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On The Prowl - News from our Chief Reporter Nick Mays

Charity investigated over misuse of Katrina funds


LOUISIANA ATTORNEY General Charles C. Foti, Jr., announced that his office has opened an inquiry into allegations involving funds raised for pets in need and irregularities with pet/owner reunions by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). The Attorney General’s Office is asking the HSUS for an accounting of all funds HSUS raised for the purpose of pet rescue and reunion with pet owners in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The Attorney General’s office has received numerous complaints from pet owners about problems many are having finding their pets following.

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Through its association with other animal welfare organisations throughout the United States, HSUS has documented and placed animals in shelters around the country, often resulting in the displaced pets’ adoption. In some cases, pet owners claim that those who are currently caring for the displaced pets are refusing to reunite the pet with the proper owners.

“Once again we will be on the lookout to make sure that those who seek to raise money for Hurricane victims in our state, do exactly what they claim to do when soliciting funds,” stated General Foti, “While I commend the work of the many wonderful charitable organizations that have come forward to help us in our time of need, I also want people to know that they cannot take advantage of our situation in any way.”

“If HSUS, as alleged, did misuse funds received from contributions made by individuals or businesses that thought they were directly helping animal victims of the hurricanes, then the organization should be held accountable,” says Kay Johnson, executive vice president for Animal Agriculture Alliance. Johnson added, “This would not be the first time a national animal rights non-profit organization has misused funds from donations. In 2002, Farm Sanctuary, an animal rights non-profit that often works closely with HSUS on farm animal issues, was charged with misuse of donations raised for a campaign to amend Florida’s state constitution. In that case, Farm Sanctuary was fined $50,000 by the Florida Elections Commission.”

The allegations have also been posted across the Internet by various individuals, many of whom claim to be New Orleans pet owners who have lost pets after the HSUS rehomed them, whilst some others claim to have been involved in the voluntary rescue work and saw at first hand how supplies and animals ‘disappeared’.

One posting which has been sent by e-mail around the world said: “For quite some time, there have been rumours that the Louisiana Attorney General had plans to investigate complaints filed against the HSUS for misuse of donated funds in connection with rescue of pets from the Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita ravaged areas of the southern states.

“It’s now official. Complaints and reports have indicated that supplies (beds, blankets, toys, crates, x-pens, etc.) and food were never allowed to be used to help the animals housed in the rescue centres. Although thousands of pounds of top-quality food were donated, many volunteers have complained that they were only allowed to feed the rescued animals the cheapest, poorest quality foods they received.

“Allegations have been made that purebred rescue groups were turned away by the HSUS and not allowed to pull their own breeds from the rescue centres, unless they were willing to take “X” number of “others” as well. Additional reports indicate that at least 700 “bully” breed dogs mysteriously disappeared from the HSUS rescue centres, never to be seen again. It has also been widely reported that some pets were sent to far-away locations, quickly adopted out, and that no real efforts were made to reunite these lost pets with their original owners.”

The Humane Society of the United States responded to General Charles Foti’s announcement that he has opened an inquiry into the group’s efforts to reunite people with their lost pets during Hurricane Katrina.

“Our first priority was saving animals from certain death. The HSUS and other animal welfare groups worked under the authority of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture to rescue and shelter thousands of animals in need. We made every effort to assist people looking for animals,” said Wayne Pacelle, HSUS president & CEO.

Pacelle noted that the state of Louisiana originally set 15 October 2005 as the deadline for all reunions to occur. The HSUS pushed the state to extend the deadline by 30 days, and then asked shelters across the country that had opened their doors to the animal victims of Katrina to voluntarily agree not to adopt out animals until 15 December.

Most local animal shelters, which take in homeless animals from their own communities every day, could not hold Katrina pets indefinitely. Animal sheltering experts recommend against holding animals for months at a time in kennels; their physical and mental conditions can quickly deteriorate in such confined conditions. Many shelters extended their normal holding periods for Katrina animals, but animals whose owners could not be found were adopted into new homes.
Pacelle underscored the strenuous efforts of The HSUS and other groups to continue their rescue, relief and reunion work even after state officials forced the closure of the temporary animal sheltering facility at Lamar Dixon Centre in Gonzales on 10 October. A 19 September press release from the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, home to the State Veterinarian’s Office, set the terms for closure of the animal shelter and for reunion work. According to that statement, “after 15 October, 2005, unclaimed animals will be eligible for adoption.” Animal organisations were not expected to house unclaimed animals after that date.
“Government officials set a strict limit on the number of animals that could be housed, and brought the central sheltering operation in Louisiana to an end in October over our objections, since we wanted to continue to operate,” said Pacelle. “Moving animals to shelters across the country made it possible to rescue more animals whose lives were in immediate danger. Working with local animal shelters and humane societies across the country, HSUS and the other groups arranged airlifts for the animals, documented and catalogued those animals as best we could, and worked to secure as many reunions as possible under difficult circumstances.”

According to Pacelle, The HSUS spent or pledged approximately $25 million in the Gulf Coast states. “We made a long-term commitment to the protection of animals in the Gulf Coast, and we will see that commitment through,” said Pacelle.

New Orleans unveils rescue plan for hurricane pets

Inmates from the Pocahontas Correctional Unit in Chesterfield, Va.,
tend to Hurricane Katrina refugee cats

AMONGST the most haunting images of Hurricane Katrina last year were surely those of pets abandoned in flooded New Orleans by owners who were told by rescuers that they could not leave with their animals.

Many residents died because they insisted on staying with their pets rather than leaving them to starve or drown. But the city’s animal-lovers should not face the same heart-wrenching decision if another devastating storm strikes.

Under a new evacuation strategy unveiled recently by the Mayor, Ray Nagin, people will be allowed to take their pets on evacuation buses and trains as long as they are caged.
The same safeguards are expected to be provided across the country under legislation introduced with bipartisan support in the Senate last month.

The draft bill would require local authorities to include evacuation procedures for household pets and service animals such as guard dogs in their emergency preparation plans.

“We learnt many important lessons from hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma,” said Ted Stevens, a Republican senator who introduced the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act with Democrat senator Frank Lautenberg.

“One of these lessons was that we must put procedures in place to evacuate not only residents in areas impacted by a natural disaster, but also pets and service animals.”

Mr Lautenberg added: “Losing a home in a disaster is traumatic, but losing a beloved family pet makes it even more devastating. We saw many people in New Orleans who refused to leave without their pets, putting themselves in more danger. If there had been a plan to evacuate people with their pets, we might have saved some human lives as well as many animals.”

Civilian rescuers carry dogs to safety on a New Orleans street
flooded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina last year.

The New Orleans evacuation plan also eliminates the use of the Superdome and Convention Centre as shelters. These were scenes of misery after Katrina as tens of thousands of residents languished in sordid conditions, with many people, including young women and tourists in fear of their lives due to large gangs of thieves and would-be rapists and murderers. The priority instead will be better use of buses and trains to evacuate people.

The flooding after Katrina killed at least 1,300 people on the Gulf Coast. An official with the Humane Society of Louisiana estimated that hundreds of thousands of animals also died in the flooding.

Meanwhile, allegations have emerged accusing the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) of abusing emergency funds and supplies sent to New Orleans to help the stranded animals. The office of the Attorney General of Louisiana has launched an official investigation into the allegation and charges against HSUS may follow.

Thugs’ dog savages cat

A FAMILY were left distraught after thugs set a dog onto their cat, ripping it to pieces.
Peter Corrigan, Christine Gill and their son Wayne Corrigan, 20, from Bradford, West Yorkshire, were devastated when they found the remains of nine-year-old Smudge in brambles near their home.

They were horrified when they learned he had been killed in a deliberate attack after the dog was thrown at him.

The RSPCA condemned the attack. They said the dog may have been trained to attack other animals on a signal. Now the family is calling for the thugs to be brought to justice.

Security guard Mr Corrigan said Smudge had been missing for a day when they found his remains.

“We were looking for him,” Mr Corrigan said. “We were worried he might have been injured.”
The family’s worst fears were confirmed when a neighbour said he had seen a cat being savaged outside their home, in Cavendish Road, Idle, Bradford, during the early hours of Friday, 19 May.
“He said he had been looking out of his window and had seen the cat on the grass,” Mr Corrigan said. “A red car with two lads in it pulled up and one of them got out of the car and put his hood up.”

Mr Corrigan said his neighbour saw the man open the car boot and get out a torch before lifting out a dog.

“He chucked the dog at the cat and it tore into him,” he said. “And then it was as if Smudge was a piece of rubbish. He just chucked him into the brambles.”

The family called police after being told what had happened by their neighbour.

A police spokesman said: “We are investigating reports that a dog may have attacked a cat. Obviously it’s very upsetting when a family lose their pet.”

Figures released by Bradford RSPCA last year showed West Yorkshire was a UK hotspot for animal cruelty.

RSPCA spokesperson Heather Holmes, said new figures will be revealed in July, adding that she expected little change in the findings.

The figures are based on the number of people phoning in with complaints and the numbers of prosecutions for cruelty.

Mrs Holmes said what had happened to Smudge was unusual.

“There is a minority of people in our society who dream up ways of being cruel to animals,” she said. “This is cruelty in regards to the cat and also in regards to the dog. It’s been stuffed in a boot and it’s been trained to respond to certain stimuli.”

She said it was unlikely the animal was being trained for dog fighting but was more likely to have been used for its owners’ cruel pleasure.

Mrs Holmes urged pet owners not to worry about letting their cats out because of what had happened.

“There are thousands of people who own cats and their pets will never be attacked in this way,” she said.

Miss Gill, a checkout assistant, said she had not been able to sleep since the attack. “I cannot imagine what he must have gone through,” she said. “It will take us ages to get over this. How could someone be so cruel and evil? I hope they catch them.”

In a second dog attack, pet owner Chris Walsh, 59, had to have his beloved cat put down after her back was broken when a dog mauled her.

Devastated Mr Walsh said 20-year-old Sammy had been a source of comfort to him during recent treatment for bowel cancer. He condemned dog owners for not keeping their pets on a lead.
Mr Walsh said he saw the dog in his garden. “This tan-coloured Bull Mastiff was running up and down and sniffing around,” he said. “I approached the dog at first because I didn’t think it had done anything, but a neighbour called out “Don’t go near him, he’s had Sammy’.

“Lying in the garden was my poor cat, lying there in absolute agony. She couldn’t move her back end.”

Mr Walsh, a van driver, from Thornton, said Sammy had been in good health despite her age.
“I expected her to go with a heart attack or something, but not by being savaged by a dog,” he said. “I just miss her so much.”

* Police are asking anyone who has any information about the attack on Smudge to contact them on (01274) 376059.