Rescuers fight pet thieves & pet theft allegations

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2005:

GONZALES, Louisiana–Rumors flew at the Hurricane
Katrina/Rita animal care centers about dogfighters trucking away pit
bull terriers by the dozen, but rescuers Walter and Faye Peters of
Contented Critters in Makinen, Minnesota, were apparently the first
suspected “pet thieves” apprehended by law enforcement.
Walter and Faye Peters “could face charges of possessing
stolen property or transporting stolen goods across state lines,”
Duluth News-Tribune staff writer Janna Goerdt reported on September
22, after the Duluth Animal Shelter seized 12 dogs and a kitten that
they allegedly took out of Louisiana without authorization.
Another Contended Critters volunteer who had misgivings
called the Duluth police, who intercepted the Peterses as they
entered town, Goerdt wrote.
North Shore Animal League America operations director Paul
Greene on September 14 had a somewhat similar experience, albeit
more rapidly resolved.

Greene “arrived in Tylertown, Mississippi to assist Jeff Dorson of
the Humane Society of Louisiana,” Greene e-mailed. “Our mobile unit
took animals who looked as if they were owned, i.e. had a collar or
were altered, and took them to the HSUS facility in Hattiesberg so
they could be logged [with Petfinder]. They were refused admission,”
Greene said, “although they were allowed to walk the animals. The
reason given was that the animals were considered ‘stolen,'” having
not been entered into the data system before leaving Louisiana, “and
what needed to happen was to get the animals to a Louisiana facility,
as dictated by Louisiana law.
“However,” Green continued, “the whole reason the animals
were brought to the Humane Society of Louisiana temporary
headquarters in Mississippi was that they were refused entry at the
Lamar-Dixon rescue center at Gonzales, Louisiana. The animals
suffered in 100-degree heat because of all this red tape,” Greene
“Also,” Greene added, “HSUS shared the fact that any vets
assisting animals without prior approval [from Louisiana and
Mississippi veterinary authorities] are at risk of losing their
Eventually the Louisiana and Mississippi veterinary boards
expedited the process of credentialing outside vets who came to help,
and state officials gained confidence that the major humane
organizations were making every effort to reunite pets with their
Front-line rescuers, however, remained vigilant.
“The majority of the dogs were pit bulls,” observed
Lamar-Dixon volunteer Dana Forbes, of Houston. “I saw several who
were glaringly scarred from fighting. One had a lot of fresh wounds.
In my opinion, many of these dogs were better off for having been
separated from their owners, even though they will probably end up
being euthanized. I was concerned about the number of people walking
through and looking at the dogs who looked more like dogfighters than
doting people looking for Fido.”
Agreed Shannon Martin, who with her husband Mark managed the
Disaster Response Animal Rescue center at the Winn-Dixie parking lot
on the fringe of New Orleans, “We’re seeing much in the way of
low-down dirty scum stealing pits for fighting. Katrina took away a
huge money source for these meanies. I think they are a little
irritated to lose their bread and butter,” as dogs chained in yards
were among the first casualties of the flooding.
Opposite to the monetary motive, Martin noted, was that
“Some rescuers feel like an animal’s savior. They bond with the
animal and want to keep the animal close. I have heard some
referring to this as stealing,” Martin acknowledged, in cases where
the rescuers smuggled the animals out of the rescue centers to take
“I’m not sure I agree,” Martin continued. “It’s such a fine
line. Most rescuers came to save animals. I can’t imagine
tolerating these conditions just to procure a new pet.
“Reunification is the ultimate goal,” Martin affirmed.
“Unfortunately for many of these animals that won’t be possible.
Animals have been found miles from their homes, carried away by the
storm surge, or in neighbors’ houses. Then there are the animals
found wandering with no tags or collars and nowhere near a residence.
It’s almost impossible to document these guys. Yet, I hear
constantly how groups are not documenting. It’s ridiculous.”
The fate of exotic pets who were transported without adequate
identification and record-keeping also became a concern. HSUS and
the ASPCA on September 24 warned staff and other rescue centers
against releasing exotic birds to an organization called 911 Parrot
Alert. Rescue volunteers including Aid for Animals founder Jeannette
Ferro, of Baker, Louisiana, discovered that the organization
lacked IRS nonprofit status and relevant operating permits more than
a week earlier, and raised questions about the care and destinations
of the birds that 911 Parrot Alert was taking in. However, Ferro’s
September 16 written summary of the situation apparently did not
reach the rescue center directors until ANIMAL PEOPLE received it
eight days later, verified some of Ferro’s allegations, and relayed
the Ferro correspondence to HSUS director of animal sheltering Kate
Pullen, who followed up immediately.
Equipment theft afflicted both the Lamar-Dixon and
Hattiesburg rescue centers until secure perimeter fencing and guards
were posted around the animal care areas. Humane Society of the U.S.
vice president for companion animals Martha Armstrong told ANIMAL
PEOPLE that the most brazen scam at Lamar-Dixon involved a man
impersonating an Environmental Protection Agency inspector, who
tried to “confiscate” large numbers of animal carrying crates on the
pretext that federal law permitted using each one just once.

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