I've written before, with alarm, about not-for-profit "animal welfare" organizations endowed with police powers. Such organizations are caught in a conflict of interest between funding themselves and going under, so they are motivated as much — or more — to attract funds from donors than to see that animal welfare laws are well crafted and properly enforced. In other words, such organizations can be bought, or more commonly, they may corrupt themselves into doing whatever is necessary to attract contributions. And, being private, they function largely independent of governmental oversight, and are difficult to hold accountable should they exceed their authority or abuse their power.
(Parenthetically, such not-for-profit organizations often lack the inclination or desire to distinguish between an Animal Rights perspective and an Animal Welfare one. In fact, their philosophy tends to swing towards AR and away from AW, taking advantage of the enormous publicity that AR activists generate in their quest against "animal abuse." For example, until recently, here in Oregon, the Oregon Humane Society listed PeTA and on its site as an "Animal Welfare" organization, and on its revised site, continues to list the "Humane Society of the United States" as an Animal Welfare organization. Both PeTA [and link, link] and the HSUS [and link] are Animal Rights groups — and if you don't know the difference, you jolly well should, [and link]. The OHS is strongly supporting legislation that would grant them the kinds of powers to be discussed below.)
From time to time, the mainstream media interests itself in what might well be termed the "Politics and Power of the Humane Industry." Last night John Stossel of ABC's 20/20 reported the results of a year long investigation into the SPCA. Here is the transcript of that report:
Animal Rescuers or Thieves? Some Owners Accuse Their SPCA Chapter of Taking Their Pets And Selling Them Commentary By John Stossel
- SPCAs have an image of being animal rescuers. And there's no question that the many Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals around the country do a lot of good work, rushing in to save animals from abusive people.
But some people who've had animals taken away by animal rescuers say some SPCAs have acted like petty tyrants on power trips. They say they use their police powers to take away people's animals, even when the animals don't need rescuing.
I found that hard to believe, but lots of people have been saying that their local SPCA has wrecked their lives.
Yes — it is hard to believe, though the logic is there for anyone who wishes to see it. A private organization, unaccountable to normal governmental oversights, needing to raise money for its survival (or merely for its prestige), the normal failings of some human beings who find acquiring and exercising power for its own sake gratifying, and the normal sympathetic instincts of other human beings to help neglected and abused animals, form a most unsavory soup, but one whose flavor could easily be predicted from its ingredients.
We spent a year investigating the SPCA, looking at 50 cases from New York to California. Many people think that SPCAs have a national headquarters, but SPCAs are really separate, independent operations located in towns across the country. Some animal owners claimed that when they became overextended in caring for their animals, an SPCA accused them of neglect, confiscated their animals and sold them.
The SPCAs then keep the money.
'Equine Shopping Mall'
One case we followed involved a New Jersey SPCA office accusing horse owner Joe Stuebing of starving his animals.
He said the horses had lost weight simply because they were sick and he was overwhelmed. But a local SPCA filed charge after charge against him for what it said was inhumane treatment. Then they took custody of his horses, some of which were champion bloodlines valued together at almost $1 million.
Stuebing says that the day after the SPCA took custody of his horses at Stuebing's own barn, they invited people to his farm to take his horses out from under him. "This was like an equine shopping mall. Like it was ripe for the pickings," Stuebing told "20/20."
"They are a self-righteous group of people that are in it for money," said Stuebing. "They don't care about the horses. They don't care about anything else, except money."
That's a charge we heard repeatedly from people who lost animals.
Sometimes the owners hire lawyers and file appeals, but they rarely win. Judges usually side with the SPCAs. After all, the animal rescuers are the experts, aren't they?
SPCA Leader Crafts Media Image
Take note: Image is crucial, a point not lost on those crusading against "animal abuse."
If you can control the image, you can control the message.
Dave Garcia has confiscated thousands of animals in several states. He now heads the Dallas SPCA, one of the biggest such organizations in America.
You get a sense of how important he considers his work when you listen to his opinion about the kind of people who abuse animals.
"If they beat a dog to death, then it's just a step up to beat a co-worker, or beat a classmate or and then a step up to . kill someone and then a step up to do a mass murder," Garcia told "20/20."
This is standard Animal Rights propaganda. Irrespective of evidence (which is weak or non-existent), it sells the Animal Rights agenda extremely well, and can be used with equal effect to further the personal goals of people in Mr. Garcia's privileged position. But if such claims further the agenda and raise money, who cares?
On local television, Garcia is often portrayed as a savior rescuing animals. And he has saved a lot of animals from abusive people.
"I should not have to warn someone to take care of their animals," said Garcia. "If they're here to make money with them, then take care of them."
Garcia led an effort to get Texas politicians to pass a law saying once a Justice of the Peace approves one of the SPCA's confiscations, an owner can't do anything about it.
And how scary is that?
Under Garcia's leadership, the Dallas SPCA has seen financial penalties against animal owners quadruple.
The SPCA invites television crews along on their raids confiscating animals. Such broadcasts spur the public to make big donations -- a total of $6 million last year to the Dallas SPCA -- which helps pay Garcia's $80,000 annual salary.
One of those raids occurred at Renee Moore's dog kennel, with TV reporters stating 120 dogs lived in deplorable conditions.
But Moore's dogs are show dogs. Some of them were thin, she said, because they were nursing large litters of puppies. Vets and breeders told us it can be normal for a dog's ribs to show when a dog is nursing lots of puppies.
But the SPCA took custody of all of Renee's dogs, including award-winners -- worth up to $600 each. After the radio, her vet wrote that while "housing and sanitation needed improvement" and suggested a cutback in the number of animals, he also said "Moore does care about and care for her animals no starvation was evident." A judge upheld the confiscation.
And how scary is that?
Unable to afford a lawyer, Renee wrote her own lawsuit charging the SPCA with stealing, but the suit was dismissed. Renee's livelihood was destroyed. She and her husband were forced to sell their home and move into a trailer.
"I would like to see them punished for what they've done," said Moore. "And they humiliated me on TV and I'd like them to apologize to me on TV."
Public humiliation is part of the game. A target is "fingered," charges of abuse and neglect are widely reported, and the target must, for all intents and purposes, prove his/her innocence in the court of public opinion.
And that is an impossible task.
It's like child abuse — once the accusations have been made and the story has hit the media, it cannot be undone. (For related thoughts on how publicity works against the accused, see: The AR Attack — Part 2.)
'20/20' Follows Garcia On a Raid
All this made us want to see firsthand how Garcia works. So we asked and received permission to go along on an SPCA raid.
Garcia didn't know that our cameraman was a veterinarian, Dr. Gaylon TeSlaa.
Early one morning last September, "20/20" accompanied Garcia as he went with a police officer to a Justice of the Peace to get the warrant needed to raid a dog kennel.
He claimed the owner didn't provide adequate food, water and shelter, and showed photos of what he said were filthy kennels.
After a brief informal hearing, Garcia got permission to raid, which meant he and an armed police officer could go to the kennel without any warning.
Garcia told us to expect to see animals that were urine soaked and fecal stained. "20/20" didn't see that.
TeSlaa said, while there was some neglect because the owner had been away for four days, it was correctable. Since her being away was an unusual event, he saw no cruelty and certainly no reason to confiscate the dogs. But Garcia saw cruelty and said the dogs needed to be saved.
Keep in mind that Mr. Garcia's effectiveness is measured by the number of animals he "rescues," and the number of neglectful and abusive people he brings to justice. For Mr. Garcia, there are large incentives and benefits to find things wrong, not to pass on things that are right. The more cases he "cracks" the more effectively he appears to be doing his job, and the more money, prestige and incluence he can attract.
Is there any question that he'd decide most marginal cases (the majority will be marginal) — and maybe even cases that aren't so marginal — in ways that favor him, his career and his Chapter of the SPCA? Why would he not?
(Note: this phenomonen is a variation of Dr. Steven Best's "Me First" ethic — if there's any doubt — or even if not — exercise your power to benefit yourself. Who's going to stop you?)
"Under Texas state law, these animals have been cruelly treated. The definition of cruelly treated is having to live in your own feces, unsanitary conditions, no food or water," said Garcia.
But when people keep animals, there's routinely feces found in the cages. "That's part of having an animal," said TeSlaa.
Moments after the SPCA finished collecting the dogs, the owner arrived. Pam Chennault said she couldn't believe her dogs were being taken, including her favorite, Gidget.
Despite her protests, she was given an immediate court date and was not allowed to go to the van that held Gidget and her other dogs.
"She was my very first dog," Chennault said while crying.
Challenging the Raid
After raiding her kennel, Garcia took the dogs to the SPCA where the workers cited problems like fleas and mange.
Not that the technicians are experts. In fact, our vet was the only veterinarian in sight. "These pets were not abused. They were not in poor health. None of them were in life-threatening conditions," said TeSlaa.
When I mentioned there was no vet there during the raid, Garcia replied: "We had vets there."
But he didn't. The Texas SPCA later e-mailed us admitting that it didn't, but said in this case that vets weren't needed.
Chennault hired a lawyer and tried to get her animals back, but the court gave her only two hours to prepare her case. She was advised to settle and give her dogs to the SPCA. She did. Most of the dogs were adopted, a few were put to sleep. We don't know what happened to Gidget.
And this is the bind that the ordinary citizen can easily find him- herself in: having to fight a costly legal battle to defend against dubious charges with, in this particular instance, the additional disadvantage of little time to prepare a case.
The alternative — giving up the animals without a fight — is the only viable one. What this amounts to is Mr. Garcia — a private citizen with motives not necessarily congruent with the public interest — having the heavy weight of the legal system virtually unopposed at his beck and call.
When I told Garcia that our vet didn't think the animals should have been taken, he said, "The judge did."
But the judge permitted the raid because of the data Garcia brought to them. I suggested that he "spins" the evidence. "No, I don't spin them," said Garcia. "The judge looks at the facts. Looks at the probable cause, and the judge makes the decision."
I asked him about the claim that he steals people's animals.
"No, I'm not stealing no one's animals," said Garcia.
He said he dismisses most complaints without any confiscation. Garcia said, "It's about the welfare of an animal."
How do we know that "It's about the welfare of an animal?" Well, we have Mr. Garcia's word for it . . .
Tell that to the 50 people we talked to who lost animals to Garcia and other SPCAs.
Joe Stuebing is fortunate that he doesn't keep his horses in Texas, where he would be under the thumb of the Texas no-appeal rule Garcia lobbied for. After a court ruled the SPCA could take his animals, he appealed, and won, because his farm was raided without a warrant. The SPCA still says he was abusing his horses, but today he has his horses back.
In Texas, Moore could not appeal, and she said she'll never get over what Garcia and the SPCA did to her.
"I was a dog breeder. I was a dog shower," said Moore. "My dogs were my life."
Remember, when considering donations: each SPCA is separately run. Also, the ASPCA is a different organization.
I think the story speaks for itself. Thank you Mr. Stossel for a job well done.
Thanks to Vicci A. for the heads up yesterday.