composite of cases that occurred in other
New England states.
The case we wrote about exemplified not
an exceptional well-intentioned catastrophe but a
syndrome. We only heard about the examples in
which the shelter caught in the syndrome
survived. If shelters folded, there was no one
to receive ANIMAL PEOPLE, read the article, and