I Fought to Shut Down a Phony Pit Bull Rescue
After my harrowing experience with a backyard breeder, I started learning more about dogs in rescue and began volunteering for my local shelter. Before we had decided to euthanize our aggressive dog, Otto, a woman named K. Morris contacted me wanting to know if he was a she and if we would be interested in breeding her. I quickly informed her that he was neutered and far from breeding material. In the meantime, I looked through her Facebook pictures and saw some skinny-looking dogs on chains.
Not long after this, someone dumped a blue Pit Bull in our backyard. The vet offices and animal control had closed for the weekend, so I posted an ad online hoping to find his owner. The same woman replied to my post, telling me that she wasn't a rescue, but part of a group interested in saving Pit Bulls. (Fortunately the dog had a microchip and he was reunited with his owners.)
But the thought of the woman who chained her own dogs being able to rescue other dogs stuck in my mind. I did some research and discovered that Kristy Morris was running a Facebook group called Tri State Area PitBulls, intended to "allow for you to contact other breeders, find Pit Bull rescues, rehome your dog, educate others on the breed, or just make new friends who enjoy the breed." She had posted a link to another page she ran, Second Chance Pitbull Rescue, based in Bainbridge, Georgia.
You can imagine how disturbed I was to hear that this woman who bred nonregistered, sickly-looking dogs and made them live on chains was running a "rescue"! I called the Georgia Department of Agriculture and then all over south Georgia and found no registered, licensed rescue under the names she was using.
A major red flag was that Morris was not taking dogs from her local shelter. Instead, she was having them transported from a Clayton County shelter about four hours away. A group called Partners with Clayton County Animal Control had coordinated with Morris to have several Pit Bulls transported to her in Bainbridge.
Morris was not running a licensed rescue, so she had no paperwork to offer Partners. To expedite "saving" the dogs, Partners allowed another rescue, a licensed one, to pull the dogs and then arrange transport down south.
I contacted Partners with my concerns. The leader, M. Dorough, seemed very concerned and eager to help me find out more about this unlicensed rescue, but was not forthcoming with a list of the Clayton dogs who were released to Morris, and would not reveal whose license was used to pull dogs from the shelter.
After calling the Bainbridge-Decatur County Humane Society, I learned that Morris was definitely not someone who should be running a rescue. She had turned in a dog she claimed to have found. The dog had a severely infected leg wound, was emaciated, and had an embedded collar. I was able to identify him as a Clayton County Animal Control shelter dog.
In July 2012, local animal control performed a welfare check and seized 13 dogs from Morris's residence. She and her fiance were charged with 13 counts of animal cruelty and obstruction of an officer. She was sentenced to a $1,000 fine, 30 days in jail, and 12 months' probation, during which time she could possess no animals. She has since violated probation.
Not all of the dogs seized had happy endings. One was incredibly sick and emaciated. At least two others were overly dog aggressive and unpredictable around people, even after being removed from their environment. Three remained at the Bainbridge shelter, and the others were sent to a local rescue. (Unfortunately, that rescue transferred the dogs back to the original rescue that had released the dogs to Morris, and they were placed in a boarding facility.)
Some dogs never even made it to Second Chance and were immediately placed in homes. Several dogs went to one such "foster" home in Valdosta, Georgia, where they live in a dirt pen with metal barrels and short chains. None of the dogs has been spayed/neutered. The fosterer is also a breeder who recently offered one of the dogs for sale. When prompted, this person replied that the dog was good "breeding stock." Unfortunately, the foster is not breaking any laws.
Nitro, another intact dog who went straight to an "adopter," was marketed, bred, and subsequently sold. The breeder hung papers (the act of using another dog's papers for the purpose of registration) on the puppies so that they could be registered. This dog's puppies are also being bred. While this all may be highly unethical, paper hanging is hugely hard to prove, and even then, nothing prevents the "breeder" from simply breeding unregistered puppies.
Probably one of the more heart-wrenching stories was that of Cain, a former soldier's dog. (I'm guessing the family didn't know about Dogs on Deployment.) They surrendered him to the Clayton County shelter, and Partners promised to find him a good home or rescue. Unfortunately, Second Chance Pitbull Rescue had him pulled and he went to live with the breeder/foster with the chains, and then to Morris' house. She told the authorities that Cain died and was buried, but no body was ever produced. I posted lost dog ads looking for him, but with no luck.
All of this tragedy could have been prevented if those in charge of coordinating rescue had done their homework. Unfortunately, so many people hear the word "rescue" and think it must be a great place to send animals. You certainly know now that not all rescues are created equal!
"We're glad we were able to help the dogs, but they should have never been in that situation," says Beth Eck, director of the Bainbridge-Decatur County Humane Society. "All shelters should thoroughly check out all rescues before releasing animals to prevent tragedies like this."
I met a lot of like-minded people on my venture to shut down Second Chance Pitbull Rescue. Together, we created the Coalition for Animal Rescue Reform. Our members are part of animal welfare groups that are in county shelters on a regular basis, working at nonprofit spay/neuter clinics, doing community outreach, and/or running rescues. We have come together to improve the rescue community, starting with Georgia. Our goal is to protect the animals entrusted into our care as a community.
I fully believe in and support responsible rescues, which is why I feel so strongly about the bad ones. It's really easy to become a rescue -- some states don't even require a license, and some people don't even bother with licenses until they get caught. That's why we created a "How to check out a shelter" list to help keep you (and your pets) safe.
So many people start out with the right intentions but without the resources and wherewithal to maintain and run a rescue. In the end, it's the animals who suffer. Not having what it takes to run a rescue is nothing to be ashamed of! That passion can be put into a local shelter, rescue, or other animal welfare project. We all have something to give, even if it's just time. I plan to continue volunteering at my local shelter, investigating questionable rescues, and pushing for reform in the world of rescues and ownership.
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