For the past few days, the Southern California rescue community, along with compassionate people from around the country, has watched a potential tearjerker unfold. A man was arrested on outstanding traffic warrants and possible other charges. His dog was taken to the San Bernardino City Shelter in California’s “Inland Empire” as a “stray.”
The police knew the dog had an owner but chose not to tell shelter staff. The dog was a pit bull mix and as a stray stood zero chance of getting out alive. With an owner, a hold would be required; without, the dog could be killed in 72 hours.
A local photographer and animal advocate, Maria Sanchez, noticed a man weeping at the dog’s cage. He asked about getting his dog back but all he had was $6. The cost for the impound was about $400.
Sanchez took his photo and uploaded it to her Facebook page. The photo and story went viral. Sanchez and supporters raised funds to gain release of the dog and provide veterinary care and food. The problem was that no one knew the name or contact information for the dog’s owner because of how the city of San Bernardino Police Department handled the situation.
News stations became involved and the local ABC affiliate tracked down the owner. His name is “Dave.” By the time he was found, almost $2,000 had been raised and “Buzz” could be saved.
Buzz is now neutered, microchipped with Sanchez as the second contact, vaccinated and reunited with Dave. Dave was given PetSmart gift cards with the remaining balance so that he could pay for dog food well into the future.
No good deed goes unpunished. Sanchez is being maligned by some in the animal rescue community. On various threads on Facebook and other forums, she has been accused of scamming the public, asking for donations for personal gain, helping a felon and worse.
Sanchez has been instrumental in blowing the lid off of the atrocities at the San Bernardino City Shelter. The city is bankrupt and is taking it out on its shelter animals. Animals are going without medical care and are disappearing at alarming rates. Pits, in particular, simply vanish.
Just last month Sanchez was sent a threatening email by manager Ryan Long where he accused her of demoralizing his staff and tearing down the reputation of his department. He said that she could not return to the shelter until further review. This was after she photographed a dog with an embedded collar that received no veterinary care for six days and the photo went viral.
Many shelter managers and staff are masters at pitting one rescue against another if they feel their actions are about to be exposed. They use peer pressure within the rescue community to maintain control and the status quo. Rescuers, fearful of losing their pull rights or those who simply have bruised egos, go right along. In the end it is the animals that suffer and reform stands little chance.
Those criticizing Sanchez mostly consist of planted shelter workers and rescuers who are jealous of the publicity she has received for her good deed. It is typical in high profile cases.
Unfortunately, this situation points to why the rescue community is so ineffectual in gaining long-term results. We put egos ahead of the lives of animals and we allow ourselves to be manipulated by those who have good reason to fear discovery and change. Until we learn to work together as a community, we will never attain the big changes we all say we want.